All researchers need to learn to communicate details of their projects to a wider audience. Obviously, different audiences require different approaches but to try to give some perspective, here are a few hints and tips gleaned from the experiences I’ve had with my own project thus far.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly: know your audience. This is not so much about the tone (although over-familiarity is a really bad idea in a formal setting!), but rather about the content of your talk. When presenting to your own group, there is perhaps a level of common knowledge that means that you can assume the basics and only give abbreviated reports on progress. However, in any other context, it is best to assume that the audience has little knowledge of the specifics of your work. To that end, a brief introduction is useful to set the scene before getting into the details.
Secondly, pacing and timing are key. A talk divided into clear sections holds the interest of an audience better than a long talk without breaks. It also makes it easier to rehearse timings and to be flexible. Both are useful in preparing to talk in a formal setting such as a conference. In such a setting, the Chair will offer some sort of signal near to the end of your slot, or a clock will be made available. In either case, rehearsing timings beforehand is useful. Do bear in mind though, that people tend to talk more quickly when nervous.
On the subject of nerves, remember that the audience is there to hear what you have to say. Everyone in the room is on your side so if there are any minor slip-ups, focus on your work and just keep going. No-one will object if you need to take a moment to gather your thoughts mid-talk.
Lastly, don’t dread question sessions – they are usually a great opportunity to engage with the audience and possibly to establish some beneficial networking connections. From personal experience, these sessions have led to many worthwhile discussions after the fact, and to one worthwhile collaboration.
If anyone has any other experiences or additional suggestions for presentation, please feel free to contribute in the comments.