Author Archives: Marialuisa Aliotta

About Marialuisa Aliotta

Full Professor Experimental Nuclear Astrophysics University of Edinburgh - UK researcher, teacher, mother, mentor

How to nail your speech and hook your audience, every time

 

[Guest Post by Ghina Halabi]

I was giving a TEDx talk. My speech was carefully prepared and I had twelve minutes to speak. Three minutes in, I had no idea what the next line was.

Among the audience was the president of the American University of Beirut, some two hundred people and my speaking coach, Dania. It felt like drowning in an ocean. Water was closing in and the sounds were muffled. Only my heartbeats were audible. I pleadingly looked at Dania hoping she’d remember. Reading my eyes, she distressingly mouthed the words “I don’t know”. So I realised that I was entirely on my own.

Then I found my line.

It felt like eternity, but it was merely few seconds. By not panicking, my mind thought it didn’t matter so it remained calm and silently found its way.

Funnily, no one noticed the glitch. They thought I did it for a dramatic effect. “We had our eyes and ears glued on you to hear the next bit”, they said.

So keep calm and act it out like a boss. Chances are no one will even notice.

Speakers often don’t realise that a good speech or talk is not only about information, it’s also about persuasion and influence. When they wheelbarrow information and impersonally click through crowded slides they not only miss precious opportunities to further their careers, but also to position themselves as leaders and thought influencers. Having a presentation with the right structure and content has never been more important for creating impact. So how do you give your audience such a transformative experience?

Here’s everything you need to know to nail your speech and hook your audience, every time.

 

Preparing your talk

First, figure out who your audience is. What you want to say does not matter if your audience are not coming to hear it. Find that sweet spot at the intersection between what you want to say and what your audience is interested in, that’s the relevant content that you should be unravelling. Once you have that figured out, you are ready to design your talk but do not touch that laptop yet!

Take a walk, go for a jog or do some physical activity to get your endorphins flowing. While you’re at it, think about what you want to talk about, flex your story-telling muscle and find your narrative. What is it? Why would one care about it? Sell the why not just the what! The first few moments and slides are your chance to get the attention of your audience, or not. Make it a smooth and easy take-off. Do not rush to the details before you are sure that your audience is coming with you. Engage them from the start, otherwise it’s very hard to hitch them back on again. Start with a story, remember how I started?

Once you have your story or narrative in your head, grab a pen and paper. Outline your story using bullet points. Those bullet points will be the titles of your slides. Line up your slides while sticking to that narrative.

Now we have the outline, it has a smooth and nice build-up. It follows a narrative. Let’s talk content.

 

Content

Images! Have one or two images (or graphs) per slide, strictly not more than that, and a few words if you absolutely need to. No sentences or paragraphs! This is key. Countless are the talks that I sat through with slides brimming to the rim with text and images with an ongoing voice-over that is different from the slide altogether on top of it all! If a crowded slide hits one in the face, one tries to make the decision whether to look and read or just listen, and by the time the decision is made the speaker has already moved on to the next slide. This is a recipe for confusion, frustration, and the audience abandoning your talk and daydreaming instead! Your power is being able to convey a message with an image and few words for emphasis.

If your image is too crowded, layer it to introduce each layer separately. Use animations and effects smartly to serve your idea and presentation rather than to dress it up.

Choose a modern font. Not comic sans, sans blague!

Having well thought-through presentations position you as an expert to be trusted. Thus it’s essential that you know your script, your material and be prepared.

Preparation helps you think of the bigger picture, put things in context and reflect on your assumptions if you had made any. Practicing helps you design your sentences smartly and say the most with the fewest words possible, rather than ramble on and never hit the point. However, prepared does not mean staged. If you practice a lot make sure not to slip into a boring gear and never shift out of it otherwise, I tell you, you’ll find us snoozing.

 

The big day

Feeling like there’s a stone brick at the pit of your stomach on your big day is normal, but that’s only your brain tricking you into a fight-or-flight mode. How do you convince it otherwise?

Here’s a trick my coach Dania taught me that always worked for me: before you’re due to speak, go somewhere private (restrooms work well usually) and pump yourself up. Jump, squat, punch the air. Yes, get it all out. Look at the mirror, smile and tell yourself how great you will be, how hard you worked and how you’ve got it all. Punch the air a bit more.

Now you are in the room where you will speak and you can punch no more. It’s time to calm down, in fact.

Whether it’s waiting through the introduction or for the speaker preceding you to finish, this certainly does not need to be a time to dread. If you are anxious, an extremely efficient exercise is to simply breathe. Take long inhales and exhales to slow down your heartbeat. The more anxious you are the longer your exhales should be. Perhaps try to inhale to the count of four and exhale to the count of five or six. Trust me, I do it every time and I get so relaxed I start to yawn. Just relax and let your confidence build up so that your authenticity shines through. As you take that stage, don’t forget to make eye contact and use your voice to engage your audience so they trust what you say and appreciate the time you’ve put into it.

 

Tips to keep improving

  • Ask for feedback. This helps you see things from a different perspective and improves your presentation skills.
  • Join a Toastmasters club. It’s an excellent venue to practice public speaking and work on your body language and voice projection.
  • Chair meetings if you can. Taking charge and moderating the discussion teaches you to appreciate people’s ears and how to connect with them in a genuine way.
  • Always welcome speaking invitations, especially those you think you are not good enough for! That’s only your imposter syndrome playing you.

One thing I learned from public speaking is that it’s not only what you say that matters, it’s how you make people feel. If you make it your genuine goal to make people connect with what you say, or learn something from you, they’d appreciate you for it so leave good lasting impressions.

My last tip is remember to smile. Smiling while speaking reflects confidence and authenticity. Then it’d be hard to look away!

 

Ghina Halabi is a Space scientist, public speaker, blogger, mentor and published scholar. She is an invited speaker and panelist at several international astronomy conferences, public events and interdisciplinary forums (e.g. Global Scholars Symposium, National Astronomy Meeting, UN Space for Women Expert Meeting). She is the founder of “Scheherazade Speaks Science”, a science communication platform to improve the representation and visibility of female scientists.

This article is based on a talk that Ghina gave at the Women in STEMM Media Training” workshop by the Communications Office at the University of Cambridge.

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Book Launch

I have a huge announcement and a little gift I want to give you.

My new book: Mastering Academic Writing in the Sciences: A Step-by-Step Guide has finally been released today!

book-cover

If you have been following me for a while now, you know about my work with Academic Life and how I have been helping hundreds of PhD students and early career researchers from around the world to showcase their research with effective writing.

Yet, every time I launch my online training courses and programmes some students get back to me and say: “Marialuisa, not everybody can afford £200 training courses or £500 private mentoring programmes. Could you just bring it down and synthesise what you know and put it in a book available for everyone?”

And I finally did that! With Mastering Academic Writing in the Sciences: A Step-by-Step Guide.

This book is all about giving you an easy framework to follow when you need to write up your thesis or research paper.

How many times have you put off making a start? How often have you felt anxious, overwhelmed and unsure on how to summarise years of research and hard work into a self-contained thesis or paper?

Maybe you want to stay in academia or maybe you don’t. Either way learning how to master writing skills is an asset that will serve you for life.

The reality is… you now have an opportunity to learn those skills.

And I’d like to show you how to do so by taking you through a simple yet effective step-by-step approach and by sharing with you everything that I have learned about academic writing in the last decade.

If you know my story, you know that I have been struggling a lot with academic writing when I was a student and it took me a great deal of effort and dedication to learn to write well. I have read tens of books on the subject and attended various workshops and seminars.

And just in the last decade I have been able to offer expert advice to students like you, drawing from my experience of publishing nearly 100 research papers in my field, chairing the editorial board of an international collaboration and now publishing a book about… writing!

How do I do it? How do I help other scholars achieve the same level of proficiency and confidence with their writing? How do I support students to get published even if they have little or no experience with writing a paper?

That is really broken down in this book in a way that everyone can understand and apply and, importantly, that you can do too.

I am truly excited about this book. The time has come for it.

So, here is the deal: I want to give you a £10 Amazon voucher for you to spend on anything you like.

The reason I do this is because I would like to ask a simple favour from you.

The book has officially been released today, Monday April 9th 2018, and when I look on Amazon this morning I discovered that it has already sold out!

But wait!

You can still get a copy directly from the publishers at CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group and if you act quickly you may still benefit from the promotional discount they are offering at the moment.

If you get this book and you love it and it inspires you, I ask you that you go on Amazon and post a review about it.

Just talk about the book.

Get the buzz out there, so that when other people who find out or hear about this book go to Amazon, they’ll see reviews out there.

Positive or negative. I am not asking for an endorsement from you. I am just asking that if you get this book (and my gift) you post a review for me.

Of course, if you want to blog about the book or share the message with your friends to help me get my own message out there, I’d be deeply grateful.

So, here is how my deal works:

  1. Click here to order a copy of the book from CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group
  2. Email me your receipt
  3. I send you a £10 Amazon voucher
  4. You post a review on Amazon

But please note: I will only be able to fulfil the first 10 orders, so you need to act quickly.

And if you do not manage to be among the first 10 people to email me, I will send you my 3 Free Bonus Videos on Writer’s Mindset, Tips and Strategies to Avoid Procrastination, and Weekly Check-up to help you get going with your writing project and staying on track. These are the same videos that I share with my private clients on my Hands on Writing online course.

So, here is the link again. Click here to order your copy and I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

To your successful academic writing!

 

 

Trust Yourself

I’m posting here an email I just received from Monica Schultz – creator and founder of The WorkLife Lab
 
I hope you’ll like it as much as I did!
——-
stellarfield“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” – William Shakespeare

Not happy where you’re at, but don’t know where to go? It feels stressful, deadening, and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be.

 
The key is to trust yourself even though your current work may have you questioning past moves and decisions.
 
If you’re making a living, but feel dead inside, below are proven – and safe – ways to find direction:
 
Don’t quit your day job – yet. You heard me. Sure, financial pressure is a great motivator, but for those of us who have a career to “fall back on,” that’s usually what we do: fall and go back. Then we can find ourselves more dejected than when we started. The truth is, the less financial pressure you’re under, the more experimental you can be. Trust your current work has something to teach you in terms of skills and/or personal development.
 
Do something you love – or you think you might love. Anything. It doesn’t have to make sense. Play. Experiment. Meet people with similar interests. Once you start moving in a direction – ANY direction – life has a way of providing connections and recalibrates your course. Some people even find they enjoy their work more – and find they have it better than they thought.
 
Be patient. Focus on finding, doing, and fitting more activities you love in your life. Don’t set a timeline of “I’ll be doing X in three months.” Intentions are fine, but if you find out you hate “X,” then where does that leave you? However, if you steadily add 15 minutes here and one hour there of things you enjoy, life becomes animated. Which brings me to . . .
Serendipity. Allow for synchronicity. Plan a path, but be willing to go off it should an interesting opportunity arise. If you talk to people who really love what they do, you’ll find they had strange ways of getting there. It wasn’t all planned on paper, though a map did have a role.
 
Don’t panic or lose hope if you don’t know what you want to do next. It’s the perfect opportunity to play with your ideas and dreams. As Steve Jobs said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
This week, do something you love, no matter how silly, and trust that it will take you that next step forward.
————-
Note added: the quotation by Steve Jobs is from his famous Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005. You can watch it here if you’ve never seen it before.
PS If you wish to find out more about Monica and the work she does, follow her or subscribe to her bi-weekly newsletter at The WorkLife Lab
…and by the way… she has the nicest logo I’ve ever seen! 🙂

On Time Management and Life

sand-stone-jar

Some days ago, I got an email from a colleague asking whether I could suggest a book or course on time management that he could share with his students. On the spot, I did not know exactly what to reply other than sharing some techniques which have been useful for me.

But then I remembered a story I read once and I suddenly realised that that story probably holds the secret for accomplishing what is really important to us. And in so doing, it also reminds us of the things that really matter in life.

 ****

One day a wise teacher was speaking to a group of his students. He pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”

“Really?” he asked. “Let’s see.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Looking carefully from face to face, he smiled benevolently and asked again, “Is the jar full?”

His class was catching on quickly. “Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Very good!” he replied. He then reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. When he was finished he once again asked, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted.

“Excellent!” he replied. Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Once again looking intently into the eyes of each student, he asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“Aha, that’s very good!” the teacher replied, “But let us look a bit deeper. This illustration also teaches us a higher truth: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all!”

(Author unknown.)

***

As the year draws to a close, I hope you may find some time to reflect on your ‘big rocks’ for the new year ahead. Is this something you want to accomplish, maybe finish off your PhD thesis, or submit that long-due paper? Is it re-gaining your physical fitness? Is it learning a new skill that would be useful for your next career move? Or is it starting a journey of personal growth? Or simply spending more quality time with your loved ones?

Whatever your priorities are, my wish for you is that you may treasure this story and find a way to put your big rocks first, before any pebbles or sand.

 

tactics for proof-reading

Practical tips for effective proof-reading – by Pat Thomson

patter

I am one of the world’s worst at proof-reading my own work. I’m quite good at revising, but not so good at the final checks. Regular readers of this blog will sometimes spot the odd proofreading omission  – the good news is that I usually pick it up, albeit often after a few days 😦 .

Proof-reading isn’t an easy thing to do – most writers are inclined to see what we thought we’d written, rather than what we actually have. We miss the odd spelling mistake, missing comma, over long sentence, the too often repeated word. It’s hardly surprising we miss these slip ups as most pieces of writing that are ready for proof-reading have been through multiple drafts and revisions. The proof-reading trick is to try to make the text appear unfamiliar and strange, almost as if someone else had written it.

So here’s a few tactics that can help:

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