Telling your research story - make it accessible!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Victoria Hawkins, student blogger at Congress 2015

We all dread the presenter who reads directly from the slides or paper in a monotone voice. Worse still is when that monotone voice uses heavy jargon that no one outside the field will understand. 

Shari Graydon says “scholars are trained to be critical and they apply that to their assessment of colleagues”. The resulting pressure encourages presenters to read from their papers “because that way they’ll get every single sentence right”.  The result is glazed-over eyes, even among the audience members who understand the content.

Graydon’s Career Corner workshop "Ideas Matter: Telling Your Research Story" focussed on the engagement of a broader audience. By choosing accessible language, using analogies and outlining the presentation for the audience, a presenter will better hold the attention of large or academically diverse groups. The workshop was well suited to Congress, since ideas are shared across a variety of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities each year.

In the workshop, many questions came from participants who are presenting at Congress this year, eager for extra pointers on effective presentation skills.  Tamer Beitelmal, a Congress volunteer and session attendee, said he took away new tips on how to plan a presentation. Graydon offered workshop participants a strategic approach that can be used in presentations, interviews or any situation where effective communication is essential.The presenter must consciously define the ideal outcome of the presentation and acknowledge the audience members’ priorities and preoccupations.  The key message of the presentation and the vehicle to effectively deliver this message should be based on these two considerations.

Shari Graydon is Catalyst and founder of Informed Opinions, an initiative that works to amplify women’s voices with tools to make their ideas more accessible. Graydon said “there is still an unconscious bias that causes us to judge women more harshly and differently than we judge men” and this can create presentation challenges specific to women. In workshops for women, Graydon spends time specifically on body language and vocal presentation and addresses “some of the things that women are inclined to do that undermine their authority”. For example, women are more likely to ‘up talk,’ making each sentence sound like a question instead of a statement, giving their speech an air of uncertainty.

Graydon says that women make up only twenty percent of expert voices in media and women’s voices are chronically underrepresented in other arenas as well. When asked about Congress as a platform for women’s voices, Graydon said “Congress is a great platform, because of its underlying democratic principle -- anyone can submit a paper and seek to speak. It offers a great opportunity for women to be heard, to use the forum as a vehicle to share their knowledge and ideas."

Sunday’s session was the first of five Career Corner workshops at Congress. See the complete list of Career Corner workshops here.


Congress of the Humanities and Social SciencesCongress 2015Status of women in the academyEquity and diversity