Building connections – briefing the participants

As part of the series of blogs documenting the Newton Fund workshop I’m involved in, today we’re looking at how we’ve briefed the speakers who will be visiting the event and the participants who will be introducing themselves at the start of the workshop. As I’ve written this it’s expanded beyond a single blog so I’ll start with the participant introductions and add in the speaker briefing later.

Photo by Sam Hakes ( at

This is a critical part of the preparation for the workshop as the energy and momentum we will need to make progress towards collaborative discussions will evaporate if everyone has to sit through lengthy and detailed descriptions of the minutiae of people’s research interests. With multi-disciplinary groups (as we will have) the purpose of the participant introductions is to provide an overview of skills, experience and interests that will accelerate the “getting to know you” stage and help us all start to see potential connections. I’ve seen these introductory presentations run at Crucible* events over many years and they work really effectively when the following principles are understood

  • Convey the essence of what you do in a single phrase (if you don’t control this, others will do it for you when they say “you should talk to the soil guy” or “the laser woman might be interested in this as well”)
  • Don’t make ANY assumptions about people’s understanding. LIDAR, ELISA and SSRI might roll off your tongue but they will either distract or disengage listeners from outside your field. (And don’t assume that disciplines far from yours are particularly guilty of this, whereas all the terms you use are in common parlance – you ALL do it and no, they mostly aren’t)
  • Similarly, make sure you explain your research so that those in other disciplines can see connections with their own work. Even better, talk about what limitations could be overcome through collaboration and how your work might be of value in partnerships.
  • No-one can cope with more than about 45 minutes of introductions, so stick to the time you’ve been given, however challenging that is. You might think that it won’t hurt to overrun by a minute or so, but the accumulation of these will eat time allocated for other things AND your audience may not take kindly to you ignoring the instruction that they followed.
  • Be as visual as you can. People generally remember pictures and schematics rather than text. If you need to animate a diagram or scheme, you can, but…
  • Don’t put too much information on your slide/s. If you’ve been asked to introduce yourself using a single slide that’s because this is the level of detail we want to hear. It’s not an invitation to use 12 font and cram every corner.
  • Be enthusiastic about your research – I’ve put this as a final point but it is the MOST important aspect. If you love what you do and think it is vital, then that energy will be evident and people will invest their own energy and time in you. If you appear to barely be able to get out of bed to talk about it, some might think twice. This doesn’t mean you have to jump around like a children’s entertainer – just let us see how much your work matters to you.

The introduction that you give at events like this is very different from talks you might give at conferences or seminars. To help our participants deliver the type of introduction we think the event needs, we’ve put together a slide template which we sent in advance. If you are organising this kind of event, we’d recommend you do the same and we’re happy to share our template here.

Newton Fund Edinburgh IISER intro slide template

To help people start to prepare for the workshop we’ve collated all these slides in advance and they form the heart of the workshop booklet which was circulated electronically in advance. Printed copies will be available when we arrive so people can annotate as they listen to the introductions and we hope the conversations will flow!


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