Presenting Specialized Topics to a General Audience

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Making an interesting, coherent and easily understandable speech in front of a general audience on a specialized topic such as physics, or economics, or even mahjong is definitely not an easy task. It is always necessary to keep in mind the possibility that some people might simply be unable to follow your speech. The general audience effectively lacks any grounding in the subject you happen to be presenting. It is thus your duty to make a speech understandable to the audience. At the same time there is a need to preserve the general idea and the main points of your speech, focusing on the things that people would find the most interesting.

Firstly, it is important to know that writing is one thing and speaking is totally another. They are absolutely different, and you cannot just step up and read a science paper out loud and hope that the audience likes it or at least understands. Thus, it is natural to suppose that we have to change some things when turning a paper into a speech.

The first and foremost is the vocabulary that you choose to use. When explaining Newton’s second law, for example, one should avoid being too hard on the audience by employing such terms as “inertial reference frame” or “linear momentum” without delving into lengthy explanations. It would be much better to use the simple formula a = F / m, where F is the force applied to a body, m - that body’s mass, and a - its acceleration. The formula should be explained in an equally simple way, e.g. “the law states that the stronger is the force impressed on a body, the faster it accelerates; while the heavier the body itself is, the slower it accelerates”.

Pretty much the same thing goes for sentence structure: the simpler - the better. It is generally easier to understand a convoluted sentence when you read it rather than hear it said out loud, because you can always go back and read the part you did not get. It is not a good thing to make your sentences grow and branch out in a tree-like way, because there is a fair chance that people will simply get lost in your complex reasoning. Writers also like to put some digressions, notes and afterthoughts in parentheses. It is best either to avoid them at all or simply put them in the end of your sentence. Finally, sentences that are too long should always be cut into smaller ones. Nobody likes to strain over sentence continuity when listening to somebody’s speech.

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