We’ve been to a lot of conferences and workshops lately.And it seems that there are still many presenters out there who have not thought about their audience.  They plug in their life support system—their speech notes written on PowerPoint—and away they go talking through boring introductory text slide to their equally boring conclusion slide.

Many years ago the editor of the journal Groundwater, Jay Lehr called for the stoning of incredibly boring speakers who “are not sophisticated, erudite scientists speaking above our intellectual capability”, but are “arrogant, thoughtless individuals who insult our very presence by their lack of concern for our desire to benefit from a meeting we chose to attend” (Groundwater, Vol 23. No. 2).

That’s why this month’s newsletter is about Presenting for your audience.

As usual, we welcome your feedback.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:
Jenni MetcalfeSarah Cole (on maternity leave), Jane IlsleyToss GascoigneClaire Heath (travelling somewhere in the Americas) & Madeleine Stirrat.



Consider your audience

By Jenni Metcalfe

“What I am about to present is pretty turgid. In fact it’s boring so I don’t blame you if you go to sleep. Or perhaps you want to go to another session? I’ve just used an old presentation for this talk, so um yeah, it’s boring and I don’t blame you if you don’t listen…”

This was word for word the way the presenter started his talk at a parallel session I chose to attend at a prestigious national conference a few years ago. This speaker did indeed deserve to be stoned. He broke all the rules in one fell swoop.  What he should have done instead was:

  • Engage the audience with a strong opening line that got our attention and resonated with the topic of his talk (an audience decides whether a speaker is worth listening to in the first 7 seconds)
  • Give us a good reason to listen – what new things was he going to share with us; how was his presentation going to be relevant to us?
  • Provide us with the roadmap of his talk; audiences like to know where they are going; what three things will be covered?
  • Start with confidence and enthusiasm; audiences like a speaker who has clearly prepared, is interested in their own topic, and presents with style

Consider whether he needed to use visual aids or not in his introduction; some of the best talks begin with a black slide and the audience’s attention on the speaker

A better introduction would have been one like this:

“Let me start my talk today by quoting Albert Einstein: ‘The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them’. We need new thinking if we are to adapt to the impacts of inevitable climate change on our coastlines.

Today I am going to tell you about a project where local government, community groups and scientists worked together to look at how to tackle the increasing problem of storm surges. First, I will talk about the problem of storm surges along the New South Wales’ coastline; then I will discuss our project; and thirdly I will look at some of the adaptive management outcomes we came up with…”

Albert Einstein portrait in black and white

Albert Einstein. Image: Pixabay



Formulas don’t work (but try this one)

By Toss Gascoigne

The ability to stand up and speak to an audience is not an optional extra for the few, it is a core skill for the 21st century.

But there is no one way to give a great talk.  Formulas can’t be applied: they don’t work and bore audiences.  Freshness is a vital ingredient.

Chris Anderson, the man who took over TED talks in 2001, says in his book TED Talks. The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking that there are no rules or single way to approach this task.

“Think of [the advice in my book] as offering you a set of tools designed to encourage variety. Just use the ones that are right for you and the speaking opportunity you’re facing.  Your only real job in giving a talk is to have something valuable to say, and to say it authentically in your own unique way.”

Do we use formulas in Econnect workshops?   No.  But we do suggest one powerful approach which is to sort your ideas into three main points, and to begin: “There are three things I want to talk about today.”

Three is brief, it’s memorable and it has impact.  But as Chris says, it’s not the only way.

Chris Anderson the curator of TED talks, speaking on stage

TED Curator: Chris Anderson. Image: Wikimedia Commons




PowerPoint should be for the audience, not the speaker

By Jenni Metcalfe

The vast majority of speakers at conferences use PowerPoint throughout their presentations.

However, when you analyse their PowerPoint slides most of them are for the benefit of the speaker rather than the audience; they are their speech notes or cues.

PowerPoint used well should either add impact to your talk or help explain something complex.

Great pictures, pithy quotes, a few punchy words and diagrams add affect.

Sequentially adding new information to a diagram or graph can help explain something complex. A short animation can clarify something simply.

Text only slides, especially slides with lots of text, do not explain anything and certainly do not have impact.

Consider whether you need to have slides all the way through your talk. You can press the B button on your laptop, or the blank slide on your remote when you don’t need to have a slide.

The great thing about this is when the screen goes to black, suddenly you have the audience’s attention again. The B button, return or mouse click will resume your slides when you’re ready.

Remember, YOU are your most important visual aid. Don’t hide your enthusiasm for your topic behind boring slides.

Man pointing his index finger

YOU are your most important visual aid. Image: Pixabay


Tips for speaking in plain English

By Jane Ilsley

Every field has its jargon—lawyers, historians, bureaucrats—it’s not only scientists that are guilty.

We get so immersed in our work, we forget which words are appropriate for speaking to others outside our sphere—even colleagues in other disciplines don’t have the same jargon.

The best presentations include everyone at the start—by painting the big picture. There is no need to lose half your audience in the first five minutes by confusing them with acronyms and jargon.

Here are some tips for making your presentation accessible to all:

Use words that people understand—e.g. plants not flora, bacteria/virus not pathogen

Avoid formal language—why say “utilise” when “use” works just as well?

Use metaphors, similes and analogies to explain complex concepts—”it works like a coffee maker”, the cell is a factory.

Avoid acronyms, bureaucratic and buzz words—indicator, innovation, stakeholder. Think about what the words actually mean before you say them.

Use concise sentences which are easy for the audience to digest.

Take pauses—a pause feels like eternity for the speaker but not for the audience. Remember, they have never heard this information before and it needs time to sink in.

Coffee machine in a cafe

The equipment I use works like a coffee machine. Image: Pixabay