Month: February 2012

Structure of Great Talks

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I thought it to be appropriate to begin blogging on the topic of ‘research communication’ by writing on the topic of ‘giving talks’.

One of the tasks placed upon those of us in academia is to give talks. There is no way of avoiding it. Correction, there is always a way to avoid it but that will reflect negatively on the corresponding career prospects. Talks occur in various contexts: at conferences, workshops, seminars, group meetings, etc.

Academics must give talks. Fact. So instead of pondering of how to get out of giving a talk, you have to ask yourself about how you can give a great talk.

In a recent TED talk, Nancy Duarte (@NancyDuarte) of Duarte Design, proposes the structure of great talks.

Nancy Duarte examines the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch speech. By analysing the two speeches, Mrs. Duarte suggests that all great presentations have a common structure (see below) while emphasizing the need for effective storytelling to facilitate a response to the call to action.

Without going into a discussion about the actual presentation of the talk, there are several points that can be taken on board for the purposes of research communication.

Lessons for Research Communication

1) Effective communication can be achieved through story telling

Everyone loves a good story. I can still remember all my favourite stories as told by my grandmother. They captivated my attention and transported me into another world. Researchers should strive to capture the audience and transport them into the world of their research. For example, historians can transport us into the world of the past; while scientists can transport us into a world of mystery and discovery.

 

2) The shape of the talk should switch between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’.

In the case of scientists, when presenting to non-academic audiences, this means switching between the ‘science’ and the ‘social implications’ (the bigger picture, if you will). The necessity for the back and forth movement is dependent on the various encounters with resistance. When presenting scientific research there is a balance required between the science and the bigger picture. Putting in too much science creates the risk of alienating the less knowledgeable audience. Leaving out too much `science` creates the risk of alienating the more knowledgeable audience. It`s a balancing act.

Overall, it`s hard to imagine a universal formula for a perfect talk. Its an ideal to strive for.

How do you achieve your perfect talk?