Communicating in Science or: How I learned to stop worrying and love oral presentations

A week ago, our class finished the first course in the Biomedicine Master’s Programme, namely Applied Communications in Biomedicine, as well as our stay in Huddinge. We now have lectures at Karolinska Hospital. So we are slowly but surely finding our way back into Solna campus’ heart. The commute time has been cut in half. But here’s the catch: I have to stand next to the bus driver during the whole ride because we are packed in like sardines on the 507 bus to Solna. You win some, you lose some. Instead of getting side-tracked into a rant about public transportation, which would be very French of me, I would like to focus on something positive: my scientific communication course.

Why is a course in communication so valuable to this programme? The benefits of science are diminished when we are unable to communicate our findings to others: scientists, government officials or the general public. How can we expect to make any sort of impact on the world if we fail to share our ideas effectively? If my high school and undergraduate years have taught me anything, it is that communication in science, written or oral, is often evaluated but very rarely taught. This course enabled us to develop this valuable resource in a class setting. Through group discussions, we helped each other assess our strengths and weaknesses in written (abstract), graphic (poster) and oral (rhetoric) forms of communication.

And the best part of this course: seven whole days dedicated to the art of scientific oral presentations!!

Full disclosure: I hate oral presentations. When delivering a talk, I tend to forget basic things such as breathing, full stops between sentences and, sometimes, whole volumes of the English language. I’m guessing a lot of you out there may feel the same. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Hans Roslings. So I was pretty much dreading this particular week.

Enter Peter Lind, our rhetoric lecturer.

It is hard to pinpoint how he does it, but Peter creates this positive learning environment in which you can find your own presentation style, identify the strengths and weaknesses in your delivery, and improve through trial and error. He offers constructive criticism and advice, which actually helps you get on the right track. You learn how to become more critically aware of your own performance, as well as those of others. And this will stay with you! Indeed, with many of my classmates, we now tend to automatically analyse the body language, voice tempo or level of eye contact of every scientific presenter we encounter. This newly developed critical superpower is a gift as well as a curse 😉 Or as Haizea, a fellow biomedicine student, half-jokingly puts it: ‘Life after Peter Lind is never the same’.

So thank you Peter. You’ve made us realize that we scientists are not lost causes, but simply outstanding public speakers in the making.

And BTW, it sure beats the ‘picture your audience in their underwear’ tip

Since standing up in front of the class is already trying - I decided not to increase everyone's stress levels by taking pictures of them....
Since standing up in front of the class is already trying – I decided not to increase everyone’s stress levels  by taking pictures of them….
...so instead here are some pretty snapshots of Stockholm's cobbled streets and large bodies of water
…so instead here are some pretty snapshots of Stockholm’s cobbled streets and large bodies of water

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