How to jazz up your technical presentation

Storytelling and sharing failures—with humor—can help you tap into your audience’s emotions, even when the subject matter seems a bit dry.

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My first slide was labeled “The Crime Scene”—certainly not the norm for a technical paper on vortex-induced vibrations.

I saw confusion and surprise on the faces of the audience. This was going to be interesting.

A few years ago, I presented a technical paper at an international conference. The paper was about experiments that had been performed by our group, and the results had been surprising.

After months of work, our team had come up with a controversial explanation—one that most researchers would not have intuitively guessed. My paper that day was about those experiments and the unusual results.

I wanted to introduce a story into my presentation and, after some thought, decided to relate the presentation as a Sherlock Holmes mystery case. This controversial and hugely popular character seemed a good fit.

I planned my presentation like a Sherlock Holmes case; it began at the crime scene, which was our lab. The data we collected was the evidence. In my presentation, I shared our struggles to find a solution, which were eerily similar to what Holmes goes through in his cases.

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