Prepare a talk with
the SELL Method®

Some things just happen to stand the test of time. Take our in-house method for preparing a science presentation, which looks well and truly set to stay. Developed by Alexia Youknovsky over a decade ago, the SELL Method® is a three-step guide to creating and delivering an engaging science talk. We apply it to each of our public speaking training courses, reaching more than 2,500 scientists so far. Here is a better look into what it is all about.

Whether you are presenting at a conference, pitching to a jury or defending your budgets, you need to convince others of the value of your research. Anywhere between one and 60 minutes long, it can often be difficult to structure your ideas and string them together into a coherent talk. For nearly 12 years, our trainers at Agent Majeur have been using the SELL Method® for public speaking sessions with scientists. In three easy steps, it is specifically designed with technical topics in mind, to assist in preparing concise and impactful presentations.

What are the steps of the SELL Method®?

1. Skeleton

First, you must ‘Build the Skeleton’ of your speech. You should start by defining what the message of your presentation is. This is what you want your audience to remember from your talk when they leave the room. Using that, you can build a convincing structure around that starting block.

2. Envelope

The second step is called ‘Make your Envelope’. You are literally fleshing out the skeleton that you have already made. This includes how to start and end well. But also, how to draw in your audience with intrigue, humour and a great set of slides. Your envelope helps you to attract and maintain the interest of an audience so that they will listen to you throughout.

3. Life & Logistics

Our third step contains two parts that go hand in hand: ‘Breathe Life & Fine Tune Logistics’. This double-step is all about the performance aspect of your presentation. Things like managing nerves and letting your personality shine through will help you deliver a convincing talk. Add to that logistical aspects such as microphones and lighting, then you have a complete strategy for making the most out of any public speaking opportunity.

Why this method?

To convince an audience, you must speak to them about what interests them, as well as be clear and exciting. You want to talk about your work, its technical relevance, the stages gone through or the difficulties you encountered. Your audience, on the other hand, wants to know the benefit of placing their trust in you or what your results can bring to their own lives. The SELL Method® helps you focus on what interests your audience so that you give them what they want, to get your point across effectively.

Technical subjects are complex by nature. Your role is to make your work easy to understand. The SELL Method® also helps you work on your ‘popularisation scale’ so that you can target the correct level of complexity for your audience. Your audience’s attention is by no means a certainty. It must be earned!

How to use the SELL Method®

We strongly advise that you start preparing for a presentation two or three weeks before the deadline. The best ideas – those who will leave a lasting impression on the audience – don’t necessarily come to you straight away. So, you need enough time to allow your creativity to explore options.

A large part of the preparation work is done at a table with a pencil and paper. What are your objectives? Why is your audience there? What do they want? In the book, Sell Your Research: Public Speaking for Scientists, we provide a series of concrete examples of how to adapt your message to different audiences. We have compiled a plethora of good presentations, from within or outside our training courses, to help inspire you for your own talks.

Finally, we offer a bunch of physical and mental exercises to help manage your comfort when presenting. It may feel difficult at first, but everyone can get better with a bit of practice. We have seen so many people go from ‘not ready’ to ‘presentation super-star’ in only a matter of weeks: you can believe us when we say it’s possible.

What are the pitfalls to avoid during a presentation?

1. Changing the recipe

The SELL Method® is a recipe to be followed in the right order. Making complex notions simple and exciting is a tough job, which requires thoroughness and a structured approach. We often refer to the recipe for mayonnaise, which is impossible to make without following the right steps. If you start by pouring the oil into a bowl, the sauce won’t thicken up. Instead of a creamy dressing, you will obtain a kind of curdled vinaigrette. Similarly, you cannot prepare a convincing presentation if you start preparing the PowerPoint slides first. There is a sequence of logical stages to follow – just like the mayo.

2. Making it too long

If you use less than your allotted time, it won’t be held against you. However, if you use more, then you have a problem. Think about the people present who have other plans; maybe they have a flight to catch, kids to collect from school or another meeting that they are now missing because you are holding them hostage. Be respectful of the precious time your audience has offered you.

3. Being too technical

You need to know the technical level of your audience before you start preparing. If you don’t then you should try to find out pretty quick. Only then can you gauge what level of complexity you should use. Often this involves popularising your talk. Minimising the use of scientific jargon, creating connections between your topic and your audience, using illustrations, analogies, humour, anecdotes… there are many ‘tricks’ that will help your audience understand you better.

Alexia Youknovsky, CEO of Agent Majeur and creator of the SELL Method® says:

“Scientists are permanently asked to convince. Whether it be their technical director, funding bodies, public authorities, collaborators or students, giving a talk requires specific skills to succeed. Unfortunately, however, researchers rarely have any specific training to communicate better. The SELL Method® was born from this observation over 10 years go. It is both easy to memorise and to apply on a day-to-day basis.”

Now, you can find an in-depth guide to the SELL Method® in our book, Sell Your Research: Public Speaking for Scientists. Check it out.

To find out more about the authors of the book and their advice, take a look at a webinar organised in collaboration with MyScienceWork about public speaking for scientists.

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