Chemistry (and Presentation) Matters!

I had the opportunity to listen to several presentations from fellow students at the Chemistry Matters Symposium last week. There were many great topics that were presented on, but I will discuss the three presentations that I have ranked the highest. All three have something in common that made them great presentations: they engaged the audience and brought out the audience members’ critical listening skills.

The third-ranked presentation was entitled “Artistic Chemistry”. I have it ranked here because while the topic had the potential to be boring to most everyone but art majors, the presenter kept the audience engaged with simple, yet complete, explanations for how redox reactions occur with rust on metal, as well as on stained glass. It left the audience feeling like they could create art using redox reactions too.

The second-ranked presentation, “The ‘New Alchemy'” is ranked here because the presenter was very exciting and knowledgeable about his topic, which involved discussion over the history of the universe with a transition into radioactivity and the existence of uranium and further elements on the periodic table. What could’ve been a boring history and chemistry lesson was the complete opposite because the presenter’s enthusiasm and willingness to share his opinion on unknowns created an environment that beckoned the audience closer.

The top-ranked presentation, “Retiring Old Tires” is ranked number one because the presenter had the best delivery out of any of the presentations. Although the title may suggest that it would be a very dull topic, the presenter made the audience laugh with witty remarks and near-sarcastic attitude that made the topic a lot more fun to learn about. During the presentation, but not during the Q&A session at the end, the presenter talked to and interacted with the audience to get a response and some laughs.

Each presentation was great and highly ranked because of their interaction and engagement with the audience, despite presenting topics that weren’t so appealing to the entire audience. Whether voluntarily or not, members of the audience were encouraged to use critical listening skills to understand what is being said, and come up with their own conclusions using the information given to them.

According to skillsyouneed.com, critical listening is described as the ability to evaluate or scrutinize what is being said, and usually requires problem-solving or decision-making. In all three of these presentations, one had to actively think about the argument or problem being examined. For example, in “The ‘New Alchemy'” presentation, the audience was encouraged to express their views over the beginning of the universe, e.g. The Big Bang Theory, alternates universes, etc., but because the presentation was short, the debate was not fully covered.

Using critical listening skills, one can gleam useful information about the current topic. However, critically listening to great presentations like those mentioned can help one pick up certain positive aspects of the presentation that can be duplicated in one’s future presentations. For example, if you recognize that an audience is buying in to the topic, be conscious of what it making them buy into it. Is it jokes, questions, or remarks made by the presenter? Or is it their enthusiasm and emotion that captures the audience? Whatever it is, remember what made they did that was great to make yourself a better presenter in the future!

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