By Payal Ray, PhD
As scientists, talking about our work is exciting and comes naturally to us. However, the art of clearly communicating scientific research to everyone in the audience can be challenging. To help NICHD trainees perfect their communication skills, the training office recently organized a “Speaking about Science” workshop, led by Scott Morgan, a communications coach who regularly helps NIH fellows. The workshop introduced participants to a basic framework for scientific talks, which can be applied across all research areas. The highlights of the workshop are discussed here.
Setting up the question
To ensure a great start to your presentation, have a short and engaging title. The audience will be interested in your talk if you share common ground with them. This is of utmost importance for job talks, as the hiring committee might have people from various fields. The presenter must quickly set up a main question with a clear focus that is appealing to all. To do so, use the following format to design your introductory slides:
- The collective scientific issues you share with the audience are ________
- Of these you work on ______ because _______
- More specifically you focus on _______
The easiest way to set up a good presentation is to have a single theme. A helpful tip to establish a distinct theme is to put the most important data on one slide (the speaker called it the “money slide”) and then build your presentation around that information. For data slides, use the two minutes per slide rule to stay within time limits. Introduce each slide, identify the highlight of the slide, and summarize it. A smooth transition between slides shows that the speaker is in charge of the presentation material.
At the end of the presentation, time for questions and answers is important. After all, you do not want to travel a thousand miles to give a talk and be escorted off the stage due to a lack of time! So, monitor yourself carefully and have a short summary slide with a strong take-home message that the audience can remember.
Last, but not least, there is no substitute for practice. Rehearse your talk as many times as it takes for you to be comfortable.
Scott Morgan lists these and other useful strategies for giving scientific talks in his book, “Speaking about science: a manual for creating clear presentations.” A copy of the book can be found with Brenda Hanning.