The three most important things

The other day a researcher colleague asked me for feedback on a presentation she was going to give at a meeting that was important to her. After working on it with her I thought about how the training of researchers mainly focuses on content and not on presentation. And how simple some of the tricks are that make a presentation more interesting and effective.

My favorite for structuring a talk that wants to say it all in 10 minutes (or 20 or 30…) is:

What are the three most important things that you want your listeners to remember afterwards?

Because, realistically, they won’t remember more than three – well, you are lucky if they do remember that much. And once you know what is most important, you can remove a lot of clutter and arrange the rest around these three points.

Another question that we often forget if we talk about our area of expertise: Why would this be interesting for anyone in the audience? If you adapt the direction of your talk to the audiences interest, they might stay awake…

If you see your talk as a stage performance (and that’s what it is), make sure that your entry line sets the tone and wakes everyone up – for example with a confusing fact, an open question, a story from own experience; instead of lulling everyone in a comfortable presentation-slumber, by bombarding them with theory or figures. While the entry opens the door for your listeners to be curious, the last sentences are most likely to stick in their mind and give a direction for the discussion. How about an open question that you really want the audience to answer / discuss? That might (in case you need that) even help to steer the discussion away from issues you don’t want to discuss.

And finally: Give a talk that you would enjoy. Sure, it’s important that your audience likes it, but sometimes we feel compelled to give a boring talk (stuffed with too many facts and details) that we wouldn’t enjoy either, just because that is the standard in our discipline…

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