Focus on What the Audience Cares About

When presenting my work I find that the easiest place to start is by explaining the broader challenge that the research hopes to meet. One approach may involve referring to problems that could be considered conventional knowledge, for instance, high costs in healthcare. From here the presenter can narrow in on what aspect of the broader challenge the project hopes to address, for instance, the high costs associated with cancer diagnostics. In cases, where the topic is less commonly known, the presenter can use metaphors and similes to fill gaps in the audience’s background knowledge quickly in order to establish a broader challenge. In this situation the presenter can also then narrow in on the aspect of the challenge they hope to address.

I find that it helps to refer to common knowledge examples that are similar to what I am presenting on. For instance, I provide the example of a pregnancy test when explaining what a paper-based diagnostic test looks like. This connects the audience to a topic with which they have familiarity, grounding the presentation. Visuals are also an incredibly important tool as the presenter attempts to quickly introduce abstract concepts to the audience efficiently. One visual I have been using to explain the role of multiplexed testing is an adapted Venn-diagram.

This is an image shows how using testing for two biomarkers can lead to a more certain result that testing for one biomarker

The combined diagram shows that by testing for 2+ analytes we can achieve a more specific diagnosis than by testing for a single analyte. 

Both of these tools involve being able to refer to ideas that are commonly understood, pregnancy tests and Venn diagrams, to anchor the presentation. Once the audience has a grasp of the main concepts of the presentation, then the presenter can go back to the researcher’s purpose, problem and the overall significance of the project to the broader challenge previously mentioned. By setting up a target problem which the research will take on, the presenter focuses the audience on their biggest takeaway. 

It is especially important to focus a general audience on a specific takeaway from a presentations because they do not need to know and may not even be interested in the technical side of research. The general audience wants to know what they should take away from the research. Focus on what the audience cares about. For example, if the audience is composed of people deciding whether to fund the presenter’s research it is important the presenter shows how the target problem fits into the goals of the funding agent. Another situation where researchers present to a general audience is with public advisories. In the age of Covid-19 it is particularly important to be able to effectively explain the significance of research because it influences policy and public compliance. If people don’t understand the larger problem it will be difficult to understand where policy comes from, and they are less likely to know their own roles. Right now my research relates to diagnostic testing. It is important that I can communicate how this diagnostic testing looks in a clinical setting, because that is where it will be most important. This will be important to remember as I hope to do more collaborative projects with people in the healthcare field throughout my career.

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