Scientific Presentations
The Assertion-Evidence Approach

Improv Exercise: Unexpected Topic
Fashioning a 1-minute presentation on the spot

This exercise calls upon your students to improvise a short presentation. Improvising is a skill that can be developed. In scientific presentations, this skill is important in a number of situations: your demonstration fails, someone asks you a question that you have never considered, or a manager asks you to incorporate a last-minute change into your talk. All of these situations could unravel an inexperienced presenter. The purpose of this exercise is to give your students experience in creating a 1-minute presentation with just a few minutes of preparation time. In this exercise, your students are part of a team making a presentation, on behalf of your university, to a high school. When arriving to the high school, the team receives requests to present on a number of unexpected topics. Each student on the team is asked to handle one of those topics.

Step 1. Teach strategies for improvising.
Every scientific presenter is called upon to improvise at one point or another. In essence, the goal is to make a bridge from the unexpected point in the talk back to the planned path. The best presenters do so in a way such that the audience does not know anything went astray. The Vimeo film to the right introduces four strategies for handling an unexpected event, such as an unexpected slide. You should consider showing or assigning this film to your class before the exercise.

Step 2. Distribute topic requests to students.
Download and print out the file on the right and cut up the requests so that you can distribute one to each student. Let the students know that they are part of a team representing your university and presenting at a high school. When the team arrives to the high school, a teacher there has a list of topics that the high school would like covered. Each student presenter receives one of those topics. Have your student presenters go up one by one to give his or her short 1-minute presentation. After every five presenters, lead a class reflection on best practices shown by the previous five speakers.

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Content Editor: Michael Alley