A promising recipe for high-quality presentations is the proper language style: Use plain language! Speak in a way so that you are understood immediately and easily. Allow no space for average presentations.

You can skip the obvious at the beginning like in the following speech excerpt confidently: “Good day, dear audience. It is great that so many of you have appeared. My name is Wolfgang Schneider. I will first provide an overview of the research area, then I will present the methods before I move on to the actual results of our project. For the sake of completeness, I will list the literature sources on my last slide…”

Starting that way, you will lose your audience from the very beginning. Yet I hear such openings from many speakers, especially in science. How much more effective would an introductory sentence be if you communicated an important statement right from the start? Only clear, concise statements guarantee the full attention of your audience. You pick up your audience wherever their interest is greatest. There is no room for minor and irrelevant statements. Explain complex things in a simple and understandable way.


From Elevator Pitch to Science Pitch

You may know the first part of your presentation as Elevator Pitch. Elevator Pitches are short and concise business presentations lasting from 10 seconds to three minutes, depending on the situation. The aim of the Elevator Pitch is to inspire your audience for your topic, your idea.

For now, let’s define it as “Science Pitch” in science terms. With regard to science presentations, bring in a key statement in the first sentence. In the strict scientific sense, it does not have to be formulated at this point. Other than publications for scientific journals, you can use a fuzzy phrase in your presentation, especially at the start of the Science Pitch. If you sharpen your statement in a few words, you will certainly receive the attention of the audience, as in the following examples:

  • Our results clearly show that the bigger X trees are, the faster they grow.
  • Thanks to our findings, in two years’ time we will be able to develop an infinite number of red blood cells to marketability.
  • The results of our study affect everyone with a digital network.
  • We show a way that leads to the rapid healing of cancer patients.

Now, of course, your audience expects proof of such statements. Bring them in early by presenting the core findings of your study and open for discussion.

The aim of the Science Pitch is to engage your audience during the presentation. This you can achieve with specific, closed questions, which you can answer by directly asking into the audience: “Who is of the opinion that…? Please raise your hand!” or “Which visible consequences of the current climate change have you already experienced?” Open questions that your audience can answer immediately promise even more variety. Certainly a daring move, because you hand over part of the time control. I have had very good experiences with this: the direct interaction brings about a more open dialog and often leads to stimulating discussions with new ideas and thought-provoking impulses.


Plain text without nested sentences

To ensure that you are easily understood, I recommend listener-friendly words. Technical terms are okay as long as you speak in front of a professional audience and can explain them quickly when asked. Most speakers choose complicated, cumbersome terms instead of easily understandable plain text:

Cumbersome Text Plain Text
Performance requirements Task
Posing of a question Question
Complex of problems Problem
Subject matter Topic
Research Field Research
Application for a research project Research proposal
Distinction medium Distinctive feature
carrying out an investigation investigate

Scientists in particular like to stuff too many thoughts into long nested sentences: They overload statements with infinite details in order to provide scientific accuracy – at the expense of brevity and simplicity. The most important findings are followed by cryptic conclusions – as in the following, constructed example:

“For the presentation of scientific results, whether it is in a seminar, a colloquium, during the defense of a PhD thesis or in the context of a conference presentation, the scientist – as is also valid for any other scientific presentation – takes care to support elaborated sentences with numerous foreign-language technical terms, so that he or she expresses himself or herself correctly and precisely and does not use excessively long sentences, whereby of course he or she also takes care that the style of the language is clean, the spelling is exact and the punctuation is precise.”

Speakers are much better understood by using short, illustrative and easily comprehensible sentences instead of complicated nested sentences.

At the end of your presentation, relate to the question or thesis asked at the beginning: briefly summarize your most important arguments and findings. Content that you repeat will be remembered particularly well by your audience. Make sure you formulate your last sentence in advance: include a suitable quotation or a final thought containing a clear message. With a memorable sentence the audience will remember you positively.

This post is also available in: German

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