The perfect presentation start: Make your work relevant to the audience

I love watching Ted Talks. I often analyse them with the scientists who attend the scientific presentation class. One thing TED presenters do extremely well is to bring in the audience into their world at the beginning of their talk. Joe Landolina, in an excellent presentation on his wound-healing invention, starts with the following words: “I want you guys to imagine that you are a soldier running through the battlefield. Now you are shot in the leg by a bullet severing your femoral artery. Now this is extremely traumatic and can kill you in less than three minutes.” Behind him on the gigantic screen is the picture of soldiers walking away at sunset, followed by the image of a soldier on the ground with a leg wound. The images help your imagination. You are the first person witness to a traumatic life-threatening event.

I can hear some of you scientists already objecting! “Our scientific work is not traumatic. We rarely get to use emotions to pull in the audience into our topic.” Yet the presentation is about a polymeric gel that temporarily binds with the extracellular matrix scaffolding to help seal and vascularize a wound. The presentation includes analogies (forest canopy, etc.) and an animation to bridge the knowledge gap on the extracellular matrix. In this case, bringing the audience into the talk was through the application of the gel the scientist created. But you could bring the audience in through the context of your work.

I remember a presentation which took place on June 13 2016, the day England decided to quit the European Community – Brexit day. The presentation was about the impact of  political uncertainty on mergers and acquisitions. Instead of relating the political uncertainly to Brexit, the presenter talked about the 2017 US elections – forgetting all about the traumatic event that happened that day! I also remember that other presentation on Fluorescent GFP tag the very day after its inventor, Roger Tsien, the nobel laureate, passed away. The presenter made no mention of the fact!

Finding a relationship between your topic and what is in the eye of the media is one of the surest way to interest your audience and make your topic relevant.

To conclude: You want attention? Make your topic as close as possible to common concerns.