Five Things to Do Improve Your Science Presentations

Have you recently sat through a scientific presentation? Were you paying complete attention the entire time? Did you, perhaps, glance at your phone or laptop to check emails or social media?

With all of the distractions these days it can be hard to be at attention at all times, especially during a presentation where the material can be dense or completely new to you. But there are things you can do to maximize your appeal and engage your audience.

A member of our communications team recently sat on a panel at MIT for the Northeast Symposium on Biomedical Optics (NESBO) to discuss the importance of effective science communication along with five other local experts. Here are a few things the panelists suggested to improve your next presentation.

Always try to provide context

Eric J. Perkins, Addgene 

Set the scene. If you are presenting in front of an audience, chances are you are either an expert or at least very passionate about the topic. That means you likely know a lot of background information and why the topic is exciting.

But those in the audience could be hearing about this for the first time, which means they may need a little more information about why they should be interested in what you have to offer.

Be aware of the audience and circumstances

Carol Lynn Alpert, Museum of Science, Boston

Sometimes it can be easy to assume that if everyone in the room is a scientist, they should have no problem understanding your science. In reality, that’s not always the case.

Engineers speak a different language than clinicians and clinicians speak a different language than researchers, so make sure you’re aware of who may be in the audience and how best to reach them.

Simply put: avoid the jargon you’re used to!

Use (simple) visuals

Daisy Shu, Schepens Eye Research Institute

Majority of people know they should be using visuals instead of cramming as much text as you can into one slide. But are you including the right kind of visuals?

The figures used in a scientific paper are important to support your ideas, but they can be too busy and confusing for some others, especially when several are included on one slide.

If you aren’t making a crucial point with each visual, consider removing it, enlarging the more important ones and giving them their own slide to make sure they key and axes are legible. Anyone interested in all the figures could always read your paper!

It’s OK to tell your science as a story

Eileen Ablondi, Science in the News

While a publication in a journal article may work for some people, it is not the most universal medium. Stories, however, have been one of the primary methods of communication since the beginning of time.

Stories are a great way to engage an audience, and while they may not work for incorporating all the nitty-gritty details of a study, they are useful for making connections and making information relatable.

The details of your science are not going away, but they may not be absolutely necessary for every audience.

Think about structuring your presentation with these five questions

Brian Burns, Mass General Research Institute

When people think about stories, they usually think about fairy tales and fiction. How can science be told like a story?

It may not be a traditional story, but it can still be told like one using the following five questions:

What was the problem you were trying to solve?
What was your approach?
Why was it unique?
What did you find?
What are the implications or next steps?

Touching each question briefly should give everyone a deeper understanding of what you are doing and why, even if they don’t have a don’t have a science background.


About the Mass General Research Institute
Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States. Our researchers work side-by-side with physicians to develop innovative new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent disease.
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