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Lecture crowd

Heard on campus: Melissa Marshall on presenting your science

29 April 2024
Melissa Marshall presenting
Melissa Marshall speaks at the 2024 A. Dixon and Betty F. Johnson Lecture in Scientific Communication. Credit: Katie Yan

“When you present your work well, those are the sparks that can lead to really significant flames of success,” said Melissa Marshall, founder of the science communications consulting company Present Your Science, during the 2024 A. Dixon and Betty F. Johnson Lecture, as a nod to the quote from the Italian poet Dante, who wrote, “From the small spark comes a great flame.” 

The A. Dixon and Betty F. Johnson Lectureship in Scientific Communication supports an annual lecture in scientific communication in the Penn State Eberly College of Science. The lecture was established in 2005 in memory of A. Dixon Johnson, a former University director of public information. Johnson worked as a Penn State science writer and public information director for many years. 

In her presentation, titled “Present Your Science: Talk Nerdy to Me,” Marshall shared expertise on presenting research and tips for being an effective speaker. She highlighted three key ideas for effective scientific presentations: be audience-centric, be focused, and be visual. Marshall emphasized features of successful lectures, scientifically proven to make more of an impact on the audience, while demonstrating them in her own presentation.  

“The reason we give presentations is because there is an audience-based action,” she said. “Ask yourself, ‘What makes sense for my audience?’” 

Beyond ways to engage audiences, Marshall also used a variety of analogies to describe the importance of staying focused. She used a mountain to represent a presentation, the peak being the conclusion you want your audience to come to. She recommended working backward from the mountain top to decide what information an audience needs to reach that conclusion. 

She also discussed the importance of clean and focused slides.  

“Once the audience’s attention is off the slide, the speaker becomes important,” she said.  

Marshall served as a senior lecturer in communication arts and sciences and director of the Engineering Ambassadors outreach program for the Penn State College of Engineering from 2009 to 2015. In 2014, Marshall founded her company, Present Your Science, which has taken her around the world to work with Fortune 100 corporations, institutions, and universities, teaching the proven strategies she has mastered through her consulting work and during her decade as a faculty member at Penn State. 

“If you are willing to change the status quo,” she said, “you have a huge opportunity to stand out.” 

In addition to her lecture, Marshall also gave two workshops for Eberly students: “Tell a Clear Technical Story” and “Transforming Slide Design.” These two workshops provided students an opportunity to work hands-on with Marshall in applying the tips she described in her lecture.