Chemistry Matters and So Does Communication

At 12:15 AM, in the wee hours of a Thursday morning, I was driving to Walmart. I had a presentation for my chemistry 131 lab in less than eight hours on chocolate and its health effects. It definitely affected me. One of those effects of meticulously preparing was the sudden urge for decadent bars of cocoa and milk. So determining that I just could not sleep until my urge for chocolate was met, and justifying it with the new information I had about chocolate’s antioxidants, I grabbed my keys and jogged to my car. I was inspired, but not just by a want for sweets.

I wanted to stand in front of the rows of Hershey and Cadbury and soak in the new information I’d gained. This one was 60% cocoa: it probably had milk and extra cocoa butter added for taste. This one was 72% cocoa: better. This milk chocolate was probably stripped of it’s anti-oxidation properties with a long roasting time: how unfortunate. In my studies of something as simple as chocolate, chemistry had breathed life and interest into a world yet unexplored.

I wanted to share that feeling with my classmates, but presenting can be very difficult. It is always nice to speak about half way through the line up. You get a chance to evaluate others and make adjustments to your own plan. I, however, was chosen first. After I finished my talk I sat down and anxiously wondered how I’d done and how other people would present differently than I had.

These are my observations and comments on the top three presentations.

Maybe I’m biased because of my sweet tooth, but Hannah did a fantastic job. She spoke on candy and how manipulating the sugars structure affects the candies texture. Her slides had a good amount of information on them; the amount of text was not overwhelming and it helped to follow along with her explanation. She spoke at a good volume and made eye contact. She obviously knew her topic well and did not rely on reading prompts. Her explanations of how different candies are made were concise and easy to understand. She paced herself well, and offered a helpful recap at the end of her presentation.

The second presenter that I thought did especially well was Wesley. He spoke about paintball. He was funny and engaging, but not unprofessional. He made good eye contact, interacted with the audience, and varied his voice so he was not monotonous. He also knew his topic well. His organization was easy to follow and he offered a great thought provoker at the end of his presentation: he not only summarized his topic but related chemistry to our everyday lives. He made an attempt to tell me not only about paintball, but about how paintball and it’s chemistry are related to the world around me.

The third presentation with which I was enamored was by Tyler, who talked about hair products. Like Hannah, he used his slides well but did not read off them. He made eye contact, did not stumble with concepts or words, so it was obvious that he was well prepared. He was engaging with good volume and variation within volume. What I admired most was how he outlined his presentation simply at the beginning and then offered a restatement that was not too chemically dense. It was more simple and compact and it was easy to take away something especially if you weren’t very interested chemistry.

Overall, I ranked these presentations the highest because of a few common characteristics: they were engaging, well rehearsed, well organized, and they attempted to answer the question of why their subject mattered.

Learning from our peers is just as important as learning from our own mistakes and victories. And in listening to others, I have decided on a course of action to help me improve my own presentation skills. Generally, I want to be better at communicating big pictures and at staying clear and concise. I think that by listening to other people, I am made aware of certain faults in presenting that I would have overlooked in myself. This is learning by example and comparison. I will be a better presenter in the future because I can carefully examine my presentation based off how I felt regarding others and judge my own with the same standards. For example, as critical as I am of another’s presentation I should be of my own. I will carefully examine my own presentation for flaws in this way, and I want to take the best qualities I saw in others and make them my own. Watching peers is a great way to learn and grow.

I think that if I follow the examples set by the best presenters, I can stay engaging, clear, and concise. And most importantly, I think it well help me to recreate the amazing experience in other people that I had learning about chemistry . If I communicate the information well, I think I can share that experience of excitement and epiphany with my peers.

Communication is integral to being human. We communicate ideas and facts and feelings. This experience presenting in lab showed me just how important it is to be comfortable communicating to large groups.

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