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In the spotlight

Knowing how to speak in public can help boost a researcher’s career

Carreiras_290Daniel AlmeidaPresenting the findings of their research in department meetings at universities, or at seminars or conferences is part of the calendar of events for many graduate students. Nonetheless, speaking in public can be challenging for many researchers. Presenters often use graphics that at first glance are confusing and show slides with lengthy text that is difficult to decipher, all of which can undermine the quality of the presentation and the audience’s understanding of its content. Learning how to make good and balanced presentations, either to researchers in the same field or to the general public, enhances the work and may be important for furthering a researcher’s career.

Speaking well in public takes practice, according to biologist and science communicator Atila Iamarino, a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the University of São Paulo (ICB/USP) and presenter on YouTube channel Nerdologia, where he discusses science and pop culture topics. One way he prepares is by investing in the dissemination of his work outside the academic arena through the use of texts in blogs, videos or podcasts. “This can help researchers be more self-assured when speaking about their work to a more specialized audience,” he suggests. Another possibility, according to Iamarino, is to attend lectures such as TED Talks and podcasts like This Week Virology, which present scientific facts in an appealing way.

“Making a good presentation is nothing more than telling a story that has a beginning, middle and end,” says Mauro de Freitas Rebelo of the Carlos Chagas Filho Biophysics Institute of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). In addition to making presentations at scientific events as a researcher, Rebelo is a science communicator as well. He says that one way to alleviate nervousness and anxiousness is to tell a brief personal anecdote at the beginning of the presentation. “I always tell a story about myself and then interject science.” It is also essential to place the presentation in a broader setting of research and stress its importance for the field before discussing the content to be presented.

For this to work, explains psychologist Ana Arantes of the Human Learning, Interactive Media and Computerized Teaching Laboratory of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), it is important for researchers to prepare in advance and know the audience to whom they will be speaking. “The goal of the presentation should be established ahead of time: whether it is to identify a concept, explain a method or present some data,” she recommends. “Then you can determine the best method for getting the message across.”

In general, short presentations of up to 20 minutes are recommended. Today, according to Iamarino, there are several Internet platforms that can help researchers make a visually dynamic presentation that engages the audience Two examples are Keynote and Prezi — two applications that help create more attention-getting presentations. It is also important to think about the format of the presentation. “Avoid lengthy animations and texts, and pay attention to colors and font sizes. These are some basic tips to use in preparing a presentation,” he concludes.