Five Times You'll Present Your Work and How to Do It Well
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The research we do defines who we are as scientists. We’re proud of our work, so we publish in peer-reviewed journals and present at professional conferences. Some of us may have an opportunity to promote our work to the media, or to interview for a job we’ve always wanted. We hope we’re making a difference in people’s lives.
But many researchers don’t communicate in a way that resonates with their intended audience — whether that’s their professional community, scientists in other fields, the public, the media, or a potential boss. It’s not just what you say, but also how you say it, that matters.
Any time you present your work, ask yourself:
- Who will be reading or listening to my work? Knowing your audience is key.
- What do I want my audience to do? Establish a purpose for your presentation.
- What mode of delivery would help me present this information? Use it to your advantage.
Once you’ve decided on answers to these questions, apply the following scenario-specific advice to further hone your presentation skills.
Submitting a Paper
Writing the abstract and introduction of a paper follows the same rules as writing a paper in school: You have to capture your audience’s attention from the first sentence. Make them compelling and to the point. Why should your audience care about what you’re going to say? Make your audience want to read on to learn what you’ll say next.
The same applies as you consider how the reviewers of your paper will react when they read your manuscript. Don’t make them wonder what point you’re trying to make — tell them upfront what you found, why it’s important, what you did to arrive at that conclusion, and how it will be applicable to future work.
Giving a Talk
If you’re presenting your research to the scientific community, chances are these people will be familiar with your area of research, or at least know enough about it to understand what you’re saying. You can be more specific and use more technical language than you could if you were talking to a lay audience.
You’ll also likely have more time to tell your story, so spend time on the details. They’ll make your presentation even better.
Engaging With the Public
When interacting with a lay audience — doing public outreach, for example, or meeting with potential funders or philanthropists — assume they are not intimately involved in your area of research. Be clear about what you do and why it matters, without using jargon. Give them reasons to stay engaged with what you’re showing them.
Publicizing Your Findings
If your research leads to a discovery that could have widespread relevance, clinical or otherwise, you may have an opportunity to speak to the press. During an interview or press conference, keep in mind that as you’re gaining recognition for your work, you’re also representing your institution and lab. The media can be effective in getting publicity for you and your research across a broad audience — just make sure it’s the message you want to send.
Most reporters are looking for a hook, so make sure your story is compelling, but be concise and to the point. More importantly, make sure that the words you choose are accurate and cannot easily be taken out of context. If you need to give yourself a little time to formulate your answer to a question, ask the reporter to repeat the question.
Applying for a Job
If you’re in the market for a new job, potential employers may often be in your audience, whether you’re presenting a poster, giving a talk, or networking with them directly. Tell them why they should learn more about you and your work. Make them want to hire you.
The same holds for preparing your CV and cover letter. Hiring managers spend an average of 10 seconds looking at a resume.
Even if you know your potential employer attended your talk or read your most recent paper, prepare an elevator pitch. If you run into them at a conference or another event, you’ll be ready to tell them everything they need to know about you and your work in 30–45 seconds.
Putting It All Together
Effective communication creates opportunities, from making a good first impression to finding chances to reinforce the value of your research. By learning how to promote your work and yourself, you’ll give yourself these opportunities to move forward in your career.