5 tips to giving great scientific talks

Last Friday I had the opportunity to speak with a group of high school / college students about the topic of cosmetic chemistry. I like doing talks like this as I don’t have to get too technical and I can focus on inspiring people to become cosmetic chemists. It was the kind of talk I wish I had heard when I was in school. scientific presentation

In your career, it is likely that you will have the chance to give talks. This doesn’t come easy to everyone and I’ve seen plenty of talks that were uncomfortable for both the audience and the speaker. We’ve previously written on the topic of giving good scientific presentations so I encourage you to go read those excellent posts. But I recently read this article which had some great tips on giving great presentations.

In sum, they include…

  • 1. Be yourself
  • 2. Tell stories
  • 3. Practice
  • 4. Socialize
  • 5. Brevity

So, how do these apply to cosmetic chemists?

On being yourself

As a cosmetic chemist we often specialize in a small area of the subject. Don’t pretend you are an expert in all areas. You’re audience might expect you to be (and you should have a good general knowledge of things) but if you try to pretend you’re an expert, you’ll often come off as fake and lose credibility. If someone asks you a question and you don’t know, just say you don’t know. Be yourself.

On telling stories

Sometimes people give too much data and statistics during scientific lectures. I know it’s important to include this information but you should also put the information in context. Use a story to tell why it is important. For example, when you are explaining an experiment you ran begin with the story of why you were doing it in the first place. I frequently talk about this technology I stumbled on for locking color into hair. It was the result of me trying to find a quicker way to wash hair tresses and involved soaking the hair in large bottles of water.

Stories are more relatable than data. They are also more entertaining.

On practicing

Admittedly, I don’t practice my talks very often. But I do try to be familiar with every slide and the general order in which they are going to show up. Practice if you have time but if you don’t at the very least be familiar with all your slides.

On socializing

When you’re giving a talk, it is helpful to meet some of the people in the audience before you talk. This will give you someone to talk to during your presentation. It will also make you more likable.

On brevity

Never run long. Even if you are a great speaker and have an incredibly interesting topic, the moment you start to go long people will begin to look at their watch and lose interest. In the beginning of your talk tell people how long you will speak. Then stick to it! If you have too much material for the time allowed, skip material that is not crucial.

Giving a scientific talk can be fun and can also help propel your career. Follow those five principles while giving the talk and you’ll do fine.

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