Prepare your session well – time is short, the listeners have questions. Here are some tips to make sure that you get your message across – and reach the finish line on time.
1. Consider your main 2-4 points
You may have worked on your investigation for a year, and you have learned a ton of things. But you can’t cover all of them. Ask yourself: What is the point of the session? What do you want the audience to take away from your presentation? (And – if you’re part of a panel, how can you contribute to the overall theme?)
2. Make it easy for the audience to follow you
In which order should you present your main points? Do they correspond with chronology or another organizing principle? Divide your thoughts into chapters, summarise what you have said from time to time (the “rule of 3” works well – summarise each chapter into 3 short points)
3. Think about the audience’s needs
The audience wants to learn from you for the sake of their own future stories. Remind them of your story and give them a link – but don’t speak in length about the story itself. Talk about your methodology and your tools. What worked? What didn’t? What would you do differently next time? Remember to keep it practical – your audience isn’t going to go away and do your investigation, they want to know how to do theirs!
4. Keep it short
If you are the only speaker, don’t speak for more than 30 minutes (and limit yourself to max 15 PPT slides). If you are in a panel, agree with the other panelist and the moderator how long you will each speak for. In a panel, think “debate”, not “speech”. Always leave time for audience questions – they are journalists and most people learn better that way.
5. Be concrete and factual
How exactly did you get to your conclusions? For example – How many FOIA requests did you file, and how long did you have to wait for the answers? What did you do to reach a surprising result? Good examples will help the audience remember general principles.
6. Speak up, look at the audience, not the slides
Nothing is more boring than someone who reads a manuscript aloud. Speak naturally, look at the audience and the other panelists. Be yourself.
A few words on Powerpoint – how to and how not to
Less is more. Don’t be tempted to fill a 10 minute slot with 20 minutes of material by speaking fast. That will not leave the audience with anything more than a buzzing in their ears! And remember, your native language will often not be the same as theirs, so you need to focus and speak clearly.
7. Don’t forget the mistakes and problems
Some of the best learning experiences come from people being brave enough to share their mistakes and how they dealt with the setbacks. Everyone in the audience listens intently while thinking “Oh my God, I might have done that as well.”
8. Wrap-up: What can others learn from this?
Time is almost up – what do you want the audience to take away? Go back to your main points, wrap up your conclusions, set out briefly what you have told them – in crisp memorable phrases (if you can’t summarise your talk that way, think again, maybe it isn’t focused enough). Remember to leave yourself open for questions, and with time to answer them.
9. Stop in time.
The conference runs on a tight schedule. Please stop in time. It shows professionalism and ensures that people don’t have to feel impolite when they sneak out to be in time for the next session. We all need the breaks – you too!
10. Facilitate networking
If relevant, encourage people to meet in the cafeteria after the session to discuss further work on a subject and exchange contact details. Make yourself available there – it is better to meet in the cafeteria than to block the room for the next speaker.