April 3, 2023

You can develop many transferable skills in graduate school that will prepare you for several types of careers. These may include the ability to synthesize complex information, manage a large project (a capstone, thesis, or dissertation), prioritize tasks (balancing your studies, work, and personal life), meet multiple deadlines, and work independently or in collaborative settings.

One transferable skill you may consider developing during grad school is presenting your research or work to an audience of individuals who are not necessarily experts in your discipline or field. Data from a recent survey of 2,400 early career Ph.D.s from across 50 research-focused Ph.D.-granting institutions in the United States revealed that public speaking and presentation skills developed in graduate school are highly sought-after transferable skills across industry and academic job markets (Mitic & Okahana, 2021). While the study focused on the career competencies of research-focused individuals with Ph.D.s, we argue that public speaking and presentation skills are also important for the job-market readiness of all graduate students. With this said, below are tips for preparing and presenting your work to a broad audience.

Why communicate your work to a wide audience. Maybe you’re developing a three-minute networking pitch or preparing for a non-academic job talk. You may be finally ready to discuss your grad research or capstone with family, friends, or community groups. Are you interested in sharing the significance of your project with policymakers? Leading a work presentation and needing to figure out how to prepare ahead of time best? No matter the setting, presenting your research or project in an accessible manner for different audiences can help you and your work have wider impact.

Know your audience. As mentioned above, you may speak to a potential employer, a current employer, or a local community group. Do your research beforehand to know what might resonate with your audience and understand why they might be invested in your work. And no matter the audience, it’s important to be mindful that you are not “talking down” to individuals you are presenting to. You are framing your work in terms, stories or contexts they care about.

Prepare content. Utilize a guide for preparing effective presentations (see resources below) or get advice and support from the Design Help Desk (Seattle campus). Regardless of your chosen visual format, identify a powerful anecdote, a quotation, or a question that can capture your audience’s attention and is connected to the main point of your presentation. Less is more — so include two or three sub-points that connect to your research question or project. Avoid having a lot of technical or academic jargon, as this may unintentionally lead to audience disengagement. Finally, consider closing with a question, anecdote, or visual that ties everything together and captures the audience’s attention.

Practice your talk. Schedule times to practice with peers outside your department, loved ones, or even co-workers before your talk. Ask for feedback to learn if your audience can follow your story, if they feel engaged and if they have a clear take-home message from your presentation.