My Speaking in the Community
I presented my senior psychology thesis in the 2008 Whitman Undergraduate Conference, entitled Modality and Perceived Anonymity’s Effects on Survey Response Rates and Substance Use Reports. I summarized the background research that motivated my study, how these findings could be drawn together to form a theory, how I tested this theory in my study, the results of my study, and their implications. The topic of my study and of the presentation was online surveys, and I investigated why online surveys have higher response rates and higher quality responses than other types of surveys (mail, telephone, etc.). I hypothesized that perceived anonymity plays a role: I thought that online surveys provide more perceived anonymity to participants, so they are more willing to reply and admit to socially undesirable behavior online. The study itself consisted of administering surveys to students in an online survey group and in a mail survey group, while manipulating perceived anonymity in both groups, to investigate the theory that the higher response rates and higher quality responses of online surveys are due to greater perceived anonymity in online surveys.
I utilized a PowerPoint presentation for my speech. I spent much time and effort preparing my slides, which made my presentation far clearer each time I reviewed and altered it. After going through nearly a dozen drafts of my PowerPoint presentation, I managed to condense an immense thesis into a few clear, short, concise slides. The sheer amount of information I had to convey made this incredibly difficult, but I managed to pick out only the most vital points and throw away all of the superfluous information in order to fit my presentation into a 12 minute time slot, plus questions. I accomplished this by putting myself in the audience’s shoes, and imagining what information I would need as an audience member in order to follow the talk, what details would merely confuse me, and what order of presenting the information would be the most clear.
This imagining technique was incredibly effective and absolutely vital to the success of my presentation. This is because, having worked on my thesis all year, I conceived of it in a complex way that I would have been unable to convey to an audience through a mere twelve minute speech. Thus, I couldn’t take any previous knowledge or advanced understanding for granted, so I had to mentally distance myself from my thesis in order to see it as someone who was just being introduced to it, and adjust accordingly. Another useful strategy I employed was to shrink my references in the slides, which effectively emphasized the information I described instead of putting equal focus on unnecessary names in psychological research.
Although I prepared well on the whole, I made one major mistake in my preparation. Before the Undergraduate Conference, I set up my PowerPoint in the room that I was going to speak in. I then tested the PowerPoint and stood on the stage behind the podium to make sure that I could clearly see the slides from there in order to use the slides as cues in my presentation. To my dismay, the angle from where the podium was permanently installed to the projector screen made it impossible to read the slides. Thus, I had to print off the slides to use as notes, instead of working off of the projected image. However, I originally set each point on each slide to show up one at a time. I realized that this would make it impossible to know whether my clicks to make the next point appear actually registered, making it extremely likely that I would end up off by one click and confuse my audience by having my slide and talk not quite correspond. Thus, I made each slide show up all at once, instead of point by point, and was consequently very glad that I scouted out the location of the presentation beforehand so I could adjust.
However, my preparation should not have stopped there. I made the mistake of printing off my PowerPoint with one slide on each side of the paper, and did so close enough to my presentation time that I had no extra time to reprint them. Thus, I ended up with a huge mass of papers as notes, and the audience had to wait for me to fumble through them when I switched slides. In the future, I will most definitely finish all of my preparation, including printing, long before the presentation in order to leave extra time in case I make mistakes that need to be remedied beforehand. Also, I will print my PowerPoints with several slides on each side of the paper so I don’t have to mess with my notes as often.
I was left with mixed feelings about the delivery of my presentation. I managed to fill my allotted time slot perfectly. I also managed to effectively resist the urge to read my notes, and instead maintained eye contact with the audience for most of my speech. Also, I spoke at a very generous volume despite not using a microphone. However, in spite of largely avoiding staring at my notes, I do not feel as if I engaged my audience very effectively. Even when I wasn’t reading, I had rehearsed so much that it felt as if I was simply reciting lines instead of speaking them. Also, my word choice was, in retrospect, too technical, and I think that the formal, scientific, and dry tone of my presentation resulted in the audience losing interest. In the future I will make more of an effort to cater my word choice to my audience. The audience of the Undergraduate Conference probably would have reacted better to a more casual and jovial presentation, as they were largely unfamiliar with psychological research, and uninterested in a formal, in-depth explanation of a specific and mostly boring topic such as mine.
Hopefully, my speech imparted in my audience a better understanding of survey research, and an appreciation of why it is important to be critical of research methods. However, I think that I probably benefited more from my presentation than any single audience member. This experience taught me the importance of being fully prepared and able to adjust to unexpected complications, as well as the importance of understanding the audience’s qualities and interests.