I was recently privileged to speak at a conference with colleagues from disciplines outwith medicine. I was humbled at the level of wisdom, scientific endeavour and sadly at the level of presentation skills displayed. If it is any comfort, many scientists match the level of medical presentations we have all come to regard as acceptable. This is not simply a disease of physicians. Sadly, one thing that was sadly lacking was the number of presenters who failed to show some emotion about their topic.
One speaker struck me. Her topic was out with my knowledge and experience. She spoke carefully and with structure and then, as she reached a certain point in her talk, I saw something that thrilled me. From my position in the front row, beneath the level of the stage, I saw her rise up onto tiptoe and smile broadly as she explained a discovery she had made. That simple and probably unintentional move captured and defined what it was about her presentation that was different; she was excited. Her passion and enthusiasm for the topic were clear and that was why she showed some emotion, not only in her words but her body language.
One of the reasons presentations fail is that the presenter simply does not show the audience that they care about the topic, they show no emotion. Of course, many of the meetings we attend are billed as scientific. They are imposing, potentially even intimidating for presenters. This may quash or reduce the enthusiasm a speaker feels they can display for their topic. How that emotion and enthusiasm is expressed is personal, influenced by stress and surroundings but if one starts with an emotionless, unengaging plan, things will not improve. Be sure of one thing, if as a presenter you show no passion for your topic, neither will the audience. If you care about your topic, show it; it’s infectious.
I couldn’t agree more, Ross. Passion from the speaker drives the engagement of the audience. Even if you don’t deliberately say it, the “why should I care slide” must come early in a talk to get my attention. It is a basic element of plot for writers: something happens to your characters early and then you slowly raise the tension until you resolve the conflict and end the story. Lectures are no different. Skip the “something happens” and you lose the audience. They close your book early.