Nancy Kanwisher’s TED talk from 2014 has been watched by over a million people. It’s a good example of how to make information heavy, research talk accessible to the general public.

Although the talk is not that long, less than 12 minutes, it’s packed with newsworthy information you can easily recall next month if you happen to talk about brains in the pub. Dr. Nancy starts the talk with a strange phenomenon of people not being able to recognise their own children, inviting people’s curiosity to listen more. She then wastes no time and jumps directly to a video of a guy being experimented upon.

Prior to playing the video, she explains what you are about to see. This is the key to success.
Her explanation prepares you for what you’re about to see. So that when you watch the videos, you never wonder what the words on the screen mean, and the connection between her as a speaker, and you as her audience was never lost. Never in the talk, that you feel she has abandoned you for showing random pictures or videos on her slides.
This is the key to success, in one word, it’s control. She’s in control, and you feel safe under her lead.

All videos on her slides are so integrated with her words that it feels like she’s drawing the parts of the brain with her colour pencils as she speaks.
When you have a research-heavy topic, the best you can do is to rely as much as possible on images and analogies throughout your story, and even better, animate those pictures as videos and show them directly on the slides. Embed them all to reduce the chance of any technical problem. You will then make the ingestion of ideas so effortless. When it’s easy to digest, people’s recall ability increases.

Note that she doesn’t do much to set up curiosity, the flow of the talk was carried through simply by her smooth control of the pace and the animations on her slides. When you need to speak to inform, try to make your slides as interactive as possible, and don’t underestimate what can be done using videos, even without much dialogue. Pictures are more powerful than words.

A word of caution though. The moment the audience feels that the speaker is not in control and that they are just watching a series of random photos, the enchanting spell will be broken. You need to always know why you this information is important. Otherwise, you won’t wait until the last word before you check your twitter feed. There are plenty of videos there, too.

So that’s it everyone, to do a good research talk, pay attention to control and animated slides. If you like this video, please click like so that more people will see it and subscribe.


Watch the talk itself here: