Communication Skills for Scientists

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					Good Speaking Skills for Scientists

Good Speaking Skills for Scientists
Dr. David Schultz
CIMMS and NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory Norman, Oklahoma
http://www.cimms.ou.edu/~schultz/communication.html
Comments welcome: david.schultz@noaa.gov

The Importance of Good Scientific Communication
• “Disappoint your listeners at your peril. They might not throw tomatoes or rotten eggs, but they might dismiss you, might be willing to find out how good a researcher you really are---just because you put on a bad show.”

Peter Feibelman (A Ph.D. Is Not Enough)

Connecting With the Audience
• Know your audience and know how to engage them intellectually. • Tailor your talk to your audiences’ concerns. • Use humor, but sparingly and effectively. Do not put entertainment over substance. • Do you combine stories and facts? • Do you pack a surprise? • Do you challenge them?

General Concepts
• People want to see you succeed. • Show professional enthusiasm. It is usually contagious with your audience. • You ought to be having fun giving your seminar. If you are not, reconsider what you might be doing wrong. • Be mobile and vary your vocal intonations. • Exude confidence. You are the expert in what you are presenting. • Avoid self-deprecating comments.

More General Rules
• One major point per five minutes of talking. • One transparency per minute of talking. • 28 characters per bullet: (5 words) TOUGH • Supplement your overheads with color, but don’t overdue backgrounds and photos in your electronic presentations.

More General Rules (Doswell)
• Learn to omit filler from your speaking: “you know”, “um”, “like”, “ahhh”, “well”. . .
– Pause and concentrate on saying nothing.

• Maintain eye contact with your audience • Do not read your transparencies aloud.

The Start of Your Talk
• The starts of talks are generally more difficult to do properly. • Scripting the first few transparencies will ease you into the material and ensure your introductory remarks are said. • If the person who introduces you says your name and the title of your talk, DO NOT repeat them to the audience again, unless there is a point you want to make.

The Start of Your Talk
• Presenting your “Outline” of your talk generally wastes time, loses the interest of the audience immediately, and is hackneyed. • Give a well-thought-out discussion of the “Purpose”, “Goals”, or “Motivation” of your talk instead.

More General Rules
• Rehearse! Rehearse! Rehearse! • Almost everyone enjoys getting out a little early from a seminar. Few enjoy staying an extra 15 minutes as you drone on about your work. • If you give electronic presentations, carry a back-up set of overheads, especially for international conferences, job interviews, etc.

Figures and Tables
• Put as much descriptive (caption-like) material on the slide as possible. It will prevent you from having to spend time to explain the figure to the audience. • Make sure figures are readable from back of the venue at which you will be speaking.

DOW Images: ~0100 UTC 15 Feb.

10 km

10 km

PPI of radar reflectivity factor (dBZ)

RHI of radar reflectivity factor (dBZ)

NSSL4 time series

• temperature drops nearly 8°C in 8 minutes • pressure rises 20 minutes before temperature drops

• wind changes direction in concert with pressure rise
• RH increases after frontal passage • RH decreases and temperature rises two hours after frontal passage

Concluding the Talk
• Prepare a well-considered “Conclusion” slide. • Do not make extremely general statements that are obvious from your talk, but hit the highlights of your results in one or two slides. • Avoid “Future Work” slides, unless you have something truly exciting to say here that you definitely plan on doing. (Calls for more data or more case studies don’t really amount to a good use of your or the audience’s time.) • Do not have “Thank you” or “Questions?” slides. Leave the most important slide (i.e., Conclusions) up on the screen so the audience can focus on that during the questions and answers. • End with “Thank you.” It is a signal to the audience to applaud (even if you sucked).

Dealing with Questions (Doswell)
• You are the expert. No one knows more about your work than you. Do not let the audience intimidate you. • Simple phrases to remember: “I don’t know.” If you are uncertain, admit it. • Do not handwave! You will lessen your credibility if this is perceived to be true. • Arguing off the top of your head is alright, if prefaced as such.

Dealing with Questions (Doswell)
• Some audience members might be on an ego trip. You are the speaker and you are in control, if the session chair or the host isn’t. “Excuse me, do you have a question, or are you just making a statement?” • If this persists, offer to “discuss this later after the session.” • If the questioner wanted you to perform a particular analysis, feel free to address his/her concerns or explain why you didn’t, but do not allow monopolization of the Q&A.

Dealing with Questions (Doswell)
• Sometimes the question is confusing. Asking them to rephrase the question is certainly acceptable. • Or, “If I understand your question, you are asking me. . . . Is this correct?” • Make sure you answer the question! • Feel free to ask, “Did this answer your question?” at the end of your answer.

How to Dress
• Comfort • Confidence

• Class (but no cleavage)

Tips for Electronic Presentations
• Use robust color schemes that will show up clearly in an exceptionally light or dark room. Avoid light colors on a light background. • Use sans serif fonts to avoid pixelation of the serifs on Times or New York fonts. (Note: This is also recommended for text in figures submitted to an AMS journal.) • Embedded animations are great, but beware that moving the presentation from one machine to another may require you to redo them. • Be wary of too many foofy Powerpoint wizardry tricks. • Avoid bullet points that appear sequentially.

Using Powerpoint
• Use the spacebar to advance your presentation. It’s the biggest and most unique key. Back arrow is the most obvious key to go backward easily. • To jump to a different slide within your talk, type the number and then hit enter. • Typing <b> will blank the screen. • <ESC> will exit you from slide-show mode.

Preparation
• Test the operation of the laser pointer BEFORE your presentation. • Focus the overhead projector BEFORE your presentation. • Place the microphone high on your body along the centerline (i.e., along your shirt buttons). • Make controlled use of the laser pointer when you use it. Don’t just wave it around wildly. • DO NOT PUT YOUR TALK/POSTER IN YOUR CHECKED LUGGAGE!!!!!

Help to Avoid Being Nervous
• BE WELL-REHEARSED!!!!!!!! • Be prepared. • Script out your talk ahead of time. Don’t read it. • Visualize a successful talk. • Remember that you are the expert. • Consider your audience friendly. Ask them questions to engage them. • Be proud to show off your research results to your peers and other scientists! • Take a deep breath before starting. • A little nervousness is good--some adrenaline helps you be enthusiastic.

Giving Presentations in a Foreign Country and/or in Your Nonnative Language
• Talk slower. • Reduce the number of slides in your talk. • Put more words on your slides for the audience to follow you and as guides to you. • If you are really nervous write out your talk, as if you were going to read it, but don’t read it. • Others?

What You Can Do To Improve
• Learn from positive and negative role models. • “A severe critic is your best friend in learning how to write well.” - Chuck Doswell • Attending and critiquing others’ presentations is good practice. • Attend the department seminar series. • Form student seminar group. • The more you speak, the better you will get.


				
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