Two things you must do when speaking to a broad audience

You know how important it is to be clear in a talk. You need to have a story, a clear flow. Ideally you build the argument rather than giving it all away with an outline at the beginning. You illustrate your science with just the right number of careful figures.

You must label your figures carefully, with titles that tell what we should get out of the figure, not just Trial 1, or Western Blot, or the like. Instead say thing like “Big males get more matings,” or the equivalent for your subject.  If you have lines on the graph, define their colors and make them thick enough to see. Redo the graphs so the axis labels are visible to the audience. Use a sans serif font that is large enough to see. Generally reject the defaults. I could go on. There are lots of places that tell you how to make good figures and give effective explanations in talks.

But there is another thing I look for in talks that is much more difficult to find. It is why you are studying this. Why is it important? Why should I care at all about how mice move in a cage? Why should I care about all these vocalizations? Where does it fit in the big picture of knowledge? If you are trying to figure out a more mechanistic thing and the question is exactly how something works, let us know this clearly, and put it in context of what is known. Whatever it is, make sure you can let us know why it is important. Practice this essential argument on outsiders to be sure you get it down.

If you don’t give me this, even though I understand every piece of the information, I won’t remember it. So take the time to make what you do important to outsiders.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Presentations and seminars, Public Communication, Scientific meetings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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