As scientists, most of us can relate to the awkwardness you may feel when an uncle at a family dinner asks what you do for a living, and you struggle to explain your work in a way that he can understand. To be a successful scientist, we should know how to communicate our work in an interesting and understandable way to any audience.

The “Speaking about Science” workshop, organized by the NICHD Office of Education and led by public speaking coach Scott Morgan, helps us learn how to explain our science in a relatable way. How we talk about science differs depending on the audience. We use different language when we speak during a lab meeting compared to when we explain concepts to grade school students or when we present a job talk.

You can give a successful presentation to any audience by following a few simple rules when organizing your talk. We break it down for you in this helpful infographic, based on Mr. Morgan’s workshop!

Click to download: PDF, 7.4MB

Content adapted from Scott Morgan, Speaking About Science, Cambridge University Press, 2006,


How to Speak About Science to Anyone! A Few Simple Steps for A Lifetime of Great Talks

Let's break down a talk

No matter who's in your audience, an effective talk includes four must-haves:

  • Introduction
  • Focus
  • Money slide
  • Take-home message

What should each part of the talk include?

#1 Introduction: Thought-provoking topic. This seems like an important area of research!

The introduction should set the premise and prime the audience for your talk.

Identify the common ground of your audience and find a way to share it at the beginning of your talk. Rather than “water down the science,” tailor the content to what the audience would want to hear, while adjusting the simplicity of the talk.

Job talk?

  • Learn about your audience and their level of expertise
  • Show how your work is going to address the institute's mission statement

Do not include vague background filled with heavy scientific jargon.

Do include current problems in your field and what gap of knowledge or critical need your research project addresses.

#2 Focus: Interesting question. Can't wait to see the results!

Your “focus” slide(s) establish the specific goal of your study and pinpoint the question you will address.

Focus on a single question.

But what if my talk addresses more than one question?

  1. Ask the first question
  2. Answer the first question with a money slide
  3. Ask the next question, and so on

[Funnel graphic; questions narrowing down the funnel:]

The scientific issues/problems I share with this institution are:

Of these I work on:

Within my work, I focus on:

Specifically, I want to know:

#3 Money Slide: That was a great approach. Fascinating data!

This is the section where you give answers to the question you posed. Include relevant methodology and data, which should be clear and well-organized.

Two cents for your money slide:

  • Place figures on the left and bullet points on the right.
  • Consider a slide with no text, only data, allowing for the audience to focus on what you are saying (instead of reading your slide while you are talking).
  • Remove verbs from the text.
  • Introduce the figure before showing the data. It's a great way to transition between slides and control the flow of your talk.
#4 Take-Home Message: Excellent direction to take this investigation!

This section summarizes your talk and should be in simple language.

Think of the take-home message as the beginning of your exit strategy. Then transition into future directions, future challenges in the field, and even some proactive questions.

General Tips

  • Organize the talk with the duration in mind (20, 30, 60 minutes?)
  • Plan an average of 2 minutes per slide
  • Avoid preparing excess slides and skipping them due to a lack of time

A final rule of thumb: It's always good to end the talk early!