"How to" Guide

Determine your topic, using the ideas above, and how you will present it

Think about how you will present the topic – will you use powerpoint slides? Will you incorporate a demo? How does the topic relate to a larger subject (such as global warming (if this is how you want to do it)).

Come up with a catchy title

This is important and it relates to the public’s knowledge of the subject. You don’t want a title that is similar to one you might see in a technical seminar at an APS meeting. You want a title that peaks the interest of the public. Example: “How I killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming” – this is a lecture that has been given by Caltech Astronomer Mike Brown, whose discovery of a “body” larger than Pluto in our Solar System led the International Astronomical Union to demote Pluto to a “Dwarf” planet.

Pick a date

Assuming you will be speaking on your campus, check the University’s master calendar first. You may find that you can schedule your lecture around a university-wide special event, such as Homecoming, which may ensure you get and reach a wider audience (plus you can take advantage of their public relations resources).

Find and book a location

  • preferably in a location that is near accessible public parking
  • contact your university parking department to find out about what is available and when - for example, after 5pm, many universities don’t charge for on-street parking or parking in official university lots. Some university garages or parking spaces may be always available to the public and others may never be available. Know this in advance and tell the parking department when your lectures are so they know that the public will be parking on campus in a certain location at that time. What you are trying to avoid is having people park and then get ticketed because there was a miscommunication (or non-communication) between you and the parking department. Get parking validation in writing. 
  • if you plan on using powerpoint or incorporating a demo, the location should have or allow for the AV equipment you have and/or the space needed to do the demo  

Publicize your lecture

  • write a (very simple) flyer which will include:
  • title of lecture
  • your name and title
  • “presented by” your university, your department
  • date and time (include how long the lecture will last, ie 5-6pm)
  • location: address, and possibly a map and/or description to the location (since universities tend to be very confusing to the outside public)
  • short abstract (see below)
  • short bio (see below)
  • parking info
  • cost – Free! (make sure this is made explicit)
  • contact info – that can be you, or a project manager (see below) or even the admin in your department, but here is the obvious key: if you include someone’s contact info, tell them first and make sure they know all the logistical details about your lecture
  • Promote it on listservs within the university, put it on the university’s master calendar, post it around your department, send the flyer to the university’s student newspaper.
  • You also want the non-university public to attend, so see Public Relations for tips to publicize your lecture.
  • In addition to a catchy title, you may promote your speech with a short abstract that should also be light on the “physics speak” and possibly a short bio about yourself. The writers in your department’s or university’s public relations office can assist you with this effort.

Prepare your lecture

  • if you are going to use power point slides, make sure they have:
  • large type, readable by the last row
  • few words – the slides are meant to act as a supplement to your spoken words, not the other way around. So don’t have paragraphs of text and use bullet points
  • pictures on them, especially when explaining a difficult and/or new (to the public) concept. But stay away from too many charts and graphs, unless they are completely relevant to the core subject.
  • Consider using a demo that goes with it – Expert Dick Berg of the University of Maryland suggests that you use the powerpoint slides as a guide to explain a concept and then have a demo to actually show it to the audience.

Practice your lecture

  • Do a dress rehearsal with the computer, LCD and microphone you will be using, in advance if possible
  • Do a dress rehearsal in the room in which you will be speaking
  • Time it – make sure that if you advertise your lecture for 30 minutes, plus time for questions, that that is exactly how long you take to present it.

The moment has arrived…

  • get to the room at least 30 minutes before the lecture is to begin to ensure all the AV is set up, loaded with your talk, and is functioning properly (whether you are setting it up yourself or not)
  • test the microphone
  • bring a hard copy of your slides, just in case there is an AV malfunction, and be ready to use the hard copy as a guide
  • dress appropriately and be professional
  • be personable, thank the audience for being there, look them in the eye, use your hands for gestures as needed and as appropriate
  • get someone to introduce you, read a shortened version of your bio
  • speak slowly, project your voice, talk out, not into your chest, smile, express enthusiasm and excitement for your subject and your audience
  • insert humor as is appropriate but be careful with this (a good thing to practice in front of another person)
  • When you are finished, thank the audience again and invite questions
  • For any questions, repeat the question back to the audience (in case it was not heard by anyone) and say “thank you for your questions” or “that’s an excellent question” – in other words, don’t belittle the question or the questioner
  • If you end up with a lot of people asking questions, you might want to cut off the time of the Q and A session and tell people that you are available to answer questions individually.
  • have business cards available, because undoubtedly you will totally rock and audience members will want your contact info to invite you to speak at other events.
  • have a sign up sheet available for people to leave their name, email, and other contact info. This way, you have started to build a list of interested members of the public to invite to future outreach events.