Thursday, August 6, 2015

From the vault: 16 #publicspeaking tips for eloquent scientists

I work with executives in many professions these days, but I've spent the better part of my career working with scientists and engineers and helping them communicate with public audiences. (That's the big reason the TEDMED conference sought me out for coaching its speakers, many of whom are physicians, scientists, or health professionals.) So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the popularity of this blog's posts with tips for translating from the technical. Here's an all-in-one resource compiling my posts about becoming an eloquent scientist--or just clearer--when you're sharing a lot of data and details:
  1. Brr-illiant tips for technical speakers from a TED Talk on  Antarctica:  They come from a talk by Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Lee Hotz. It's packed with detail, but never boring--and the visuals carry the day, as do his apt analogies. Listen to the story that develops in this talk so you can share the wonder of your scientific work.
  2. Using a sheet of paper (and other ordinary things) as props includes examples from scientists doing origami, among other examples. Putting a 3D visual to work this way can enliven even the most technical talk.
  3. Who needs live speakers? A poster session finds out the hard way shares the tale of one scientific conference that went virtual with poster sessions, and lost its audience. Remember, the speaker matters.
  4. How do we balance technical versus non-technical for a mixed audience? might be one of the most frequent questions I get from scientists and engineers.  The trick is to keep it general, and let the detail come out during questions or offline.
  5. What's the difference between when scientists present to other scientists and to the public? was asked by another speaker coach, but can help scientists figure out the very different modes they should be in when presenting to different audiences.
  6. Polishing your public speaking: "I may be too casual in my approach" was asked by an academic advisor to science, medical and technical students. Here's how to give them a good example in how you present yourself.
  7. "How do I establish credibility as a speaker when my age and looks work against me?" was asked by a young executive at a life sciences company, a top expert in her field at age 30. Early career science can be a tough playing field, and here's how to suit up and handle doubts based on your appearance.
  8. So, do you start sentences with "so?" is relevant to scientists who may be using "so" as a logical connective word...but inadvertently end up sounding like Valley Girls. (And it's a pet peeve of NPR Talk of the Nation: Science Friday host Ira Flatow, who hears scientists say it all the time.) An examination of how "so" is used, to help you sort it out.
  9. Don't individually thank all the graduate students who worked with you. But even as you check those name-checks at the door, learn how to thank people effectively in your talks.
  10. Big ideas don't need big words. But where do you find the small ones? looks at ways that science speakers are digging for simple, clear, and short words to describe their complex ideas.
  11. Describing your career at the dinner table may be the toughest public speaking challenge for many scientists. Here's one woman scientist who examined the issue and came to terms with it. I'd follow her lead if I were you.
  12. "Am I too old to learn good speaking skills?" was a question I got from a senior scientist at one of my workshops on communicating science for public audiences. The answer: No! Find out the rest of the tips in this important post.
  13. What to do when you're losing the audience might be a familiar one for scientists when lecturing to non-scientists. A question posed to me by a scientist in a public speaking workshop, it's an important point for speakers of any kind to learn.
  14. Hone that elevator speech: When someone asks a scientist for their elevator speech, that's code for "keep it short and clear."  A scientist's elevator speech in 45 seconds is an example from prominent biologist E.O. Wilson (and all the more impressive because he did it on demand, on live radio). Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe's elevator speech, not much longer, on why her science matters was featured on Famous Speech Friday. Both good models for you.
  15. Do you have clinician's distance when telling stories? applies as well to the research side of the house. How to get up close and personal in your speeches.
  16. How do you wean yourself from the lectern? was the very good question I got in a training workshop for scientists. I've got a handful of useful tactics in this post.
I'm available to train groups of scientists in public speaking and in translating from the technical for public or non-scientist audiences--and I've trained thousands of scientists in academic, corporate and government labs. Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com to discuss your needs.

(This post originally appeared on the blog in 2011 and has been significantly updated.)

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