Saturday, 30 April 2011

Powerful Presentations: Presenting Scientific Material and Engaging International Audiences

Giving a presentation is a skill that, like any other skill, can be improved by reviewing and practising the basics as well as trying out some new techniques. I’ve run presentation skills workshops and one to one coaching sessions for the past 18 years but I still read new books and articles on the subject and attend master classes to keep my style as engaging as possible.  As I prepare to present at an international conference in Korea next week I thought I’d review two of the areas that might be of interest to the audience I’m presenting to: how do you make scientific data interesting and how do you present to an international audience?

Using elements of story, metaphor and visuals can help to make scientific or technical data more memorable.  Kathy Hansen has an excellent blog called A Storied Career and in one of her posts she interviewed communication consultant, Kristiaan Van Woensel, founder of The Story House  . One of the industries he works with closely is the pharmaceutical industry.  Here he talks about their challenges and how storytelling can be a useful tool in getting their message across.

“A controversial phenomenon that I acknowledge in pharma business for several years now is that its marketing and brand managers tend to ignore the uniqueness of their business targets: physicians (the ones that prescribe the drugs for patients)! The profession of physician, being a general practitioner or a specialist, is quite complex since his/her daily life balances between science (data and ratio) and people (emotion) in every aspect of his/her acts. However, the majority of pharma marketeers emphasize mainly on one side of their brand communications: scientific data from clinical trials that support the excellence of the brands they work for. Odd but true … the human side of the doctor, his/her ability to listen to patient stories, short and long, his/her empathic ability to live together with patients emotions, being it happiness, sadness, defeat or loss, has been neglected by pharma industry. “Speak human” to “human” physicians, through “brand stories.”
Scientific data give physicians the intellectual permission to prescribe drugs, but it is an emotional reason that makes them actually do it.”

He goes on to elaborate on why telling the story of the brand is so powerful.  People remember stories, not data.  Stories are made to share: Unlike scientific data, good stories are made to share from physician to patient and from patient to patient. Scientific data do resonate for physicians, but they hardly do for patients. However, data that are wrapped up in a compelling context could resonate with the patient’s worldview!”

It's also important to use visual aids which are easy to read, simple and VISUAL -pictures, graphes, charts. More detailed information can be given out in a handout.

If you are going to be giving your presentation in a different country, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Know your Audience. Take into account cultural differences when presenting internationally.  It’s your responsibility as a presenter to be aware of and acknowledge significant portions of the audience that come from differing backgrounds. It is up to you to find out about local customs and the types of humour that are appreciated, remembering the response to humour is quite different for different cultures. It’s also important to realise that body language can be interpreted differently as well.  The more we know what an audience in a particular country expects, the more effective we can be. The British prefer the presentation to be short and to the point, full of humour, metaphor and analogies. However, this can appear lacking in seriousness in Germany or Scandinavia, or not detailed enough in Japan.

Adapt your language to be understood. Even when the audience speaks English they may not be able to understand your accent or the speed at which you speak. Check with host nationals to see if you can be easily understood. You may have to adjust your normal delivery and rate of pitch slightly. You should also adapt your use of language. Be careful of using idioms, expressions, indirectness, phrasal verbs and colloquial phrases. If British English is not your native tongue, "We'll do it willy-nilly" is difficult to understand. "We'll do it anyway" is not.

Presenting internationally offers many challenges. We need to be aware of what we say, how we say it, and what our audience expects from a presentation. The more we know about our own language, and how to adapt it to a non-native audience, the more the audience will understand, and be able to take an active part in our presentation. The more we understand the cultural differences, the greater our chance of clearly communicating the message we want to give, on a level that the audience understands and feels comfortable with. When we get it right, we can build relationships and trust, and do business effectively. Until next month, an-nyung-hi ka-se-yo (안녕히 가세요). 

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