Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

It’s not about your credibility, but inspiring an audience

I’m not an expert in slideshow presentations, but when I go to a conference and experience keynote lectures hard to follow, I wonder “are they aware of the audience in front of them? Why aren’t they inspiring?”

inspiring an audience

Keynote lectures are an important moment in a scientist’s career. A committee recognizes the value of your work and thinks you can inspire an audience with it. Maybe I’m wrong about this, and… maybe I’m not. But the first question popping into my mind when I recently listen to a very hard to follow keynote was this…

 

 

“To whom are you addressing?”

Yourself or the audience? I thought about this. If giving a keynote lecture is a recognition of your work, it means you already demonstrated credibility in the topic. You don’t need to show it to your audience. But this is not straightforward.

Hard to follow keynote lectures at a conference mean you’re focusing the presentation on yourself, not the audience. It begins with unintelligible information like complex equations you don’t speak about, or a lot of text in a slide that nobody reads.

Toward the end, the speaker begins skipping slides saying “I don’t have time.” – ”Haven’t you prepared enough to know that?” Is this a strategy to make the audience understand you’d have a lot more to say, but there’s not enough time? It doesn’t work. It’s not inspiring. Another typical sentence is “we can skip this slide” – ”Then why have you put it in the first place?” – What someone says, his or her speech is far more important than what the slide shows. Slides don’t inspire. Your voice and what you say does.

 

Inspiring your audience

Words are important. And if you add an image to your words – the right eye-catching kind of image – your message reaches people and inspire them. If you want people to understand complex thoughts, ideas, or concepts, strive for simplicity. When your message conveys in-depth knowledge in simple terms, it means you have a thorough understanding of what you’re saying. And you transmit that intellectual feeling, which inspires.

Other ways of inspiring are raising questions you don’t know the answer. Find trends in the research topic a share them. Stimulate others to give the first step and have the necessary self-confidence to give it. Share your failures and use them to inspire others to succeed.

You don’t need to demonstrate your credibility, only to inspire others for the rewarding experience in your research topic.

 

We’re not experts, but explorers

The most important lesson I learned throughout years listening to senior researchers – at least the wisest – is the ability and courage of saying “I don’t know.” If someone knows all and is an expert, how can he or she inspire? The wisest researchers I met were explorers of knowledge. They do not fear what they don’t know but experience the unknown as a fascinating scientific endeavor.

I learn with these explorers of knowledge that more important than where you are in your field of work is to know where you’re going. And if you know, you inspire.


Question: what most inspires you in a keynote lecture presentation?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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