Thursday, March 10, 2011

Storytelling

Thank you to everyone for an interesting end to the quarter. I really do enjoy seeing what has grabbed your imagination.

As well as a (relatively) unstressful opportunity to practice public speaking, this is also a fantastic opportunity for you to see almost 30 brief talks in rapid succession. Which ones did you find most memorable? Why? Think about that for a moment.

Good luck with your finals. Have a safe Spring Break and we will see you in the same place (but an earlier time slot) next quarter. Please sign up for the class if you haven't done so already, our numbers will probably be tight again.

I'm going to take a brief break from daily blogging, although I may still make the odd post if any seminars or research opportunities come across my desk.

Anyway, back to the talks. One of the keys to giving a good talk, whether it is one minute or one hour, is to tell a story. There is something very primal in humans in the way we even respond to the word 'story'. I assume this dates back to the tens of thousands of years when the only means we had to entertain ourselves were sitting around campfires and telling stories (songs are also stories).

Consider yourself in a lecture room. You have come to see a talk because the topic sounded interesting. You don't know much about the speaker but you want it to be a good talk. The speaker steps up to the podium, looks out at the audience and starts their talk. Consider how your brain responds to their first few words:
  • Today I'm going to teach you about... (oh well, at least I might learn something. I wonder what I should have for dinner...)
  • Today I'm going to tell you about cytopathological infection of the mammalian gastrointestinal tract... (err okay. Oh look a squirrel!)
  • Today I'm going to tell you a story... (Cool. I hope its a good story.)
So, regardless of length, think of any talk as a story. Which talks today did you remember? I'm guessing the ones that told a story rather than presented a collection of facts. I'm also guessing that for the talks that were structured as a story you could recall much more of the talks.

A couple of other tips. If you are telling a story then be interested in your story. Enthusiasm is what makes or breaks any oral presentation.

And finally, again regardless of length, have an ending! Always have a well rehearsed final sentence. If you run out of time (which of course you never should) you skip right to your final sentence but you never omit it. Unfortunately many of you had to leave but our final talk for the day had the best final sentence. A fitting note to end on.

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