In the final online workshop of my Irish school-based project ‘Exploring the Physics of Superheroes’, I covered tips in relation to science communication and presenting in the classroom.
Presenting can be nerve-racking. Presenting can be scary. Presenting can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.
In the world of scientific and physics research, presenting is part and parcel of the process of research. If you don’t present your interesting work and results to an audience, how can you make an impact with your research? Yes, physicists publish their work in journals or in books, but it’s imperative that physicists also present their work in-person or online in the form of presentations or talks.
When I was younger, I hated the idea of presenting in front of my peers at school. It terrified me. I was a student who barely spoke, and for the most part, I kept to myself. I was happy to be in the background and let others who were more comfortable with presenting and speaking take the spotlight.
This is a far contrast from the person that I am now. I thrive when on stage, and I love the process of sharing stories about science and superheroes, moderating panel discussions, and hosting events. And I’ve to admit that sometimes I forget that I was so quiet at secondary school.
Part of my job involves presenting or speaking to diverse audiences at schools, festivals, universities, companies, and corporate events. Although these all involve different audiences, the commonality is that there is an audience, and audiences have expectations in terms of the presenter and the story that they are going to tell.
When I look back at my secondary school days in Ireland, I wish that I had engaged with or being offered more frequently the opportunity to learn how to present. These are skills that are not just for the classroom – they can be applied to any presentation that you’ll do at any time in your career between now and the day that you give your last talk or presentation.
With this in mind, here are five tips on how you can present in the classroom on projects in the future (And skills that can be used for presentations in your future career too).
Number 1: Never assume anything
Whenever you present, it’s important to keep the audience in mind. Tailor your story to the people in front of you – your target audience. And one thing you must do with the audience is never make assumptions about what they know. Just because you know lots about a certain topic doesn’t mean that everyone in the audience also has the same knowledge base.
For example, if you’re talking about particle physics, be sure to define what you mean by a particle or a particle accelerator.
If you’re speaking about different forms of artificial intelligence, it’s important to introduce what artificial intelligence is before getting into the different types.
And if you’re presenting on new ways to change DNA, you’ve got to let the audience know what DNA is from the outset.
Number 2: Do not present everything
When giving any presentation there’s always the temptation to present all of your great ideas and great work. You need to resist this temptation. It’s much better to present just a sneak peek . Use your presentation as a trailer for the great work that you’ve done. Share the highlights. Just share a little bit of the story.
If you approach presenting your content in this way you won’t run the risk of losing the audience by presenting too much in a short period of time. The aim is to entice the audience to engage with you afterwards whether it’s by asking questions during the Q&A or networking with you after the presentation.
Number 3: Keep your visuals simple
This is linked to the last point, and influenced by what you’ll present. If you’re using slides in your presentation, make sure to keep them as simple as possible.
Avoid complicated graphs. Leave out slides with loads of mathematical equations. And avoid including detailed schematics. Use impactful slides that support rather than tell your story. The story comes from you and shouldn’t be read from the slides. Tell your story – don’t read your story.
Number 4: Retain eye contact
You’re on stage, and your audience is sitting in front of you ready to hear your great presentation. The nerves might kick-in at this stage, and you might start to feel uncomfortable. You start your pitch, but instead of looking at your audience as you present you decide to spend most of your time looking directly at your slides or visuals. Or at the ground. Or even at your cue cards (if you happen to be using them).
Instead of taking this approach, visually address your audience as you present. Make eye contact with the audience. Don’t stare at one person throughout the entire presentation though. Work the room and be sure to speak to everyone in the room. Once you do this, you stand a better chance of reaching more and more people with your story.
Number 5: Practice. Practice. Practice.
This is the part of the presentation preparation that some people often do not put high on the priority list, but it’s critical that you practice your presentation before you deliver it.
And it’s the shortest presentations that require the most practice. Make sure to assign enough time in your planning so that you get the chance to practice, practice, practice your presentation.
Bonus: Enjoy the Moment
Finally, one thing that many people forget about while presenting is to be in the moment. In the past, I remember wishing time away until the presentation was over and I was off stage back in the safety of my chair in the audience.
Don’t wish the time away and don’t wish the presentation moment away. Be in the moment as much as you can, embrace it, and learn from it.
Presenting is something to enjoy and to savour. So savour your presenting moments!
About ‘Exploring the Physics of Superheroes’
‘Exploring the Physics of Superheroes’ is a new outreach project which allows students to experience the excitement of superheroes whilst learning about the physics that make such stories possible. The project is managed by Midlands Science and delivered by physicist Dr. Barry Fitzgerald (BW Science and The Superhero Scientist), who has done extensive research in this area. The project is supported by the Institute of Physics, whose Limit Less campaign aims to support young people to change the world by doing physics.