I was asked the other day what I like most about my job. My answer came easily. What I most enjoy about my job is helping smart people explain what it is they do. 

I’ve been doing a bit of this lately having facilitated a number workshops for researchers and academics at the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, and University of South Australia. 

I believe we are all smart. We all have our own experience and life education and unfortunately this can also make us a little tunnel visioned at times. 

When you present information to other people you need to step back and look at your material with fresh eyes. This is especially important when we are speaking to people outside of our sphere of knowledge. 

Here are seven tips you can apply when speaking about your work

  • No need to tell us how great you are 

We know you’re great that’s why you have been asked to speak! Please don’t waste the valuable impact at the start of your presentation by giving us a synopsis of your bio. If you’re speaking at a conference, ensure the person introducing you to the audience delivers a great introduction. You can then further establish your credibility and experience through engaging and relevant stories within your presentation. Tell us about the challenges you have faced and the problems you have solved. Remember you have 10 seconds to win over the audience. Make sure you start with a grab: a startling statistic, a hypothetical question, a story, a photo, or a prop that draws us in and then build your presentation from there.

  • The golden rule of speaking at conferences

Think about the last conference you went to. Were you sitting there thinking to yourself “Oooo,  I hope I get overwhelmed with heaps of data and information!” Most likely you were thinking “Please, please, please, don’t bore me!”

The golden rule of speaking at conferences is: Be engaging. You are never going to be able to cram your eight years of research into a 45 minute keynote. And if you try to do this, your audience will want to grab a blunt pencil and stab their left eyeball out! Provide us with the highlights, the challenges, the unexpected results and, most importantly, the application to their situation and why this is important to them. 

  • Give me a story , any story

Research by the Harvard Business School of psychology showed that lecturers who included stories had a greater level of credibility. Stories enhance our humanity and make us more likeable. And if you are more likeable, you will be more persuasive. 

The stories can be work-related but even personal stories work well. Keep in mind your story must be relevant to your audience as well as your objective. 

  • Start at the top 

The best communicators start at the top and provide context. You can read more about this here


  • Why you speaking?

Be clear about what you want. If your answer is “I was just asked to speak.” You need to dig a little deeper. What do you want to get out of this presentation? Is it collaboration? Funding? Personal development? Building your personal brand? Increased exposure of your research?

Unpack what it is you want and then make sure you build your presentation around this. 

  • Remember, jargon alienates 

My favourite quote of all time is from William Butler Yeats “Speak like a wise man, but communicate the language of the people.”

Every industry has its own language and jargon; these are the verbal shortcuts we use with our peers. When using the shortcuts with other people outside of our organisation or industry, we alienate them. When an audience doesn’t understand you, the first thing they do is disengage. This is followed by boredom, frustration and finally anger. 

The best speakers explain their ideas and concepts so that their audience understands it, they empower people with information and make their audiences feel smart. 

  • Questions are a gift

When it is you up the front speaking, and a question is asked from the audience, you can choose to either play it or deflect it. If it is a reasonable question, proceed and answer it. Here are some tips for thinking on your feet. 

Occasionally though, there will be a sniper whose prime motivation is to undermine your credibility and put you on the back foot. This is the time to deflect. As tempting as it is to take your cricket bat and slam this person’s head into the ground, take the high road and deflect the question. If the question is not related to your topic or your research, here are some responses that you may consider to address the question:

  • “Interesting point.  I hadn’t considered that with my research. I’d love to catch up with you during the break and chat about it further.”
  • “That is a big topic and I don’t know if I will have time to address that before we break for lunch…”
  • “My understanding is ‘x’ but I would need to check back through my data to give you more detailed answer. My contact details are on the slide if you’d like to email me question I can get back to you in detail.”

A bonus tip: it is normal to feel nervous – EVERYBODY does! When you are feeling a little overwhelmed, go back to your values and think about why your research and message is important. Connect with your values of generosity, sharing and empowerment. Reignite your curiosity with your research and share this with the audience. Once you assemble your thoughts clearly and set yourself to ‘sharing mode’ you will find that you will be able to overcome your nerves and present confidently.  

Good luck and if you need me, I’m here to help.

Sharon Ferrier
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All Good Presentations Start With a Confident Speaker

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