A Great Story No One Understood…
What’s the point is a question we get all the time? Well first…
True story—Imagine a room full of Ph.D. scientists and engineers from four or five different disciplines listening to a presentation pitched at high school level. A few minutes into the presentation, a biologist asks the engineer, what do you mean when you talk about “stress”. It turned out that each scientist interpreted the meaning differently based on their discipline and thus was confused by the point of the speaker.
In another presentation, a scientist speaks of organic detritus in the ocean slowly raining down on the ocean floor, which over time can create methane deposits. detritus… detritus… Is she referring to the great floating garbage patch of plastics? Maybe she is referring to pollution from oil and gas drilling? NO! She is talking about animal detritus – dead bodies and poop!
The beauty of language and ideas comes from the context or story we all summon to make sense of it. In teen science cafés, the language and context can make or break whether the audience can make sense of the big idea being shared.
In our teen cafés, we have found that it is highly valuable—and indeed essential—for presenters to do a dry run with a small group of teens before speaking to a full house. Initially, we did dry runs with an audience of science peers. This was a fascinating experience. It quickly demonstrated that it does not matter whether your audience is highly educated or not, the message is best understood when it is told as a story, broken down to the big idea, and presented with plain, everyday language and examples.
After a few years, our youth leaders politely suggested that they were in a better position to critique the dry run, and we adopted this advice. It turns out that there is nothing so powerful as hearing a teen explain an idea they just heard in the presentation for ensuring presentations get pitched at the right level, with the right words, and comprehensible graphics. The discussions between the presenter and teens that take place at these dry runs often drift into far off and unrelated topics that build confidence among the youth about their science knowledge and provide great insight to the presenter about what teens know and what interests them the most. For many presenters, this icebreaker serves to overcome a certain intimidation factor of presenting before an unfamiliar audience.
Some presenters recently shared with us how important the dry run was for their success…
[The dry run]” fundamentally changed my presentation and approach, which was a great learning experience. I still regularly use slides I made for the Café just because they are so clear and concise.”
“The dry run was invaluable. Without the input … I would have bombed on the first night. I would have talked about network protocols … and bored the students to tears.”
While many of our presenters have initially told us they are experienced at presenting to the public and never do a rehearsal, every presenter has told us afterward that the dry run was well worth their time.
Take a minute and tell us your story about great presentations gone awry or bad presentations that were saved by getting to the point.