6. Failure to demonstrate relevance.
In all likelihood, your audience will consist both of experts in your field and of people who just thought your presentation sounded interesting. You need to be able to demonstrate the relevance of your research to that latter group. If you can’t do that, you’ll never get your research into the public sphere (or even across disciplines). If you can’t do it because your research isn’t relevant, you have problems that are bigger than I can help you with.
The good news is the techniques to demonstrate relevance also tend to appeal to kinaesthetic learners (learn-by-doing) and adult learners. So, here are some ideas… if you have other tips on how to demonstrate relevance, please add them in comments!
a. “I was reading in the paper this morning…”
Reflect on current issues and how your research could contribute to debate. This is great if you actually have a physical article cut out from the paper, or scanned into your presentation. A sound bite from a radio interview, or a flim clip from the news would make a great alternative. Just make sure it’s actually recent.
b. “How many of you…”
This captures the breadth of the impact of your research. Maybe you’re an engineer — “Hands up how many people here have an iPod” — or a health researcher — “How many of you have had the flu this year?” — or a demographer — “How many of you have a friend who was born overseas?”. These kinds of non-rhetorical questions help the audience take a personal interest in what you’re about to tell them.
c “When I ask you about…what do you think of?”
This is great if your research contradicts established consensus or widely held belief. Even if you do this rhetorically, it gets the audience engaged. When I’m talking about immigration in Sydney, I find this works really well…
When you think of Lidcombe, where do you think most of the residents were born?
You picked one country/region in particular, didn’t you?
Well, actually, the suburb is really diverse: