Usually I’m all about Church history and theology.
But today I gave a talk to a great group of undergrads at the University of Dubuque where I teach.
They are doing intensive research projects this summer as “Chlapaty Scholars,” an amazing program endowed by the generosity of the chair of the university’s board of trustees.
They are looking ahead to the “Apex Conference” when they will give 15 minute talks on their projects. They will also be publishing or presenting at conferences in their fields, but this is the Big Event when all their friends and professors will be in the audience.
How do you make a great presentation on specialized research to a crowd of non-specialists?
I gave them three principles to keep in mind and a four-slide outline using “Haiku Deck,” my favorite presentation software.
Check out the slide deck (the notes are below the deck window) and tell me what you think!
Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
FIRST THE PRINCIPLES
Principle 1: Tell a Story.
Every research project is a story waiting to be told, an adventure of discovery. You went on an amazing quest, so tell it as a story.
Human beings make sense of everything through stories.
If you tell a story, a beginning middle and end with a mystery you solve, you can draw in all the non-specialists — which is most of your audience.
Principle 2: Eschew Obfuscation.
…which means “Don’t use big words.” Only you and your research advisor know the technical vocabulary for your field.
The physicist and the marketing folks are both smart. They just speak different languages.
Your job is to use the kinds of words everybody in the room can understand.
Principle 3: Guns Don’t Kill People. Bullet Points Kill People.
If you stand there and read your bullet points your audience will die of boredom.
If your slides have reams of text or tables full of data they will die of frustration. Especially when you move to a new slide before they finish reading the first one.
People cannot listen to your story with their ears at the same time as they read your dense slides with their eyes.
The story coming out of your mouth is the one that matters.
NOW YOUR FOUR SLIDES
Slide 1: What Question Did You Want to Answer?
Every research journey starts with a QUESTion. Your QUEST is to find the answer.
So start by clearly explaining what your question was — do this even if, in reality, the question only became clear long after you started the project.
Tell them why this question maters. Will it help solve a longstanding mystery? Will it help teachers, or accountants, or some other kind of practitioners?
Slide 2: What Kind of Stuff Did You Do to Find Out?
In a scientific paper this would be the “methodology” section.
No matter the field, a fascinating part of the story is finding the path that will lead to insight, knowledge, wisdom.
- Did you collect samples and run lab tests?
- Did you interview members of a community?
- Did you read through a dozen curricula for a topic taught in public schools?
- Did you immerse yourself in archival papers?
- Did you run fancy statistical programs?
And why did you think these things would help answer your question?
Slide 3: What Obstacles and Oddities Did You Meet With?
The story becomes exciting when you face unexpected challenges. Where did you have to stretch beyond your abilities?
Along the way you may have discovered answers to unexpected questions. Did you find some strange thing that will become your dissertation some day?
Were there twists and turns and dangers in your journey?
Slide 4: What Was the Answer?
Did you find the answer to the question? Your audience needs to know the “Eureka!” moment.
- Can you tell us what you are going to do with your discovery?
- What is different now that you know this?
- Are you changed? Can you tell us how the world is changed.
It’s okay if the change is small.
Add up small changes and you get big changes.
The Result: All You Need. No More.
Tell your story, your adventure of discovery, in simple words and evocative images, and your audience will be with you, rooting for you, all the way.
Garr Reynolds uses a “bento box,” the traditional Japanese lunch, to illustrate his ideal for presentations. Both nutritious and beautiful, the bento box pleases and satisfies.
So will your presentation.
(Those are affiliate links up there, by the way.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this plan for an engaging presentation — especially if you are one of the Chlapaty Fellows!