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How to give an engaging talk

In this video Ivana Krpan discusses giving talk, exploring the non-verbal element of communication that can help us connecting with our audience
Today we are going to talk about oral presentations. And what is an oral presentation? On one hand, we could say that every oral presentation is a small theater, a small play. And on the other hand, it also has to be a conversation. Then why? How?
So, this is the point: each oral presentation has a theatrical part, it has many theatrical elements. We have a scene, we have a character, a protagonist, and then, there is a small audience that is listening to him/her. There is a memorized text, we have to practice, we have to rehearse and then there are a lot of elements, nonverbal signs that go along with our verbal message. All this is actually a theatrical resource. And on the other hand, too, why is it also a conversation? We can really say that we make oral presentations daily. Any conversation with our friends when we want to comment on something,
tell a story, starts as a small presentation: something that has happened to us, a conflict, a small drama, then an outcome, and we could even say that we have a question time at the end, right? When they ask us “well, and what happened”, “how did you feel”, “how did you react”, it is a conversation. So, in a good oral presentation we should keep these two things in mind. And above all, to convince the public, use a lot of non-verbal language. In general, non-verbal messages tend to communicate more than verbal ones. Firstly, it can express better what we are already saying with our words, it can explain better… For instance, our hands can draw it.
It can even qualify what we feel about the subject, if it worries us or if we are very excited to talk about something in particular… And then it can even contradict it.
Imagine if I say “ah, that’s fine”: it’s obviously an irony. My non-verbal message contradicts what I am saying with my words. We have to control our body while we make a presentation. Because we can say that “we love being here” but be trembling at the same time, and someone could see that we are not comfortable because we are communicating just the opposite, so nobody is going to feel comfortable. On one hand, emotions are communicated as I have just showed, also our interest, motivation, enthusiasm… also certain empathy and everything we feel about the audience. On the other hand, contexts are communicated too. There are more formal and less formal contexts.
Where are we going to communicate, where are we going to present a scientific communication… And we must take it into account and follow the rules and guidelines of that environment. These rules would be culturally settled, but everything else that I just said about emotions and attitudes is universally known, understood in various cultures. In some cultures, they may be more moderate, in others they may be more exaggerated, more emphasized, but always a pleasant face, a smile, certain body postures will show our attitude and emotions while we are communicating. Well so far, right? Well, let’s continue with the elements that this oral presentation includes. That is, its non-verbal part.
On one hand, we already start from our face, or rather from the gaze. So, that gaze always has to communicate. It has to communicate with several parts and members of the public, or if there is only one interlocutor, then we always address him, or if we have a wider audience or even with a very large audience, we could also move our gaze like a lighthouse. And be very careful, not only with the people whose attention we already have, but also look into the eyes of those who may be getting distracted, bored or losing the thread of our presentation.
On the other hand, be careful too with the facial expression, what our face has to present, what it has to communicate is, above all, a pleasant face, a pleasant expression, even marked with a slight smile. Of course that smile is not going to stay the whole presentation because it will be a bit artificial or someone might think that something is not going well. Therefore, a nice and enthusiastic face, also empathetic with the audience and with a lot of interest and passion at the time of speaking is vital in order to convey to the audience.
That face too, as I have told you, can betray us many times and we have to be very careful to synchronize it with what we are saying at the same time. In addition to the nonverbal signs that our facial expression shows, we also have to be very careful with our body. That is to say, from the arms, the palm of the hands the whole body posture and legs also communicates, we communicate our attitude, safety or not, our proximity with the public, and so on. From the beginning, our body posture, in order to convey security and interest for what we say, it should always be open. Both the arms, the palms of the hands and the legs.
You should never make poses like this or crossing the arms and legs because we show ourselves closed and with certain insecurity. Therefore, avoiding that would be even more comfortable because it may also produce imbalance. So, it is more comfortable to communicate like this. The whole body has to transmit that trust, even inclining one towards the audience, or towards our interlocutor, or stepping on, taking a step behind or in front of us, we are going to show what relationship we really have with that interlocutor. As I said, a slightly tilted body posture shows interest and we approach with legs and arms.
In another way, also the same arm, apart from the palms of the hands that always have to look at our interlocutor, our arms can draw generally what we want to say. Instead of getting lost by the “we do not know what to do, where to stay, in our pockets… touching our hair… our clothes”, usually they also draw, our arms and hands can draw or mark key words that are very important, where we want our audience to focus on. It has to be another powerful tool, because in fact everything that I am saying, because my hands also explain, show and underline what is very important, a key word.
All this can be more emphasized with the arms and the palm of the hands. And finally, the whole body as it is has to transmit security, it has to transmit that empathy with the public and passion. All this applies to the arms, the palm of the hands and the body, which always has to be in a frontal position and convey. We must also mention the space. If you have a space that you already know before, that would be the best.
Knowing where we are going to move or even being able to choose the space of our talk, of our presentation, is going to give us many advantages when it comes to make the oral presentation because we will see where we could move, and that is also a very important aspect of an oral presentation. Then, we should not always be in the same place, but we have to use all the space we have. And use it in which way? Not simply moving fast from one part to another, “to energize but not knowing why”, right? No, we must also support our sentences with movements in space.
Each sentence that ends also gives us the possibility of turning around, as well as signaling to our audience that we are going to talk about another idea, going to another part of space, and so on. Therefore, these movements also need a purpose. Another interesting aspect of the space is that it allows us to involve the audience, it allows us to get closer, and that is why we have to know what the coordinates are, or how is the space we are moving in to be able to use it that way. Walk among the public, ask something, use some object or even a simple question, rhetorical or not, where some of them could answer.
And then, as I said, activities where they could participate. No matter how small or brief they are, it does not matter, just make them move a little, make them participate in some way. That is where they are going to learn more, because they are doing things, and they are teaching, they are explaining. And, furthermore, our presentation will be much more dynamic. Our voice must be controlled to the maximum, from the intonation, where we will emphasize the words… we have already commented that. Then the volume, the speed. Maybe something is very important and it is said slowly, but then we can let other things go by, they go faster. The voice has to be natural, calm.
You have to train it before making an oral presentation. And the rhythm must always be moderate, just like our movements on the stage at that moment.
And also use a varied tone: something that is very important and something that is less, or something that we conclude. On the other side, pauses and silences in that tone of voice and in these modulations are very important and sometimes we do not take advantage of them. A pause… And a silence… What do we get with them? We can emphasize what we have said previously. We can create expectations towards what we are going to explain next and even provoke curiosity. At the beginning of a presentation we should simply draw attention. A silence on the scene always calls the audience to focus more on what happens there.
To conclude this small oral presentation of mine, it must be said that, from the theatrical part, we have to pay attention to those nonverbal signs, to that scenic movement, to all that our body can communicate. We have to rehearse, practice or choose the non-verbal signs we want to use, and then practice them. And in another way, at the time of presenting, all that, all those resources have to become a conversation, or work in favor of conversation, where we think about the message we want to convey, we think about our audience, we think about all the emotion, the enthusiasm that we have on the subject we are talking about. And that’s where the conversation starts.

How can we connect with the audience of a live presentation?

Giving a talk is not an easy task. In this video, Dr. Krpan shows how body language, gestures and posture can influence the final effect of delivering a talk to a live audience. This also includes the modulation of the voice and eye contact with the public.

Giving an effective presentation requires training and practice – at first, keeping under control all the aspects related to our live performance can seem daunting, but eventually communicating with the public can become like a second skin.
After all, scientists already routinely give talks as part of scientific communications…

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Science Communication and Public Engagement

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