Elevator speeches

The above links are pdfs of my presentation and handouts from the workshop I gave at the Uni Potsdam Graduiertenkolleg Geowissenschaften yesterday and today.

This is an extremely interesting challenge for me, as these scientists are more advanced presenters than the undergraduate students I’ve normally taught, and not as versed in the world of marketing as my business clients. As a group, they give a series of short 2-minute presentations as an invitation to later visit their science posters in the exhibit area.  Key issues are how to make their points memorable, and their listeners hungry for more. This opens up a huge area for micro-storytelling (adding the personal dimension), but also for memorable catchphrases that stay safely this side of rhetoric. Work in progress, I’m looking forward to the rest of the workshop.

Susanne Frölich-Steffen (her website), a scientist now working as a communcation skills trainer in the academic world (primarily in Munich and Bavaria) gave me wonderful tips. I’m hoping we can work together in the future.

Further reading:

  • Michael Alley: The craft of scientific presentations. Critical steps to succeed and critical errors to avoid. Springer NY 2003 ISBN-0-387-95555-0
    Book homepage
  • Nancy Duarte: Slide:ology. The art and science of creating great presentations. O’Reilly 2008 ISBN-13:978-0-596-52234-6
    Nancy Duarte’s blog

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Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

5 thoughts on “Elevator speeches”

  1. Thank you for creating and sharing this exceptional resource!

    Like you, I teach graduate students – usually in engineering or the sciences – who still want/need to improve their English speaking skills. I’m also a fan of the assertion-evidence technique and informational interviews so this material fits right into the course. I’m going to add elevator speeches to the Spring 2011 course.

    Again, thank you!

  2. Hi Eric, my students were very interested in E.O.Wilson’s speech and doubted whether a scientist could or should use that kind of rhetoric. I’d like to look into best practice for academic register for various fields. Most of the in-college talks I see on YouTube are absolutely terrible. When they leave campus to speak before a less academic audience, it’s almost like they come to life. Do you have any tips? Don’t say TED, please, because, again, that’s the wider public… Thanks!

  3. This remains a difficult problem, partly because I struggle to truly understand the content of some current research. Some students seem to speak Engineering or Physics better than English so appearing before fellow specialists can create a more familiar, hence easier audience. Because their fellow specialists can fill in the blanks, students expect to be better understood. Finally, boring can sometimes seem professional.

    On the other hand, conference presentations and poster board presentations can cause exceptional anxiety because of high stakes. Fear, as so often, adds an extra layer of difficulty as students strive to impress potential employers and future colleagues. Caution replaces flair, and less becomes more. Avoiding mistakes again becomes paramount for many graduate students.

    We use a quite satisfying, flexible textbook called Giving Academic Presentations (University of Michigan Press) http://www.press.umich.edu/titleDetailDesc.do?id=8817
    that provides many exercises and detailed checklists to both build and evaluate academic presentations. You might find the book, designed for advanced oral skills ESL students, a useful source too.

    Finally, you probably already know Rethinking the Design of PowerPoint Slides: The Assertion-Evidence Structure

    Videotaping student presentations and more practice seem to be the most effective techniques. It’s important to also help students develop a “voice” as a confident presenter of information – in English – when they are far more experienced and often comfortable as a listener. Becoming who we already are can be difficult task for everyone!

  4. Thank you for those kind words, Anne.

    Unfortunately, I not familiar enough with those two other University of Michigan Press books to offer an informed opinion. I have, however, found another UMP text, ” The Art of Teaching Speaking
    Research and Pedagogy for the ESL/EFL Classroom” to be quite helpful:

    Good luck and let’s stay in touch. Consider me a fan.

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