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Presenting Your Work To a Broad Audience

There are many transferable skills you can develop in graduate school that will prepare you for many types of careers. These may include the ability to synthesize complex information (studying, reading, and engaging in class discussions), manage a large project (a capstone, thesis, or dissertation), prioritize tasks (balancing your studies, work, and personal life), meet multiple deadlines, and work independently or in collaborative settings.

One transferable skill you may consider developing during your time at UW is presenting your research to an audience made up of individuals who are not necessarily experts in your research specialization or field of study. Below are tips for preparing and presenting your work for a broader audience.

Communicate your research to a broad audience. Maybe you’re developing a three-minute networking pitch or preparing for a non-academic job talk. Maybe you’re finally ready to discuss your research project or capstone with family, friends, or community groups. Interested in sharing the significance of your project with policy makers? No matter the setting, presenting your research in an accessible manner for different audiences can help you and your work have a broader impact.

Know your audience. As mentioned above, you may be speaking to a potential employer or a local community group. Do your research ahead of time to know what might resonate with your audience and understand why they might be invested in your work. And no matter the audience, it’s important to be mindful that you are not “talking down” to individuals you are presenting to. You are framing your work in terms — and perhaps stories or contexts — they care about.

Prepare content. Utilize a guide for preparing effective slides or visuals or get advice and support from the UW Research Commons Design Help Desk. Regardless of your chosen visual format, identify a powerful anecdote, a quotation, or a question that can capture your audience’s attention and is connected to the main point of your presentation. Less is more, so include two or three sub-points that connect to your research question or finding. Avoid including a lot of technical or academic jargon, as this may unintentionally lead to audience disengagement. Finally, consider closing with a question, anecdote or visual that ties everything together — and that again— will capture the audience’s attention.

Practice your talk. Schedule times to practice in front of peers outside of your department, loved ones, or even co-workers before your actual talk. Ask for feedback to learn if your audience can follow your story, if they feel engaged, and if they have a clear take-home message from your presentation.

Want practice in a low stakes, fun, and guided way? Submit a proposal Scholars’ Studio! Or, be an audience member at a Scholars’ Studio event this quarter or in winter and learn from your grad student peers!


Core Programs Team

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Postdocs, You Are Public Thought Leaders!

You have ideas what you are passionate about, and you have spent years cultivating expertise. Now, how do you get your voice heard? How can you work to advance the issues? How can you influence change?

In mid-April, the Office of Postdoc Affairs co-hosted a workshop from the OpEd Project, a national effort to diversify the voices we hear in public conversations. The facilitator Michele Weldon has 3 decades as a public thought leader through her books, articles, and media work. Certain key points stood out from the workshop:

  • Own your expertise. You are an expert in _____ because ______. What are you a go-to person for? On what basis do you have credibility in this area? Own it, even if it feels there are others around you who are more established, more credentialed, more famous. We need YOUR voice and perspective in the world for real impact to occur.
  • Personal promotion isn’t self-serving (only), it is working toward public service. That is, you aren’t just “tooting your own horn” when you say your voice matters, you are bringing attention to issues that are critical to you.  The bigger your sphere of influence the greater impact for change you can have. Reframe your approach to self-promoting activities like tweeting, blogging, writing pieces for public audiences/radio spots to building your sphere of influence for issues you care about. And, as a result, you distinguish yourself in what may be a crowded field.
  • “If you say things of consequence, there will be consequences. But the risk and alternative is to be inconsequential.” (OpEd Project saying) Anticipate nay-sayers. As you practice your response to those who will say “who cares” and “why you”, you can be ready to stand your ground with calm, clear and respectful confidence. Sometimes these doubting voices come from within our own heads. Practice saying the same calm, confident response back when that voice of self-doubt or imposter syndrome rises up. #OwnIt
  • Make a pitch to an editor. Craft a tight 4-5 sentence email that showcases the following:  So what? Why you? Why now? What’s the contribution?  Why this outlet? And then sign it with your full name and affiliations. Then cut/paste your 600-800 essay right below that (no attachments).  Editors are busy and they want to scan what you have, not take an extra step to ask for it.   You can use a descriptive email subject line: Timely commentary on ______.

We know that peer reviewed publications are still the coin of the realm as far as your own academic career goes. But how do you get people to read your peer reviewed publications? How can they make the kind of impact you’d like? Amplify your work by pairing peer-reviewed publications with pieces you write for the public conversation or using social media to get your work in front of more people in your professional networks.  Many postdocs have created their own professional websites to gather together examples of their research and engagement activities, to reflect more of who they are. Websites, coupled with social media, can expand your reach and help you stand out from others in a job search or otherwise crowded space. See Future of Ice Initiative postdoc Sarah Myhre’s website as a terrific example of this, and check out how she features both peer reviewed research and news media highlights. Have a good example of your own?  Send it to us, we want to feature it in an upcoming newsletter!

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Originally posted on April 21, 2016.