What makes an engaging scientific presentation? Georgia Tech Professor Will Ratcliff uses a method based on the style of nature documentary presenter David Attenborough. Ratcliff’s approach looks to capture an audience’s natural curiosity by using engaging visuals and simple storytelling techniques.
Here are his 10 keys to an engaging scientific presentation:
1) Be an Entertainer First: Before your science can wow your audience, they have to understand it. Before they can understand it, you must engage them with what you’re saying. Look at your presentation from your audience’s perspective and think about how they’ll relate to your material. Focus on presenting your science in a way that engages and entertains as it explains.
2) Be a Storyteller, Not a Lecturer: Don’t assume that your audience knows your field. Tell the story of your science: identify the big picture backdrop, your specific research questions, how you answer those questions, and how it affects the way we now think about the big picture.
3) Prioritize Clarity : If the audience doesn’t understand every word you use, they’ll stop paying attention, and you may never win them back. Your goal is to never lose their attention in the first place, so make an effort to be clear and have a simple narrative arc to your talk.
4) Mind Your Transitions: The easiest place to lose your audience’s focus is when you move from one slide to another. Practice the transitions in your talk to make sure the link between the ideas of one slide and the next remains clear.
5) Keep Complete Sentences Out of Your Slides: Keep the text in your slides to a minimum. Instead, use compelling visual to hold your audience’s attention while you speak.
6) Animations Are Your Friend: You can use animations to reveal new details on your slide as they become relevant to what you are saying. That way you get to control what your audience is seeing, minimizing distraction and putting laser pointers out of a job. Note: never use silly and unnecessary animations, like spinning or scrolling text, this will just annoy your audience.
7) Get Excited: If you’re not excited and energetic about your work, your audience won’t be either.
8) Look at the Audience: Don’t stare at the floor, the ceiling, or your slides while you’re presenting. Look directly at your audience, or if you’re nervous, toward the back of the lecture hall. This will help you connect with your audience.
9) Be Wary of Jokes: Scientific talks are serious by nature and you have more to lose than to gain. If a joke is poorly timed or if you misjudge an audience, you risk alienating them. Play it safe and find other ways to be entertaining unless you know your audience well.
10) Leave the Laser Pointer at Home: Laser pointers are distracting. If you feel you need one to guide your audience through a slide, that’s a sign your slide is too cluttered.
You can follow Will Ratcliff on Twitter at @wc_ratcliff.
Want More Tips on Giving an Engaging Scientific Presentation? Check Out: 3 Elements of a Great Scientific Talk