I’m throwing down the gauntlet for technical presenters. You can do better, and you owe it to your audience and to the public to do better.
Too many technical presenters, in my opinion, settle for less than the presentations they are able to give because they don’t see any reason to do better than what has been modeled for them. They see other scientists, engineers, and technical experts get up in front of a room (or get on Zoom), throw some over-detailed, hard-to-read slides up on the screen and narrate those slides, and they think that’s all that is expected of them.
Does that describe you? Then I’m challenging you to do better.
What do I mean by “do better”? I mean have more impact. Make a more lasting difference to your audience. Contribute to more public discourse about your topic. Even make more money! That is, sell your solution to a problem or gain funding for your basic research. And on top of all that, expand your reputation as the expert that you are.
Do you think those goals are out of your reach? They aren’t, if you decide to pursue them. And if you find the resources to help you improve your presentation skills. The first step is simply to make the decision that you want to do better.
Heather Boyce wanted to do better. As she was preparing to defend her dissertation, she realized she was trying to cram too much information in. She had three discrete projects and was trying to tell about all three of them. Although she knew that would be overwhelming to her audience, that’s what she thought she had to do. It is what had been modeled for her.
“After all,” Heather told me in an email, “every defense presentation I have ever been to starts with, ‘Here’s my outline, here is my hypothesis, here are my aims, now let me inundate you with data, and provide two slides of conclusions.’”
Then she remembered a presentation I had given at a scientific conference she attended. She drew upon my advice about reducing the amount of content and drawing the audience in instead of forcing them out with too much information.
She continued in her email: “I opened the talk with an engaging, relevant intro combined with an anecdote and used blank sides effectively to transition and allow for clarification questions. The response was overwhelmingly positive and people were really engaged by my non-traditional intro, ‘Who do you know that’s been affected by prescription opioid abuse?’”
Heather felt she was “going against the grain” in structuring her presentation that way. It was different from what had been modeled for her. Yet, changing her approach two days before her defense felt like the right thing to do. She whittled it down to talk about just one of her projects, and even then focused on just key representative data. People in her audience wanted to know where she learned to present like that! She raised the bar.
And she successfully defended her dissertation. Heather Boyce, Ph.D., is now a scientist with the FDA.
What do you stand to gain by raising the bar for your presentation?