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Ten Commandments for Presentations

Mercury Winter 2010 Table of Contents

Student audience

How you prepare and present your talk depends on your audience is. A successful presentation to high school or college students likely won’t go over as well in a public forum if your talk is given in the same manner.
Credit: Marshall Space Flight Center.

by Tijana Prodanovic

It always amazes me, often in a negative way, how few people know how to create, and deliver, a good presentation. For many scientists, it's often their Achilles' heel. Some get so caught up in their work that, when they present it at a scientific meeting or to the general public, their talk is often confusing, boring, or sometimes even scary. The good news is that there are some simple rules that can work magic with presentations.

1. Know Your Audience

This rule may seem so simple, but it is the most crucial point and can make a world of difference. Even before you commit to giving a presentation to a group of people, you need to know their demographics. Is your audience young? Are they old? Well-educated? Sometimes it might also help to know their nationality or religious background.

Of course, you don't need to know all this every time -- decide based on your subject matter. For instance, when I give a public science lecture to a high school audience, I try to be more hip, use slang, and refer to things that the students are interested in. However, when I give the same public science lecture in a local cultural center that will be attended mostly by senior, well-educated people, I use more subtle language and don't try so hard to make it fun (but still keep it interesting). So, adjust your presentation according to the audience.

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