5 excuses scientists use about presenting–and why they’ve got to change their thinking

By on January 12, 2016

I am working with a pre-clinical group in the pharmaceutical industry.

They need to win approval for promising new compounds to be tested in humans, and I am helping them put together a presentation to an in-house committee. If they get the green light, the project moves forward. But if it’s not approved, it’s scrapped.

This is serious stuff–the kind of stuff where careers are made…or opportunities are lost.  The kind of stuff where patients gain hope that a new treatment may help them or someone they love…or that hope is lost.

When I did some interviews, I found that many in the department had underlying attitudes about presenting. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. Scientists must be objective, therefore emotion in a scientific presenter is unprofessional.
  2. Management should leave me alone and let me do what I’m good at.
  3. Most good scientists are not good presenters, therefore, if you’re a good presenter, you’re probably not a good scientist.
  4. I should not have to care about my “image.”
  5. I have no interest in improving my presentation skills.
  6. Content is king.
  7. Presenting is a necessary evil–it is a burden, not an opportunity.
  8. Publishing my data for peer review is good; presenting my data to my peers is a pain.
  9. My data slides ARE my presentation.
  10. Reading slides is what my mentors did.  If it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
  11. Rehearsing is for actors, not for a scientist like me.

But, as the greatest public speaker of all time–Cicero–said, “If truth were self-evident, eloquence would not be necessary.”

If just presenting the facts was going to be enough, NO ONE would need to be a good public speaker. Candidates could stand in front of the electorate and simply state their platforms. Actors could read the lines of a play without costumes or scenery–or better yet, distribute the script to the audience so they could read it themselves.

Facts are facts, but presentations–crafted and delivered the right way–create clarity, urgency, and action in listeners. Presentations MOVE people to TAKE ACTION.

In this case, the scientists have a tough job–to recommend that the company spend millions on a research project that, if history is any indicator, has only a tiny chance of succeeding.  They’ve got to get the audience to buy into their plan for efficacy, safety, and marketability, even though nothing is certain.

If speakers–even scientific speakers–don’t demonstrate conviction, enthusiasm, and belief in their project, how can the listeners–the decision makers–feel confident and positive about that project?

What are the chances of success?

Uh…slim to none, and slim is leaving town!

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