Effective Oral Presentations

This January I had the pleasure to participate at my first AAS meeting, in Austin, Texas! Some amateurish photos here. But more importantly, I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learnt from a very enjoyable and interesting talk on “Effective Oral Presentations” by Jean-Luc Dumont. The talk came at a perfect timing, as I was preparing my own talk on how to give great presentations, so expect more on this topic here 🙂 Until then, if you are a communicator who often has to give talks to the public and especially if you are a scientist who engages with the public, read further!

Things Jean-Luc shared with us:

1. In the US the number two fear that people have is the fear of death. The number one is of oral presentations.

2. When you give a talk it is your interest to make the audience pay attention, understand and act upon your message.

3. If you are the one having an interest, then take control of your presentation, don’t let the audience control it.

4. Three laws of communication:

  • Rule #0: make sure you have messages, not just information. WHAT is information. SO WHAT is a message, an interpretation.
  • Rule #1: Adapt to your audience, don’t expect the audience to adapt to you
  • Rule #2: Maximise signal/noise ratio

5. Noise is: mic not working, workers outside, your fears inside

  • Rule #3: Use effective redundancy

6. Effective redundancy is when you repeat certain messages for the audience that was not listening in the first place. Effective means you express the same message in different forms (audio, visual). It doesn’t mean you read out loud the text on a slide.

7. A bad slide is worse than no slide at all because it becomes noise.

8. One slide, one message.

9. Very practical tips:

  • Start talking about yourself only when you introduce the task/goal of the presentation
  • Print a presentation with 6 slides per page; if it’s too small to read, you have too much text
  • If you don’t have 3 variables don’t make a 3D graph 🙂
  • “Uuuhm” gives you half a second of thinking time, silence gives you up to 3 seconds before people realize you are thinking. Be silent between words 🙂
  • Decide on a place on stage where you want to stay and stay fixed there.
  • No part of your lower body should move because that is noise.
  • End powerfully; the audience should realise you’ve ended without you saying “Thank you for your attention”.

I’ll be sharing more once I finish creating my own presentation on the topic!

And a recommendation: don’t miss the AAS meetings! It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with the astronomical community and learn the latest in the field! And great fun too 🙂

2 Responses to “Effective Oral Presentations”
  1. Frank says:

    I am a communication skills specialist in the U.S., though I have trained in Indonesia and European Georgia. I am anticipating speaking and training in Nigeria later this year.

    Though Jean-Luc said it differently than I would have, for the most part, she had good advice. I do question her statement of staying fixed in one place–hopefully, not behind a lectern. It may be a cultural or European difference; however, in the U.S. professional speakers use the stage. Certainly, speakers should not pace back and forth; however, moving from one spot on the staging area to another part helps in connecting with the various members of the audience. Also, you can plant a scene on stage. For example and since you are in astronomy, you might begin on your right side of the staging area (i.e. right side of the room) and establish that area as before your observation. You can move to the center of the room as you discuss the observations you observed. Then you can move to your left side of the room to discuss what you will be doing in the near future. To summarize, you can then return to the center, look towards your right and say that “we started with the hypothesis that we will be observing these parameters,” as if you are looking back to the area you established as before the observations. Then you can look forward and summarize your findings, then you can turn towards your left where you established the future and summarize what observations you will be doing in the near future.

    By doing this, you set the stage areas, i.e. before (your right side), observations (center), and your future observations (your left side). At the same time, you can focus on different members of the audience and be more engaging. You generally don’t engage your audience as well by staying in one spot throughout your presentation. Again, it might be a cultural difference between the U.S. and Europe. More likely, however, it might a a difference between scientist and non-scientists. I know this because I have a Master’s degree in analytical chemistry.

    You might be interested in my article in Lab Manager, “Effective Presentations for Chemists and Other Scientists” at http://www.labmanager.com/articles.asp?ID=29 and my “Be a Spotlight Presenter” blog at http://spotlightpresenter.wordpress.com for additional recommendations.

    • Oana Sandu says:

      Thank you for the very useful comments Frank! Jean-Luc was advising to sit in one place only if you have the tendency to show your emotions by moving back and forth, thus creating noise. But you’re right as well, if you can have movements in synchrony with you are presenting, the better!
      Thanks for the link, very useful for my research 😉

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