Category Archives: Presentations

Passion versus Purpose

We are often encouraged, particularly when we are young, to find our passion and follow it to greatness. The traditionally held logic is that if we do what we love success and money will follow. However, commonly as we grow older we come a conclusion that our passion isn’t realistic, or simply not an endeavor worth pursuing.  Having a passion is no doubt a driver to do more, be better you and make a mark on the world. However following raw passion without clear direction isn’t any better than being apathetic and having no passion at all. How does all of this translate into public speaking? In this post we explore how to add passion to your presentations, while maintaining a clear focused purpose.

“Do what you love, and feel as if you never work a day in your life!”

Leonid Pasternak - The Passion of creation

Start from the beginning.

Many of us have several different things we are passionate about, the trouble is finding the time to focus on any one thing. When I began writing this blog I wanted to focus on something that I am passionate about, science communication. The posts I write are aimed at helping people (particularly scientists) communicate, present their work, and speak more clearly to an audience. However, with all the different aspects of science communication, how could I stay focused to get my message across? The answer is a clear purpose. Although I had passion about the message, creating a focused blog aimed at specific group with specific problems was, I found, the best way to go about disseminating my message. Yet, when you devote yourself a single endeavor, it can be difficult to pinpoint where passion should end and where purpose should begin.

Passion vs. Purpose

passion – noun 1. A strong and barely controllable emotion.
 
purpose – noun 1. The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

In the old days it wasn’t uncommon for someone to have complete and utter devotion to a single body of work. Workers trained for years as apprentices with more experienced craftsmen. These understudies would work diligently, until they were able to prove themselves in their field by becoming a journeyman.  Some people were born into this type of work, and embraced it whether it was their passion or not. Particularly before the advent of computers, some works of science and art would literally take a lifetime to complete. This level of devotion is not commonly seen these days, as most of us have many different responsibilities, tasks, and hobbies that play significant role in our lives. Our daily work, may not reflect our true passions in life, but it is possible to have a purpose in life driven by passion. We usually consider the definition of greatness  simply talent or inherent intelligence. The fact is that being driven by a passion will cause you to exert so much more effort you would normally put into a task. The outcome is, that when driven by passion and focused by purpose, we can achieve much more than we ever though possible.

It is entirely possible that your purpose is to let your passions spread through the world. However it is important to consider why we are doing what we do in the first place. In the case of public speaking and science communication you might ask yourself, am I trying to get feedback from the audience? am I trying to present new information that others can then use and benefit from? or perhaps you want to simply update a group of people on the progress that has been made on a project. Whatever your reason, if you allow some passion behind your words you can naturally captivate and inspire the audience. Although this can be difficult focusing on a positive reason for speaking in public can help tremendously. Whether it be, trying to impress your boss, or to help others, giving yourself a clear reason to communicate with improve your message.

“We have a chance to take advantage of everyday occasions to … to be of service to the world.” 1

An example of pure passion.

The video below is a compilation of several clips of Niel deGrasse Tyson speaking about how the US space program is underfunded. The emotion of Tyson and the force with which he speaks is raw, yet he is able to put these feelings into a coherent and clear message. His way of speaking is convincing because it has tremendous passion, but with great skill he is still maintaining a clear message. There is no doubt that with the deepest part of his soul he believes what he is saying to be true, you can not only hear it in his words you begin to feel it as you watch the video. When giving a presentation there often times when this  type of moving reaction is needed when you want to convince your audience about a certain point, or to rally them in agreeance. These types of speeches or presentations are particularly useful when you are trying to garner action by your audience members.

Let your passion drive you, let your purpose refine you.

The difficult thing about passion is that for the most part we don’t consciously choose what we are passionate about, rather we find our passion in our lives along the way as we grow and mature. Therefore, purpose has to drive our actions while we use passion to keep us motivated despite setbacks and difficulties in life. In the case of speaking in public, our purpose can feel much more mundane than passion, but without having a clear purpose we would simply end up ranting about a topic rather than speaking clearly. Combining these two ideas is key to becoming a great speaker. There are times, even when giving a boring quarterly report to the board room, that we must remind ourselves of the purpose of doing our job while keeping passion alive.

Perfect practice makes perfect

It is highly unlikely that going out on our first time speaking in public we will be able to make a convincing argument such as Dr. Tyson has done in the above video. That level of skill when speaking in public takes years of practice. Research has shown that those who are willing to stick it out with many hours of practice, end up becoming better at their task and are more successful. 2 Although we may feel that we are born with a set amount of skill, talent, or ability through dedicated practice and effort we can master any skill. 3 Keep in mind however, becoming excellent at a task requires lots of practice, discipline, failure, and often years to perfect. 2 With some effort however we can improve our communication skills and begin to have moving speeches just like the above video.

References

  1. Brooks, D. (2015). The road to character. Random House.
  2. Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(6), 1087
  3. Robinson, K. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything. Penguin.

The Power of Silence

We have all been there when, sitting in the audience confounded as a speaker is blasting us with information or speaking a mile a minute because they are nervous. The result of a presentation like this, is that everyone gets lost and loses interested. When speaking in public the most successful speakers use all the tools at their disposal to captivate an audience and convey information. And one of the most powerful of these tools is actually not what is said, but the unspoken silence that allows information to sink in or pose a question. In this post we will look at some of the ways that you can integrate silence into your presentation for dramatic effect as well as allowing the audience some time to absorb the information you are presenting to them

How Silence Affects Your Presentation

When we are speaking we convey information such as the presence of a person or the details of an idea. In normal everyday conversation we use pauses and silence to create distance in our speech. When speaking, silence constructs a gap between the speaker and the audience. This gap can be a powerful tool if used in the right way. However, if we get nervous or are under-prepared we subconsciously forgo using silence and instead try to fill gaps or pauses with words. This can overload an audience with information, and audience engagement dissipates. We would never speak this if we are relaxed, but under pressure we can’t help speaking quickly or without pauses. On the other extreme, some may freeze up when nervous, allowing far too much silence creating an atmosphere of awkwardness and confusion. This can lead to the audience interpreting the silence as trying to hide something or a lack of knowledge of the subject.1

The Virgin Mary telling a young John the Baptist to be quiet Wellcome V0015058

To understand how to use silence in a presentation effectively, you will first need to understand how we use silence in a natural way and what it conveys. Think of the last time you were having a conversation with a friend. In natural conversation there are regular pauses that let the other party absorb ideas and respond. In conversation, and these pauses are one of the most important features of social interaction.3  There are no spoken rules about when you should be silent, rather we just get the feeling that it is time to allow the other person a chance to say something. That feeling stems from us picking up on subtle natural cues that the other person is giving us. Silences of about 1 to 2 seconds are relatively normal in most everyday conversations.2  To emphasize a point or to ask a question silent pauses can last 3-5 seconds giving a dramatic effect. Silence might feel like an eternity when you are on stage, but if done right you will captivate and engage the audience.

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

How and when to use silence in your presentation

Long breaks in speaking can be divided into two types of silence, unintentional and intentional.1 Unintentional can be considered as someone who is shy or might feel embarrassed, while intentional silence has a distinct purpose.1  Intentional silence may be caused by the need or desire to withhold information from what is being discussed or questioned. For example, think about how you do not want to reveal too much information before delivering the punch line of a joke. Additionally, when negotiating, one party may want to be careful with the amount of information conveyed. Silence should be used strategically, and not because you have run out of things to say. However, in some cases too long a period of silence could be interpreted as a break down of communication. Depending on your audience, some groups may expect certain periods of silence in your speech that may be longer than you are comfortable with.2  So take the time to think about the context of your next presentation to help you decide how much silence to include.

It is useful to consider silence as a tool to convey information, emotion, and intrigue. Despite what our subjective gut reaction may be to silence. It turns out that, we are preconditioned based on gender, age, or race to speak with a certain amount of silence. Our normal pace of speaking, therefore, should be adjusted to fit a topic, audience and best convey information. These factors need to be considered while you are preparing before you get on stage. In a conversation there are several ways to know when a silent pause is appropriate, such as subtle distinct cues when to speak. However unlike a face to face interaction, on stage you do not have the benefit of these cues, and need to rely on your practiced rhythm to guide the presentation. In general most conversations will have fewer long pauses (e.g. greater than 2 seconds) than short pauses (e.g. less than 2 seconds).3  As you craft your next talk consider the number of times you want silence and how that might affect the audience’s perception of you. The goal is to balance the amount of silence so there is not too much or too little, and only you will be able to make the judgement call based on the topic, audience, and venue.

After George Caleb Bingham - Stump Speaking (engraving, 1886)

Simple tips to improve your voice when speaking

Probably the most common advice to improve your speaking voice is practice, however before you get to the stage here are some tips to help with your next talk. Make sure to take it slow. You may need to remind yourself during the presentation. For example if you are going to have notes on stage with you, write in the margins to remind yourself, “slow down”. Allow for short pauses as the next slide or idea is presented, and let your natural pace come through.

If you have bad jitters and get nervous when you get up to speak, find some friends to help with your next talk. Get in front of a small group that you are comfortable with, so you can condition your brain to be more relaxed when you speak to a bigger audience. Even if you do not have a talk coming up you can always do some basic Wikipedia research on a topic and give a practice talk on a random subject. Public speaking is a work in progress and it may take many tries to find your pace. Make sure to focus on keeping yourself calm and collected as you can, by consciously relaxing your breathing and posture.

If you are just getting your feet wet speaking in public, it is not uncommon for a new or inexperienced speaker to struggle with when to add silence or how long to pause. Many inexperienced speakers begin their presentation speaking at an unrelenting pace. Yet, no matter what your experience level, practicing a natural speaking rhythm with a balance of silent pauses will go a long way to help the quality of your next presentation.

References

1. Kurzon, D. (1995). The right of silence: A socio-pragmatic model of interpretation. Journal of pragmatics, 23(1), 55-69.

2. Mushin, I., & Gardner, R. (2009). Silence is talk: Conversational silence in Australian Aboriginal talk-in-interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 41(10), 2033-2052.

3. Wilson, T. P., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1986). The structure of silence between turns in two‐party conversation. Discourse Processes, 9(4), 375-390.

4. Zimmermann, D. H., & West, C. (1996). Sex roles, interruptions and silences in conversation. Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science Series 4, 211-236.

Using Tension to Communicate Your Story

Have you ever wondered why some movies, books or television shows can be so enthralling while others are seemingly uninteresting? One reason why we get so hooked on a story is because of suspense. The stories that we most often enjoy have an moment where the final outcome can go either way, and we become emotionally invested in that outcome. During the build up of conflicts in the story we identify with the characters and think of ourselves in that situation. 3 Often for dramatic effect writers and directors make the audience wait as long as possible for the outcome, hoping to build up as much suspense as possible. This is really a build up of emotional frustration in ourselves, due to the not knowing of the outcome and having to wait. Suspense usually manifests itself in the form of tension, and in this post our topic is how to harness this powerful emotional feeling when communicating. By utilizing tension in your presentations you will be able to keep the audience engaged and interested in the outcome of your talk.

Wikimania 2014 opening ceremony audience 16

What is tension?

Tension is used in every aspect of communication from short stories to video games. 2 To begin we need to clearly define exactly what we are trying to achieve. Here, I am referring to tension as the slight emotional or mental strain we feel when we are hearing a story.  It is an effective tool that can help drive the narrative. 1 Using tension can create a more interesting story or increase audience attentiveness. The reason why it works so well is because people empathize with the story they are hearing and imagine themselves in the same situation. 3 This is a unique aspect of human nature that we try our best to identify with our colleagues and friends. Despite tension feeling unpleasant, humans want to be able to relate others and understand the problem at hand. People actually crave feelings that give them excitement and frustration, this helps create an interesting story and something that we enjoy. 2

So you may be asking yourself, but my boring subject matter has no tension, how can I create something that isn’t there in the first place? The fact is that every story can be told in a way that creates tension. There was probably a lot of tension throughout your project that you shrugged off because it didn’t seem to be that important at the time. Specifically in science, there is no work that is done without problems, difficulties, or hurdles to overcome. Yet, in our perception of our own work we tend to trivialize these difficulties so that it seems uninteresting. I can’t tell you how many times I have explained some seemingly boring aspect of my work to the general public only to hear the response of “that is so interesting!”. In our day to day it is easy for things to seem mundane. In fact, the problems you had to face and overcome to achieve your goals or finish your project add to the tension of the story.

Finding tension

There are some tricks you can use to help figure out what parts of your story will add tension when you tell it. Begin by thinking about any  actual consequences of your work, or your research. For example, anyone who does research in bio-medical fields where the lives of others depend on their work. Or perhaps people who take great risks to do work in dangerous areas, such as doctors without borders. If your work is something that is less dramatic, consider things that help people understand what you are solving and why. This is usually the main idea behind the “why should we care” slide that so many people include in their talks. The idea is that you want to explain how others can empathize with your work and expand on this emotion. Do this by brainstorming out some ideas on how your work effects the audience. Next make a list of all the problems big and small that you had to overcome. From your field vehicle breaking down, to someone getting attacked by a wild animal. People think that science is boring, but over the years I have seen deceit, sabotage, and literal fist fights. You don’t need to pretend to be writing a script for a soap opera, but identify conflict and use them to your advantage.  By coming up with a reason for the audience to care, and identifying problems that you faced, you can begin to weave a story that will be build empathy in the audience. Once the audience connects with your work it is easier to add the tension to the story.

Театр оперы и балета. Зал

A give and take interaction between you and the audience

Once you have identified the elements of the story that you will use in your presentation, it is time to add in the tension. Keep in mind that, you don’t want to use up all the tense moments in the first five minutes of your talk. Showing all your cards early will feel like a laundry list of complaints about how hard your project was, and it makes for an weak climax to the story.  Add suspenseful moments throughout your story, think about what happened first and how that led to the next problem you had to overcome. This can be as simple as “the first experiment failed so we went to plan B”. There likely has been been multiple problems to the research, and you can lead the audience through the narrative introducing the next conflict in a logical order as you go along. Remember to allow your audience question how you resolved the conflicts, but don’t just spoon feed all the answers right away give allow for space in your presentation before you resolve each problem.

Tension can also be built up by convincing the audience that they are “missing out” by not engaging in the presentation. 4  Marketers use this tactic all the time with adverts saying things like “By knowing these three secrets to finance you can be rich too, but only for a limited time!”. Using the correct language and visuals makes us think we will miss out and so the audience wants to know more. By being the speaker at a presentation you are in control of all the information and therefore can control who has access and by how much. 4 Use this power by dropping hints throughout the presentation, for example you can say something like this, “I’m going to share with you the secret to how this molecule works to chelate iron, but first let me tell you about X”. The point is that you are controlling the flow of information, and can dose it out slowly to the audience.  This power allows the speaker to create tension where and when they want since they can control these aspects which create tension.

By using tension in your presentation you will have another tool by which to get the audience to engage with your work. Being able to craft a good presentation takes practice so remember to try different points where you create tension, and where you reveal the outcome. With a little practice you will be well on your way to creating an interesting and exciting presentation.

References

1. Dollerup, C. (1970). The Concepts of “Tension”,“Intensity”, and “Suspense” in Short‐Story Theory. Orbis Litterarum, 25(4), 314-337.

2.  Lazzaro, N. (2004). Why we play games: Four keys to more emotion without story.

3. Stromberg, P. G., (Jun 18, 2010) The Mysteries of Suspense Why do we love suspense? https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-drugs-and-boredom/201006/the-mysteries-suspense

4. Walsh, M., (May + June 2013). Harnessing the power of positive tension. http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/may-june-2013/harnessing-the-power-of-positive-tension

Why Every Presentation You Give is Different

Throughout our careers as scientists, science communicators and public speakers, we may be asked to give many different  types of presentations. Each time we speak it is a unique experience with different audiences and different venues. In fact your audience will perceive your presentation differently based on who they are, their level of engagement and level of education. There is a lot more going on behind the scenes between you and your audience than just the words that are spoken. We are constantly adapting in the moment to non verbal feedback from the audience without even knowing it.

Audience waiting

When practicing with a new presentation we tailor how we present based on our preconceived notion of the audience. I’ve recommended to take time beforehand to consider, the audience, the venue, and the subject matter, to create the perfect presentation for the event.  However, our presentation is a manifestation of not only the material we put together, but also our current emotional state, and the response of the audience. In most cases we are far more connected with the audience than we think. In this post we will briefly explore how our perception of the audience and their perception of us, can influence our speaking style.

How does the audience see you and your subject matter?

By the very nature of speaking in public we are relying on being broad enough to reach most of the audience, but not too simplistic so as to disengage any one person. From the perspective of the audience, everyone will remember or connect with something different. The audience is considering not only what was said, but what they think it meant, and how they identify with that idea. This similar to how eye witness testimony can be so different even if two people saw exactly the same event. In the court room the main ideas will likely be the same, “a man stole a car”, but the finer details can be different, like thinking he drove away in a blue car when it was actually red. The way that your audience perceives your presentation is largely based on what details they remember to be important (stolen car) and how they filter those details (was it red or blue). This is the same reason why you can go watch a movie with friends, and each person will describe a unique experience afterwards. Your audience will experience your talk in the same way good or bad, right or wrong.

How do you see yourself and your presentation?

Sometimes we can be hard on ourselves for missing a fact or detail during a presentation. Perhaps we made a mistake in how we wanted to define a topic or we used the wrong words, it happens to the best of us. There is an old saying that, “we are our own worst critics”, and it can be true for anyone who works under the eye of public scrutiny. As a presenter, we have an idealized picture of how the material should be presented even before we get on stage. This is a natural human tendency to try to predict the outcome of an event before it happens so we can be prepared. The problem is that usually things go differently (good or bad) from what is in our mind and we get discouraged feeling a little out of control. The reason however things go differently is not always because we make mistakes but because we are adapting based on the audience.

In a one on one conversation you know immediately whether the other person understands you or not, because of non verbal feedback. Having only one person to focus on allows us to stop and repeat ourselves if the other person is lost. As a communicator we are constantly adapting our language and our tone to make sure that the we are understood. When you speak to a large audience, you still are receiving non verbal feedback whether you know it or not. Unlike a one on one conversation this feedback is coming from many different sources, so you are not just adapting based on one person’s response.  Being critical of ourselves while speaking can be generally positive but it is also very easy to let that criticism go too far. We need to be critical and scrutinize our work during the planning phase of the presentation. Once we are on stage, however, and after the presentation is over, being overly critical is of little help. So before you think that things didn’t go according to plan, consider the value of adaptation and thinking on your feet. And finally, the perception of your talk by the audience is probably very different from what you think.

021 JHV 2012 (8272218604)

How can you use perception to your advantage?

The biggest difference between you and the audience is that you know the material better than those listening to you. Therefore as the presenter it is much easier to see and focus on the errors or shortcomings since they appear so obvious to you. Yet, for the most part the audience cannot stay completely focused all the time and take in every detail. They are constantly trying to adsorb new information and assimilate it into their current way of thinking. This is why generally not everyone will experience the talk in the same way. Audience members are also easily distracted, especially as our technologies are ever more present with notifications and instant responses. The vast majority of the world is having a shorter and shorter attention spans as technology advances. The point is that we need to focus on grabbing the attention of the audience more than anything else. Getting the audience to experience the talk in our idealized view is not really a realistic goal since all the information is filtered by the perception of audience. As communicators the idea is to remain fluid and be ready to adapt, explaining your subject based on any feedback from the audience. Remember, that the audience heard what they perceived and it was a unique experience for them whether they enjoyed it or not.

Effective Time Management for Science Communication

Having a good sense of time management is more than just being under the allotted time and allowing the audience to ask questions. It is about making sure the flow and meter of what you present connects with the audience. It is also about planning beforehand and making sure that you are covering your topic in an efficient manner. Being good at time management is more than just numbers, it is a formula that will make your presentation successful. In this post we explore some things you can do to improve your use of time while communicating.

Blue alarm clock (1)

The planning phase

In order for your presentation to flow well and make sense to the audience, you need to plan out the important parts ahead of time. Start by considering how much time you want to spend on each part of your presentation. Do this by making a list of all the topics you want to cover in the talk. Chances are there is not enough time to cover all of the things you want to and still be on time during the presentation. The reality is, that you are going to have to cut some of the things on your list and it could be as much as half of the things you wrote down. Consider how long (in minutes) it would take to explain each part and write down those times next to each topic on your list. If you are not sure how long it would take for a topic, get a stopwatch app on your phone and time yourself. Expect that you might speak a little faster on stage (about 10% or so) and add all the times together. This will give you a rough idea of what you are looking at for overall time. Even if you are able to cover everything in time, in context it still may be too much information for the audience. For a 15 minute presentation you should have one central idea with the rest of the material supporting the central idea. Longer presentations can have one maybe two central ideas, but if you are trying fit more than that it is probably too much info.

Your priorities

Next, it is time to consider what are the essential parts of the story that cannot be cut. You may feel that an in depth explanation of your PCR analysis of DNA is something you cannot cut out, however you need to think about the context of your talk. For example, you may not need to bring up the complexities of your methods when speaking to a audience composed of the general public. On the other hand you may want to go through the extensive detail of your methods when you are talking about something new that revolutionizes your field. The key is to be as concise as possible, while still creating an effective story line. Consider how most powerful stories follow and details or information that do not support the arc are not necessary.

Organization

Organizing your talk may seem like something that is already easy and doesn’t need to be examined in detail. However, sometimes the plan we have in our head doesn’t go as we expected when we are on stage. During the organizing step, it is time to take all the priority topics that you have written down and think about what order they should be presented in. Consider how these topics are going to flow from one to another. You don’t want to give the audience any jarring transitions that will cause difficulty to follow along. The trick is that you want you audience to be expectant of the logical progression in your story. For example, if your first attempt at an experiment failed then you want the audience to be thinking “well did you try method X?” right as you talk about the next experiment using method X. Anything that doesn’t fit well in the progression of the story, or add to the arc of your presentation should probably be cut. Only you can make the final decision on what and how you present, but don’t be afraid to rearrange and start over if things are not flowing from one succinct idea to the next.

Refinement

Now is the time to take this presentation for a test ride and see how things go. Practice in front of friends, practice in front of strangers, practice in front of older people and practice in front younger people. Practice, practice, practice. You need data on how your presentation is received. It is time to see who “gets it” without you needing to repeat yourself and what common questions come up during your Q and A. You can imagine that you will probably use different language when you present to different groups, but now is also the time to find out what works and what doesn’t. Take notes or use a short survey to see where things could be clearer and more efficient. Be aware that most people will say nice things when asked directly like “you did great!”  so an anonymous questionnaire can be helpful here. Try to figure out how to address the most common confusion and add it to your presentation. Rework the presentation until it is smooth, well rehearsed, and doesn’t get bogged down by any complex details. Make sure people are getting the “take home message”, and prepare your responses to any difficult questions you can think of.

191 pages

Execution

It’s game day and there is no turning back now. Wake up early well before you go on stage and rehearse what you want to say. Ideally this is done at least a few hours before you speak. You want to prime your brain so that you don’t need to try to remember on stage what you are going to say. You presentation should feel like second nature by this point. Rehearse one more time with an hour to go and then do something to relax so that you are not stressed out just before it is your turn to speak. Once you are on stage try not to think too much about the exact details of what you are presenting but rather make sure you are getting the main points across. If you have prepared well up to this point then you should be on time with no problem. If you get tripped up don’t worry, just try to pickup where you made a mistake and move on, there is no sense in dwelling on something if it didn’t come out right. Stick to your plan and be prepared to answer questions you might not expect. You can use some stalling tactics if you get a question you were not quite ready for, by saying something like “thank you for an excellent question [long pause], I think that….”. Remember to do you best and let the story carry the presentation.

Review

You did it, finally your presentation is over and now you can relax and enjoy the rest of the national meeting, right? Well there is still one more thing that needs to be done in order for you to keep improving at managing you time on stage. Once the presentation is done as soon as you can get to a quiet space, write out your thoughts on how everything went and where you think you could improve. Keep these notes for a few days but don’t look at them immediately. Check back once you have had some time to clear your head from the stress and pressure of needing to be on stage. You will be able to see more clearly then, and come up with ideas of how you can improve or fix problems. Remember, however, you never want to rehash old material for future presentations. Rather use your notes to try to improve the overall story and identify what does not work from this experience. Stay focused when you sit down to do this because it is easy to think “well this presentation is over I don’t need to worry about it anymore”. Keep in mind, that some of the best speakers spend literally hundreds of hours reviewing and refining their material, working out the best way to present. This type of constant refinement makes the presentation more efficient and easy to follow. Good luck! and remember being good at managing your time is a lot more about creating a coherent succinct story than it is about counting the minutes on stage.

Crafting the Right Presentation for Your Style of Science Communication

When tasked with designing a presentation for an upcoming speaking engagement, it can feel like a monumental task. Often many of us are tempted to rehash an old presentation into the new format needed and not worry too much about the content. This is a problematic way of thinking, since you are giving up the opportunity to improve on your previous work. For example, no self respecting scientist would rehash a old publication showing nearly the same work and call it an original paper, so why do speaking engagements get this treatment. Public presentations have a powerful impact on the audience and can make or break a person’s reputation. Increasingly in the digital age, public talks are recorded and uploaded to the internet and make a lasting impression with the audience that can be re-watched for years to come.

So why are we so quick to accept the mediocre standard of, “I’ll just use what I did from last year”? There is really no excuse for reusing old content, when your success depends on what content is being presented and how it you present it. I’m not only referring to visual aids like slide shows. The problem is that we get into the habit of using the same script for our introduction, our methods and so on. Once you become complacent with your material you stop innovating and less of your audience will be receptive to your message. As a communicator you are constantly being judged on how you present and what supporting material you use. Scientists will often allot months of time to perfect a paper. They ask the coauthors to comment and revise, use the help of independent reviewers to improve the publication, and edit according to the advice of the editor well before anything is made public. Conversely presentations are often only given a week or less of editing time, and maybe one practice run in front of an audience for constructive criticism. Giving a presentation should require as much effort as a publication, since it can actually reflect more on you than your most recent paper.

Example of copyedited manuscript

The editing

It is important to allow time and effort for the revision and editing of your work. It may take you a long time of careful refinement to finally find an effective way to communicate your topic. The key is to ask for feedback from others and not necessarily in a formal setting. Practice public speaking by sitting down with people and speaking off the top of your head and while you explain your work. Afterwards ask them if they understood all of the information and what was unclear, take notes on what can be improved. You can do this many times with different people and see how they understand the topic, after a while you will have a good spectrum of results on how to present to people with different backgrounds. Revise and improve on what language to use, think about how to address common questions people have, and so on. Eventually this type of practice will help fill gaps and reduce overall confusion when you communicate.

Who are you?

So how do you craft a presentation to fit your style? First there are several things you must consider. Every person has their strengths and weaknesses, for the most part weaknesses can be improved but you want to make good use of your strengths as well. For example, I remember hearing a student talk and his voice was powerful and dramatic. The topic was on medical research and and his booming voice made for strong emotional moments, however he did not win best talk of the meeting. This is because the visual aids were lacking, and the continuity of the story was somewhat difficult to follow. The point is figure out whatever you are good at and do it, but don’t forget to fill the gaps where you fall short as well. If you are comfortable in front of audiences let your charisma come through but be sure to use professional language as well. If you are nervous then work on relieving your tension and anxiety through practice and add your analytical skills to the talk. The key is to be well rounded enough so that the true personality and voice can shine through.

Degrowth Conference 2014 Photo by Eva Mahnke CC-BY-SA 13 Audimax Universität Leipzig

The audience

When you are making a new presentation your need to consider you audience before editing for content. Understanding who you are speaking to should be an important factor in deciding how to design your presentation. Consider the type of audience (e.g. students, public, colleagues) and general knowledge level. The level of knowledge and information you include needs to be balanced by the audience you  expect to have. Significant time will mostly be spent in the introduction if the audience is new to the material, but if they are all familiar you can pack in more information in the results. Be ready to think on your feet as well, if you planned for the general public and many experienced scientists show up, then you need to be prepared to explain your data thoroughly without any additional visual aids. This can be achieved by being well versed in the topic before you even begin to construct a presentation. Thinking ahead about the audience can alleviate a lot stress on the day you present.

The environment

When you are giving a talk the environment is an important thing to consider. Think not only of the type of presentation you will give (e.g. seminar, workshop, etc) but also the room and AV equipment that you will be using. In a large room with a small screen small text and figures will not be easy to read, however in a small classroom setting the same figure with small text could be legible. Will the room be dark or light? Will you be speaking in the morning or evening? Will you be the first speaker or the keynote? All of these factors will affect the attention level of your audience, and your presentation needs to be adjusted accordingly.

The context

Imagine that you are the fourth speaker at a professional meeting about aquatic invertebrates. Right away you already know that the audience is well versed in the topic and how many people might show up to the talk. Using this information on the context of your talk can help refine your presentation. All too often a student will get up to present at a national meeting spending the first few minutes giving an identical introduction to the speaker before. In this example you can leave out a lot of background because the session is designed to attract those who already know a lot about the subject. Furthermore, you are right in the middle of the session so the audience will already be thinking about the subject more deeply than in the first talk. If your research is new and controversial, better make sure there is time for questions at the end. If it is informative make sure to include resources where the audience can learn more. As a last note, if you are the final speaker in a session consider the fatigue of the audience and make sure to tailor your presentation so that it is not too complicated or long.

Following these simple ideas while constructing your presentation will set you up for success the next time you speak in public.

Finding Your Voice as a Science Communicator

Whether you work in the private industry or in the academic world, being able to communicate well is important. However, many people feel anxious or develop fear about speaking in public, which causes a them to sound shaky or unsure of themselves. If you are just starting out in the realm of public speaking, you may be struggling to establish your style, overcome the fear, and find your voice while presenting. Establishing a clear style that you identify with which helps create a speaking routine which can alleviate the stress of being on stage. Furthermore, developing your own unique voice is an important skill that can help you connect with the audience in a powerful way. In this post we explore a few tips to help you find your own unique voice for that next presentation.

Tyson - Apollo 40th anniversary

“Just be yourself”

Often this advice is given to the beginner, “just be yourself” when you are presenting before the public eye. However, when you are new to communication there isn’t a reference point for the on stage “self”. In our lives we have many different “selfs” that we use throughout the day. For example, the person you are at work is generally, very different from the person you are at home with your significant other. The point is, that in the beginning when speaking in public, you will need to do some trial and error work to find the perfect style and voice that fits who you are. A good way to start exploring what that style and voice might be is through emulation. Emulation is a great way to learn a new task well, while still allowing yourself room to grow and adapt to your own style. Think about the people in your field who inspire you and can communicate well, dissect what they are doing and try to emulate it for you next presentation. Practice in front of a mirror (or record yourself on an iPhone), then try it with some friends who can give you constructive feedback. It is important to make sure you are not outright copying someone, but rather learning what they do successfully to help you develop your own style.

As much as we hate to admit it, the audience is not only judging what you say (information) and how you say it (presentation), but also your voice and style. When you are communicating you are not only presenting the information that you are trying to communicate, but who you are as a person as well. A monotone speaker with no enthusiasm will bore the audience and no one will remember the content. So it is important to take time exploring different leaders in your field and see what is working for them. By emulating a well established voice, you can take the worry and uncertainty out of your presentations and begin developing your own style.

An example of two popular science communicators

Almost unequivocally the two of the most popular science communicators around right now are Bill Nye “the science guy” and Neil deGrasse Tyson. What is interesting about each of them is that they are often communicating nearly the same information, but have very different styles and voices that allow them to get their message across. The idea is that if your personality is rich and unique to you, it is an effective tool to communicate and will be listened to.

Bateau et voie lactée (19863443706)

Bill Nye is full of childhood curiosity with fun and imagination about science. He communicates how amazing the world is, a style he developed on his TV show where he focused on teaching science to kids. He uses exciting language with lots of exclamatory sentences to grab the attention of the audience. Neil on the other hand, uses wonderment and amazement of the universe that is bigger than we can imagine to inspire others. He conjures up the image that we can simply gaze out to the stars and wonder what more unexplained parts of the universe are still out there. Neil is an authoritative speaker that uses carefully constructed language and dramatic pauses to draw in the listener. Both Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are very effective at science communication but the differences lie in their personalities that they have developed over the years. There is no right or wrong answer here, the idea is that whatever your voice and style is embrace it fully and it will be a great advantage when communicating.

Elements of communication style

Adding humor to your presentation may help lighten the mood, however you need to make sure that using humor fits your personality. If you are generally a serious person trying to be funny you may end up forcing it and not engage the audience like you expected. On the other hand being light and jovial may be exactly the hook that you need  to use with the audience.

Drama, and emotional postures and speech might be perfect if you are looking to inspire the audience to take action or move them emotionally. Make sure, however, that the content lends itself to a dramatic or emotional tone. Being  overly dramatic can cause the audience to see you as pretentious and disconnect. Consider the topic, setting and audience carefully before you use this strategy with your voice and style.

An unbiased neutral (not monotone!) voice can be used if you are dealing with controversy or difficult topics. If you have watched the news you may have noticed that news anchors try to be neutral in many aspects, such as tone, dress, and body language. The idea is that using clear unambiguous speech and will not bias the story or information being communicated. This style allows the audience to create their own opinions and ideas in an atmosphere that does not influence their thinking.

Finally, be you and be effective

There are many different ways to solve this puzzle of finding your voice while speaking, however the one that works is the one that is effective for your own unique situation. Remember to try different styles as you gain experience and practice in front of friends that will give you honest constructive feedback. Trying things that work and finding what doesn’t will help you develop a unique voice that will aid you for many years in the future.

How to Communicate Science Using a Story Arc

Often times when presenting or speaking in a science communication setting, people feel compelled to use the format of a peer reviewed paper. The traditional, introduction, methods, results/discussion, and conclusion are suitable for the written word, however is not the best choice for the medium of public speaking. The main problem is that the written word can be reviewed, reread, and contemplated at the reader’s own pace. Where as, in a presentation the audience must keep up with the speaker or they can get lost in the details. For the most part almost every story follows a distinct format that allows the audience to be drawn in and immersed in the message. Preparing your next presentation with a clear plan and format will not only increase the audience’s retention but also engage them, making your next presentation well received.

Eduard Geselschap Die Gutenachtgeschichte

Develop your game plan.

The most important part of spoken presentations is to make sure you have a well defined plan. Take time before you make any PowerPoint slides or graphics to decide what material you want to use, how will it add to your message, and what your goals are for the presentation. Think about the setting and format of the presentation as well. If you are only allowed five minutes for a short elevator pitch to a room full the general public, you will need a very different format from a 45 minute seminar to professional colleagues. Even in the shortest of presentations you can still fit all the aspects of a story arc, but you will need to be very concise and use well rehearsed language. Take considerable time to brainstorm and write out thoughts, then return to your ideas, days or even weeks later and see if everything stills fits with your goals.

Starting at the beginning, the introduction.

First you will need to set the stage for what you did and how you did it. For the most part you can take the main ideas of your introduction and methods (from a peer reviewed paper) and combine them for a spoken presentation. Remember, however, that for the most part you only need to provide a setting and backdrop for where and how your story (research) take place. You will not need to use excruciating detail of every method and procedure that you did, just the gist so that the audience has a point of reference. Additionally, craft sound and logical reasoning  for why the research or project was undertaken and why the audience should care. Think about how most movies begin, very early on there are logical sequences of scenes to setup background, to build up characters, and try to get the audience to identify with what is being shown to them. In film, the idea is to get the audience to believe in the illusion that they are actually part of the action they see on the screen. In the same way use words and imagery in your presentation so that the audience is joining you on a journey and become immersed in your work.

Build up tension and add some rising action.

Every story from fairy tales to epics, has some sort of rising action like tension or obstacles that need to be overcome. The purpose is to keep the story interesting, and make the audience want to keep paying attention. Usually this is in the form of a series of actions that keep the main character from completing his or her goal. This keeps a story interesting because we experience the same sort of complex obstacles in real life, and the rising action in a story helps us identify with the characters. When constructing your next presentation you will want to think about all the problems, be it external or internal that were preventing your work from progressing. In some cases this can be dramatic as a major hurricane destroying all your monitoring stations and threatening lives of the researchers, or it can be something more administrative such as the difficulty of funding. The key is to combine elements that create rising tension into your story so that it flows naturally. Make sure to add points along the way about the different struggles such as failed experiments, misadventures in field work, or fighting against biased opinions of colleagues. Whatever the case may be, the point is to include details of rising action in your presentation so that the audience can identify with you and become more engaged.

Define a turning point in your research or project.

Once you have established an introduction and some sort of rising tension in your presentation, it is then time to work on the climax or turning point of your work. This is the point you have been building up to through background (introduction) and established difficulties (rising tension) and the next step is now to show the fruit of that labor. By now in your presentation you probably have the audience following along with your story and already anticipating what happens next. This is the point where you want to show the results of your research and work that you have done. The point is that until now in your presentation it has been unclear to the audience how things might play out. Much like the climax in a story, you will want to show that whatever outcome or successes you have had. Keep in mind, however, that not every story has a happy ending. Even if your experiments or research didn’t pan out, this is still the climax of your story and should be presented to the audience. Science is often a series of failed attempts which leads to refinement and eventual success, which is enough for a climax or turning point.

What are the consequences and falling action.

At this point, it’s time to let the audience know what the results mean and how your understanding of them has affected the rest of your work. For example, how has your hypothesis changed about species X now that you know that they are not adversely affected by the new pesticide that was tested. It is a good idea to also include information about impending publications or reports and how this information might shift the community’s current paradigm. If any of the audience members want to follow up on your work after the talk, providing resources (e.g. links to publications, posters or hand outs) will increase engagement. It is important to make sure that you tie up any lose ends about the project or research so that the story has a complete and coherent feeling. Keep in mind that the audience is likely feeling fatigue at this time from paying attention, so it is best to remain on point and be concise. Generally speaking if you haven’t brought up something by now, then it is probably best to leave it out rather than trying to introduce new topics late in the presentation. If you realize there are crucial details missing from the story then you need to rearrange either the introduction or rising tension.

Childrens' books at a library

Final conclusions and summary.

Here is where you want to present your final closing thoughts on the information and how it all ties together. If you have been following the above format there is a good chance that the audience is also making the same connections based on the information you have given them. Being concise here is also good practice, make the final connections you need to and summarize what you have told them earlier in the presentation. For the most part by following these simple guidelines your presentations will be easier to follow and engage more of the audience since they will become immersed in your story.

How to Communicate Like a Negotiator in 3 Steps

Although this blog has focused exclusively thus far on how to communicate in a presentation setting, there are times when having the skills to communicate in a back and forth discussion are extremely helpful. Being competent in skills such as negotiation, debate, and communication, is helpful when working large groups that have varied interests. Negotiation, however, usually gets a bad rap in most people’s view. The common sentiment is that people who negotiate are usually rude and confrontational. Imagine talking with some pushy salesperson trying to trick a customer into a purchase that they do not want, or some a rude business executive giving ultimatums if they do not get their way. The reality of negotiation as a communication tool could be nothing further from the truth. Negotiating is an important skill that the majority of people are not very good, due to fear of confrontation and conflict. 3 In this post we will explore how using negotiation tactics not only will help create a positive atmosphere for discussion, but also allow trust and goodwill to be fostered between opposing groups.

BP Oil Flood Protest in New Orleans 30

Step 1: Decide upon a goal or outcome before you begin to negotiate.

A self assessment is one of the most important things you can do as a communicator, asking “what do I want from this?” will go a long way to being clear and concise when it comes to negotiating. 3 Decide what the outcome should be before you begin communicating or writing down what you will say. For example, do you want a cooperative agreement or are you trying to convince the audience that your way of thinking is best. Considering the possible mutual gains for both you and the audience will make sure you are not perceived as an adversary whom needs to be opposed. 1 Evaluate who you are speaking to and take into consideration what they are wanting to accomplish and compare this with what your personal goals are for the discussion. Developing empathy for your audience can be one of the most powerful tools that you can use to improve communication. Keep in mind while you think of the goals, that you are trying to create a positive relationship with others and find common ground.

As with any communication you must know the topic and become well versed in both sides of the argument. Good negotiators strive to understand where the opposing views, thoughts and feelings are coming from. Knowing your audience as thoroughly as possible is key to your success, since you will need to tailor your information to meet their needs. You do not want to end up in a situation where you are using negotiation tactics with an audience that will not benefit from it. 1

Step 2: Stage presence, keep your composure while communicating.

Consider the relationship you already have with the audience; are you an unknown? an adversary? or a trusted source of information? Whatever category you fall into will impact how you communicate with your audience. 1 Take into account (but do not obsess over) the fact that you will be judged on your presentation and make sure that you are well rehearsed and relaxed. Focus the tone of the presentation on completing objectives and solving problems rather than trying to change opinions or beliefs. 1 Work slowly so you are coherent and fluid you do not want to concede anything you have not had time to think about. 1 Remember you are the communicator and therefore set the pace for discussion, make sure to use this ability to your advantage. A general rule of thumb is to stay focused on the positive when possible and maintain a relaxed composure. Do not take anything personally and try to take a break or recess if you lose your cool. If you have done your homework beforehand you will likely already be composed and things will go smoothly.

Step 3: There are no losers, everyone walks away with something.

Negotiating can be a difficult task, since often you will be working with an audience that is passionate and has many different opposing views. Keep in mind that negotiating is a two way transfer of knowledge with the ultimate goal of solving a problem. 2 This means that no one need feel as though they are conceding something in a sort of compromise, but rather that everyone is working in a positive manner to come to an agreeable resolution.  The overall success when negotiating your desired outcome, often is heavily based on the relationship and trust between the parties involved. 1 Separate the personalities from the problem so that no one takes something personally but instead is focused on working together to solve the problem. 1  Negotiate on the audience’s ultimate desires and goals and not their personal opinions. 1 For example, think about how most people support renewable energy whether they believe in climate change or not. Try to avoid using ultimatums when communicating since they can make people feel like they are cornered or trapped. 1

You will want to take into account how passionate the audience is about something and stay aware of conflict that might arise. If you think that conflict is likely, then prepare beforehand ways to calm down the audience so that you will be able to diffuse the situation before it gets to intense. 5 One way to avoid potential conflict is to keep people busy by task sharing. Breaking the problem up into smaller parts and then distributing them out to all interested parties is an effective way to come to an agreement. 2 Stay positive and remember that often when negotiating one side will make measurable gains while the other will simply strengthen their relationship and feelings towards the whole community. At the end of the day if every feels good about the agreement or resolution then the negotiation was successful.

TAA–University bargaining, 1970

A final note.

Using negotiation in a presentation does not mean you need to be “tough” by playing hardball or being confrontational. Nor does it mean you should be “soft” letting others manipulate or walk all over you. Using negotiation while communicating means that you will need to; evaluate each situation differently, make sure that you are working towards a goal, address the needs of everyone involved, and finally create a positive  agreeable outcome. 3 Focusing on the needs of the audience and solving their problems is more effective than trying to convince the audience to think the way you do. Remember the audience will respond to problem solving and constructive conversation, but they will quickly shut down if they feel that they are being manipulated or pressured. 4 Use the right tools for the topic, but be aware that there are some issues that cannot be negotiated on, and as a communicator it is important to recognize and steer away from these. 5

References

1. Anderson, T. (1992). Step into my parlor: A survey of strategies and techniques for effective negotiation. Business Horizons, 35(3), 71-76.

2. Davis, R., & Smith, R. G. (1983). Negotiation as a metaphor for distributed problem solving. Artificial intelligence, 20(1), 63-109.

3. Leigh, T. (2012). Mind and heart of the negotiator. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

4. Rackham, N., Kalomeer, R., & Rapkin, D. (1988). SPIN selling. New York: McGraw-Hill.j

5. Rubin, J. Z. (1983). Negotiation An Introduction to Some Issues and Themes. American Behavioral Scientist, 27(2), 135-147.

8 Tips to Help Communicate a Controversial Topic

Many people tend to shy away from speaking about controversial topics, fearing that the audience will not receive the message well, or that conflict and confrontation will arise.  Although sometimes communicating a controversial topic can cause the audience to respond in a negative way, it doesn’t mean that the only outcome is conflict. When you find yourself needing to communicate a controversial topic, using methods that promote open minded, positive discussion will go a long way to diffuse any conflicts. In this post I have compiled a list of tips that can help communicate the facts and create a positive environment for your next presentation.

Jeff Isom arguing with an umpire

1. Be prepared and make sure that you are well versed in the subject matter.

Speaking about any subject requires that you do your homework beforehand. This is even more important when you are speaking about a topic that the audience finds controversial. Before you reach the stage or podium you need to do your homework so that you understand what are the facts are and what is propaganda. Consider what information might be difficult for the audience understand and prepare yourself to be able to explain those parts. Think of analogies or anecdotes to help explain the topic while avoiding unnecessary jargon or technical terminology. Furthermore make sure that you are well versed and prepared with the subject manner not only in a rhetorical way. Chances are that the audience will want to discuss the topic afterwards, and research has shown well prepared discussions by those participating usually turn out successful. 2

2. Think about the overall outcome or desired result for your presentation.

Before you start speaking you will need to think about what the goals for your talk are. Do you want to change people’s mind about a topic? Are you just simply informing them of the other side? Are you trying to promote a willingness to work together despite differences? Taking time before you speak to the audience to think about outcomes will help you craft a logical and coherent story. Write down your specific goals or results and brainstorm how you can achieve those. For example you can present supporting facts, information, and visuals to help get factual information across. Or you can take time to debunk common myths held by the public. Whatever you choose to do, just make sure that you are always working towards a logical outcome.

3. Know your audience.

In order to have a successful delivery, it is important to take into account the constraints of the presentation (e. g. timing, subject matter, etc). 3 Knowing the knowledge level and experience of the audience, and whether or not you will have a discussion will go a long ways to help the audience understand the subject matter. 3 Since you already know that your topic is controversial, think of how the audience will react to the content of the presentation. Consider how people will disagree with you. What sort of counter arguments might they bring up? How will you deal with a vocal minority? How will you resolve and diffuse conflict? When you think about the audience, the key is to anticipate what problems might arise for them and already have plan to put into action. Think about what points someone might make who disagrees with you, and work your answers to them into the presentation. Plan ahead on how the audience will perceive the content and what might lead to internal or external conflict. Taking time before the presentation will make it easier on you, so you don’t have to scramble for a solution on the spot.

 4. Establish Credibility.

One of the more important tasks as a speaker is to establish credibility with the audience. By establishing credibility you build trust and trustworthiness in your message. In order for the audience to respect what facts and information you are bringing to the talk you need to establish yourself as a credible source. Becoming a credible source will also help reduce the chances of conflict in the audience since they can trust what you say as factual. Make sure to establish your experience and skills early on in the presentation by sharing stories or facts about yourself as a topical expert. Think elevator pitch, you need to become a credible source quickly in a concise fashion so you can build trust early on.

5. Acknowledge that a topic is controversial.

The more direct and honest with the audience you can be, the more likely they will trust you and your sources of information. Acknowledging the “elephant in the room” will allow the audience to relax a bit by knowing that you are taking the issue seriously. This works similarly to the acknowledgment of an awkward situation and will help relieve tension. Saying literally that you know this material is controversial and that you respect people’s opinion will go a long way to building trust.

6. Ask what the audience already knows about the topic.

Take time either in a rhetorical sense or a discussion setting to ask what preconceived ideas and information the audience already has. This allows the audience to feel as if they have a voice in the conversation about the topic. It is important to remember that each person in the audience will likely hold a slightly different point of view, and that being respectful of each other’s viewpoint will go a long way to fostering positive discussion. This doesn’t mean that you need to give people the opportunity to voice incorrect or biased points of views, but rather that you are acknowledging in a respectful environment that everyone has a voice. Make sure that people are heard and addressed respectfully but make sure to keep things reasonable and on topic. For example, you can voice your opinion about the government because freedom of speech protects you, but you cannot yell fire in a crowded theater because in endangers others. Use common sense here to allow the audience to feel heard but not to derail the talk into a shouting match.

7. Present both sides of the argument.

It is important to take both sides of the argument into account even if one is blatantly wrong. The reason is that some of the audience may hold the wrong point of view, and by acknowledging it you are able to logically debunk it with factual data. Avoid saying things like “you are wrong” or “the wrong way to think is”. Use language that will be more persuasive to the other side like, “some may hold X opinion, but we are going to explore why the evidence is pointing to a different take”. It is important to remain as neutral as possible about a topic, not letting your own bias enter into the facts of the topic. 1 There is a tendency for people to unknowingly assert their own beliefs into a topic and this bias can influence the audience. If you want to encourage discussion and open minded knowledge transfer, then it is best to allow the audience to review the information and make their own decisions. Remember, you may not convince everyone in the audience, but even if a few people change their minds it is a positive outcome.

ParisCafeDiscussion

8. Encourage open minded discussion.

Depending on the kind of presentation you are giving, encourage thoughtful discussion at the end of your presentation. In some cases it may be appropriate to say “since this topic is controversial, I want to remind everyone to be respectful of others” making sure to lay the ground rules for the discussion and diffuse conflicts before they arise. Remember in most of these cases you are going to be the moderator and need to be able to cut people off if they begin to ramble. Often this can be done politely by mentioning time constraints. Finally if the end goal is to come to some common agreement or negotiation then remind everyone that there needs to be a resolution at the end of the day. Keeping your audience on task by commenting that they are working together to improve the situation through respectful discussion can also help in these situations.

References

1. Cotton, D. R. (2006). Teaching controversial environmental issues: Neutrality and balance in the reality of the classroom. Educational Research, 48(2), 223-241.

2. Hess, D. E. (2002). Discussing controversial public issues in secondary social studies classrooms: Learning from skilled teachers. Theory & Research in Social Education, 30(1), 10-41.

3. Stradling, R. (1984). The Teaching of Controversial Issues: an evaluation [1].Educational Review, 36(2), 121-129.