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Are Your Sports Science Presentation Skills as Evidence-Based as Your Practice?

We sports scientists love our research. We lean on peer-reviewed studies eagerly dissecting the latest findings to apply them to athlete performance, rehabilitation, and training methodologies. Yet, here’s a question for you: do we extend that same respect for evidence-based practice to our own communication and presentation skills?

The scientific conference—a cherished haven of knowledge where ironically, many a poster presentation resembles a Where’s Wally? puzzle, jam-packed with size 8 fonts and 100 graphics competing for attention. Or what about that trendy infographic that’s really just an abstract from a research paper slapped onto a colourful background, adorned with a lone figure looking as puzzled as the audience trying to decipher it? I think we can do better.

A Tailored Approach: Knowing Your Audience

In our work, we know that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t cut it for athlete training. The same goes for presentations. Before stepping onto the stage or into a meeting room, it’s crucial to know your audience. Research shows that tailoring your message to your audience increases comprehension and engagement (Dale, 1969; Educational Resources Information Center).
**Top Tip**: If you can’t do a pre-presentation survey at least sit down and estimate the perspectives, goals and judgements of the upcoming audience. Shape your presentation to align with their needs.

Storytelling: Because We Remember Stories, Not Bullet Points

We know that emotional engagement can enhance athlete performance. Well, it also enhances memory retention in your audience. According to research from Stanford University, stories are up to 22 times more memorable than plain facts. Humans are wired to remember stories, as they engage the brain’s sensory cortex (Gallo, 2014).
**Top Tip**: Integrate personal anecdotes or case studies into your presentation to illustrate your points, making the content more relatable and memorable.

The Anti-Conference Poster Rule: 10/20/30

While Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule may not be peer-reviewed, its core principles align well with cognitive psychology, highlighting the virtues of brevity and focus (Kawasaki, 2005). He suggests having no more than 10 slides, lasting no longer than 20 minutes, and using a font size of no smaller than 30 points. While this rule may not be applicable in all contexts, it highlights the importance of conciseness and visibility (Kawasaki, 2005).
**Top Tip**: Follow the 10/20/30 rule as a starting point, but adjust according to the needs of your presentation and audience.

Nonverbal Communication: Because Actions Speak Louder

Research from Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s communication model reveals that 55% of communication is nonverbal (Mehrabian, 1971). So while your data might be groundbreaking, your slouched posture or robotic nature could be its downfall. This means that your body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice play significant roles in how your message is received.
**Top Tip**: Be mindful of your posture, maintain eye contact, and modulate your tone to reinforce your message.

Keep it Light: Cognitive Load Theory

Just as overtraining can impair athletic performance, overwhelming your audience can impair their understanding Cognitive Load Theory suggests that the human working memory has a limited capacity. Overloading it with information reduces comprehension and retention (Sweller, 1988).
**Top Tip**: Simplify your slides to include only key points and use verbal explanation for the details. This prevents cognitive overload and aids in better understanding.

The Active Audience: Encourage Interaction

Active engagement isn’t just for athletes in your gym sessions, in the lab or looking through data. It’s a principle well-supported in educational psychology (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). According to the Active Learning Model, engagement and participation improve information retention.
**Top Tip**: Use interactive elements like polls, Q&A sessions, or brief group discussions to engage your audience, making the presentation more interactive and memorable.

The Seal of Credibility: Cite Your Sources

In a field that’s all about the data, backing up your claims with reliable sources isn’t just good practice—it’s expected (McCroskey, 1997).
**Top Tip**: Reference up-to-date, peer-reviewed research or expert opinions to solidify your arguments. This is where we should be most comfortable, after all.

Take Home Message

If we’re committed to using research to enhance athletic performance, it’s high time we applied that same rigour to our own professional skills. By adopting a research-backed approach to communication and presentations, we can elevate our capacity to share knowledge, drive change, and make those packed conference rooms or Zoom meetings more than an exercise in eye strain.

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