Public Speaking Tips for Science Talks: Finish Your Talk

Ugh. Awkward.

Talks that just sort of peter out at the end. The stiff pause and then the unsure audience  rustling followed by hesitant applause or stammering from the moderator. Ugh. Anything that leaves the audience feeling let down at the end of a talk is bad news for the speaker.

Photo of Gustav Klimt's unfinished portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl. Photo from flickr.
Gustav Klimt’s unfinished painting of Amalie Zuckerkandl. Posted on flickr by freeparking.

Here are two public speaking tips that you can use to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Public Speaking Tip # 1: Script the last thing you are going to say and memorize it. Then rehearse it.

“And that’s why it is so important that we continue to work towards understanding how the micro-biome affects obesity. (Small pause) Thank you.”

By just doing this, you will finish strong and signal to your audience that you are done. No weird awkwardness. As an aside: please please please don’t then go back and say, “oh I forgot something” and then talk for another two minutes.

Public Speaking Tip #2: End with a joke. Maybe even a joke slide.

One friend of mine shows a simple schematic to wrap up her talk. She says, “So here’s what you need to understand about the how people make decisions about Sea Level Rise and flooding risk. Then she says, “But if you really want to understand what’s going on, here’s what you need to know:”  Then she changes the slide to a super-complicated cartoon showing a million arrows connecting infrastructure, people, and relationships.” Everyone laughs. Everyone knows the talk is over AND everyone understands that her scientific work has just begun. Laughter makes people open up and feel more comfortable entering into the Q & A. Which is to my friends benefit. Plus people remember the joke and thus her and thus her research!

You should pay as much attention to the end of your talk as the beginning. Avoid the awkward transition and let people know you are ready for the exciting science discussion that will follow your talk.

Photo of movie curtain closing with "The End" displayed in front of it.


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