+44(0)208 9952500 karen.stancombe@lionsdencommunications.com LionsDen Communications Lionsden medical John Clare

Storytelling for Scientists

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I'm John Clare and I've been coaching people all over the world to make scientific presentations from more than 20 years.

Think about great presenters you’ve seen, either live or on TV or the internet. Then think about the bad ones. What makes these two groups so different? Can you learn from the greatest, and adapt your own style? You certainly can. Here is the key difference:

Great presenters tell stories.  They are engaging. They inform, educate and occasionally entertain. Poor presenters read out their slides and add little to what you can read yourself on the screen.

However dense your data, and complicated your trial design, it’s your job to turn it into a compelling narrative. The essential elements of storytelling are:

inform-engage-inspire

Too often, scientific presenters concentrate on informing their audience. There is little or no engagement or inspiration.  You can add these elements by personalising your talk, and telling stories that illustrate key points.  At the same time you need to tell stories that connect with your audience.

As an example, if you want to illustrate the great changes that have occurred in a particular scientific or medical field, you might talk about how much was known about it when you – and many of your audience – were at medical school or university.

When I work individually with presenters, helping them to prepare for a congress or other big event, I always ask them, ‘How is this presentation different because you are giving it, rather than a colleague?’ The answer should be that they are drawing on their own knowledge and expertise, to add to the data we can see on screen. They need to do that in a way which will engage and inspire the audiences.

 Body language

In my e-book The 7 Deadly Sins of Scientific Presentations (and how to avoid them) I talked about the three elements of a great presentation:

  • Body Language
  • Voice
  • Content

All three of them combine to produce an overall effect.  Some presenters sound boring – and bored.  With others, the content is too long, detailed or unfocussed. The surprising element, though, which separates the slide readers from the story tellers, is the body language.

Story tellers fill the stage with their energy and presence. They establish eye contact with the audience. They exude confidence and relaxed authority. They smile appropriately. They shrug and gesture when they are introducing important or contested points. The overall impression is someone so in command of their subject that they can work equally well with or without slides. They are good to listen to.

Slide readers, on the other hand, do just that… they walk onto the stage, grab the podium in both hands, click on the first slide, and read from it.  They then do a passable imitation of a karaoke machine as they pick out every word with a laser pointer. In doing so, they turn (or at least half-turn) their back on the audience. In addition to losing eye contact, this often as the effect of turning their mouth away from the microphone, so we can’t hear them anyway.

I know which of these two I would rather listen to. I’m sure you do too…so make sure you’re in the first group, and start telling stories!


There is much more on this and similar topics in my book Communicating Clearly about Science and Medicine:

http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781409440383

Over the last 20 years I have helped to prepare thousands of scientists, physicians and pharmaceutical executives for major presentations, media interviews and regulatory hearings.

Find out more here: http://www.lionsdencommunications.com

If you have a particular question or a topic you would like me to address, please email me: John.clare@lionsdencommunications.com

If you have colleagues who would benefit from these tips, please send them the link to my free e-book, The 7 Deadly Sins of Scientific Presentations (and how to avoid them).



http://www.lionsdencommunications.com/download-free-book

Thanks for dropping in.

If you have colleagues who would benefit from these tips, please send them the link to my free e-book, The 7 Deadly Sins of Scientific Presentations (and how to avoid them).



http://www.lionsdencommunications.com/download-free-book