How to give a brilliant scientific speech

What makes a brilliant scientific speech?

We’ve recently had the pleasure of coaching some early career researchers at Lyrical Science tasked with sharing their research with the general public and potential financial donors.

Here are a few things we thought were really important  ….

Start with a personal story

If your work is interesting, you might be inclined to dive straight into it.

But before you do it’s important to connect with the audience. They want to relate to you as a speaker and an individual before hearing about what you’ve been doing.

You might share a story from your childhood about the experience that first sparked your interest in science.

You might tell the audience about a someone close to you who suffered from the disease you’re now
researching. Or you might just simply tell them what inspired you to speak at this particular event.

Once you’ve established that connection find a way to connect the story your research.

For example, after telling a story about the first time you used a telescope, you might say ‘skip forward 20 years and I’m looking at stars through one of the most powerful telescopes in Europe’.

Explain your work with metaphors

You’re going to want to talk about your research, we get it!

But it’s impossible hard to know what scientific vocab your audience will have at their disposal and it’ll often be minimal.

A great way to explain tricky concepts to lay audiences is with metaphor. By all means talk about atoms, waves, cells etc. but if you can summarise what you’re saying using objects the audience are more familiar with, that’s fantastic.

For example, a cell could be likened to a house. And the cell wall could be the bricks. And if you’ve been looking at the permeability of cells, you might explain this as ‘seeing how well the bricks hold up when we hit them’.

Tell the audience why this matters

This may seem obvious to you, but you should make it crystal clear for the audience.

For example you might say:

‘If we can understand X, then we have a better hope of developing potential treatments for cancer.’

Even if there’s no obvious practical application of your research, audiences will still want to know how it contributes to the ‘bigger picture’ of our knowledge.


‘If we can establish why A causes B, then we’ll have a better understanding of why liquids flow and solids don’t.’

Leave them with a call to action

Scientific speeches are easily forgotten by those not in the field but a great way of making them memorable is to finish with a call to action. This will also inspire interest in your area of research.

A call to action simply means asking the audience to do something after your speech.

This might be as simple as, ‘Next time you look up at the stars, I urge you to think about what you’re seeing’ or something far more specific – you might encourage the audience to go home, try an experiment and send you their results.

Try your speech out on someone from your target audience

If you’re giving a scientific speech to a non-scientific audience, it’s crucial to test it out of someone without your level of background knowledge.

Encourage them to flag up what interested them and anything they didn’t understand. Implement the appropriate changes in your second draft.

As with anything, practice makes perfect.

The world needs more brilliant scientific speakers so go out and inspire!

Image: Taken by Diego Baravelli, modified by Vensa Coaching. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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