Monday, October 26, 2009

Speaking whale and public speaking

Are you a little nervous about presenting in front of audiences?  That’s ok, some of us are too!

Once again, spending a morning off in class was just what we were hoping for!  Franco Mariotti, a staff scientist at Science North with over 25 years of science communication experience, engaged us all in a wonderful presentation about presentation skills.  This year, like most years, all of the students in the SciComm program have different backgrounds – we’ve got a teacher, an actress, and other presenters, along with other students who have little or no experience talking in front of groups.  Franco’s presentation about whales was a great opportunity for all of us to be reminded of presentation strategies we may have used in the past, as well as to learn new presentation skills.  

Merissa, after the presentation, taking a look at some of Franco’s props (whale baleen)!

Here are some tips to consider while doing any presentation of your own!
  • Begin with clear objectives.  Make sure you know what you are going to present and try not to be all over the place with information!  An audience likes knowing what you are going to discuss and will be less distracted since they won’t be thinking, ‘I wonder what he will say next...’ 
  • Make it interesting!  Do your research and learn about what you’re presenting.  If you find it interesting, chances are the audience will also find it interesting!  Also, the more prepared you are, the more comfortable you will be with the topic.
  • Use some objects and visuals if possible.  In Franco’s presentation, he brought along a poster with whale photos, as well as real and model teeth, small whale models, and krill (Krill look like little shrimp – yes, like in Finding Nemo!  Remember how the huge whale opens his mouth and Nemo gets eaten along with a whole bunch of krill?)
  • When using objects, consider bringing along a “magic box”.  Bringing and hiding your objects in a box so that the audience can’t see them before you want them to can add suspense!  It will also be less distracting to the audience since they won’t be wondering what your objects are before you are ready to discuss them. 
  • Final tip about visuals – don’t pass around any objects during the presentation!  This is distracting to both the presenter and the audience.  Consider letting the audience know that they can come up and look at the objects at the end of the presentation. 
  • Try using relatable information.  For example, an audience may have a hard time imagining big a whale is.  Like Franco did, you may consider saying, “Imagine everyone in this room was 200 pounds.  That would be a total of about 2000 pounds.  This is the same as the smallest mass of a whale! (And point to the diagram...)”
  • Be aware of your pace.  You shouldn’t be talking too fast or too slow. 
  • Adapt your presentation to your audience!  We have been learning in our Audiences and Issues class about the importance of knowing your audience!  You want to try and draw from the prior knowledge of your audience.  Consider how you would present something to an audience who knows a lot about your presentation topic and how you would present to an audience who knows very little about your topic. 
  • Eye contact is important – however, keep in mind that too much eye contact can make your audience members feel a little uncomfortable.
  • Using hand gestures and body movement can show the audience that you’re open.  Try to stay within the “box” – your stomach and chest area.  Too much body movement or pacing can be extremely distracting. 
  • Don’t talk in a monotone voice!  Voice moderation and tones are important to show the audience that you are interested and interesting!  They will be more likely to pay attention if you make it sound fun. 
  • You may choose to make your presentation interactive.  If you have a small group, you may want to ask a couple questions to get a feel for your audience and get them involved.  This should be limited to 2-3 questions per presentation.  Also, don’t forget that there is often time for questions at the end of a presentation!
  • Finally, “expose yourself!”  Don’t be shy to show who you are!  You may choose to include personal facts or anecdotes.  This would be more useful in public talks.  (‘Scientific talks’ are often more about facts and don’t allow the opportunity to express emotions.)  Just like I learned during my Bachelor of Education year, your audience needs to know that you are human!  You are more relatable and the audience becomes more interested.

Check out Stephanie-Lynn after Franco’s presentation!

And now, just like us, you are all prepared to do your own wonderful presentations!  Good luck!

-    Sarah

Also, here is an interesting fact that we just couldn’t leave out! We also learned in Franco’s presentation about whales that we may have been a little misinformed in the movies – when baleen whales (the ones without actual ‘teeth’) take in all of the water and krill, they only want the krill.  All of that water would be way too much for their stomachs to handle!  How do they get rid of the water?  Not through the blowholes like they show in the movies.  The blowholes are used to breathe, not release water.  The extra water is actually released out of the mouth!

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