How to present your research to a non-academic Audience

I presented my research on literary translation and my work as a professional translator to members of Leamington Literary Society. It was a two hour presentation held in the Royal Pump Rooms in May 2011.

Leamington Literary Society holds monthly meetings and at each event there is a guest speaker. It was the first time that the group had heard a presentation on literary translation.

My Approach:

Consider all audience members – I knew that members of the society would have varying degrees of knowledge about literary translation. So, in my presentation I started from the very basics, progressing slowly to more academic issues in Translation Studies.

Structuring the presentation – I had two hours to fill, so decided to talk for the first half and use the second half to read from my book of translated poetry and open up a general discussion. I wanted the first half to be very natural, so used one sheet of paper to outline the presentation’s key areas:

  • The history of translation
  • The status of the translator
  • Overview of translation strategies
  • Other key issues in contemporary translation
  • The literary translator today
  • Key concepts in literary translation and Translation Studies
  • The challenges of poetry translation

Different activities – I interspersed my talk with examples from novels and poetry collections, extracts from articles and handouts. I also answered questions throughout.

Getting to know the audience – I enjoyed talking to members at half time, as I was able to answer queries from individuals who didn’t like to speak out in a large group. I also discovered particular areas of interest and benefited from that in the second half.

Key Challenges

Filling two hours – It seemed a long time, but by structuring my talk well and introducing readings, handouts and opportunities for discussion, this passed very quickly. The temptation was to try to do too much, but I practiced a lot to avoid this.

Talking naturally – I didn’t want to put people off by doing an academic-style presentation, so I avoided using a script and this worked well.

 Retaining interest – I was informed that the audience was used to listening for long periods, but even so I wanted to vary the talk to retain individuals’ attention. My range of activities worked well here. I also made sure I stood up and moved around, was lively, had good eye contact with people and used the books and images I had brought to introduce visual aids.

What I learned

Check event promotion – a couple of people said they hadn’t realised how interesting the talk was going to be, because the advert wasn’t very engaging. This may have put some people off. I didn’t see the newsletter advert, however at future events I will offer a short, attention-grabbing summary of my presentation in advance.

It’s refreshing to talk to non-academic audiences – it was a pleasure to discuss my work in more general terms to a group that was so appreciative and enthusiastic.

Contacts are everything – I was invited to speak to Leamington Literary Society because the organiser was the husband of one of my students. I was offered that teaching post due to another presentation I gave that was arranged by the publisher of my book.

Next steps

I really enjoyed the relaxed nature of presenting to a non-academic audience and having the opportunity to enthuse new people about my Translation Studies research and literary translation work. So, I would jump at the chance should I be asked to do a similar presentation in the future.


Contributor | Georgina Collins

Georgina Collins has a PhD in Translation Studies and recently completed an Early Career Fellowship in Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Study. She also teaches world literature for the Workers’ Educational Association and works as a freelance translator.

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