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Posts Tagged ‘oratory’

It’s time for another series – one that I promised quite a while ago. I’ve spent a lot of my life listening to scientists give talks in one form or another – four years of undergraduate lectures, a few weeks worth of conferences, a few hours a week in seminars and colloquia. I have long pondered this question:

Why are scientists, with precious few exceptions, such appalling public speakers?

(Thankfully, my fellow bloggers are some of the exceptions!)

At every public speaking course I’ve attended, the attendees have complained that the advice given was too obvious. And yet, as I think over all the public speaking “laws”, I can’t think of a single one that isn’t regularly broken by scientists in front of an audience. If you are a scientist (or even if you have sat through enough university lectures), how often have you witnessed:

  • Speakers talking too quickly, too softly, and addressing their remarks to the front row
  • Monotone voices, and a single speed of delivery
  • No variety of content
  • Speakers who don’t emphasize the important points, and present a summary slide that would take 5 minutes to read
  • Talks that consist of a single, half-hour-long sentence, constructed by taking a normal talk and replacing all the full stops with “and”, “I mean” or “um”.
  • Mindless, nauseating, impenetrable, replaceable jargon
  • Half an hour of the back of the speakers head as he or she talks exclusively to the projector screen
  • Plots displayed: too small, too crowded, too briefly, in invisible colours, with lines too thin to see
  • Slides that look like an entire presentation has been swallowed and vomited back onto the screen
  • A speaker whose every word, tone, gesture, posture, expression and slide betray their complete indifference to their audience?

Why does it feel like a chore to attend a talk about astronomy when I’m an astronomer? I am constantly flabbergasted by the ability of speakers to make a subject in which I am intensely interested sound incredibly dull. In a profession where getting your work known in the community, sharing your ideas and generally making a name for yourself is of great importance, why do so many care so little about being interesting, concise, non-coma-inducing?

The best way to learn is by example. Over the next few posts I’m going to look at five professions in which public speaking is held in high regard. They are: (more…)

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