Today I presented my research in the lab to the parents of the first year students. Talking for 15 minutes straight without slides and to a non-technical audience appeared to me a rather difficult task, but it turned out to be a really enjoyable experience.
Here's what really worked to keep the attention:
1. Point out objects
Even though the group was gathered around my specimen and I, I've been taking the opportunity of standing in the lab to show and point out as many aspects of my testing as possible. I could show the formwork, rebar cages, an undamaged specimen, the damaged specimen in the setup, the frame for the loading, the frame for my measurements, the cracks marked on the specimen, the thickness of the floor... I tried to keep it interactive by giving them some time to have a look through the holes which show the thickness of our strong floor and by inviting them to take a look at the bottom of the slab.
2. Compare with real life situations
I gave comparisons between the loading in our tests and the maximum load of a truck in the Netherlands, I pointed out the cost per square meter for replacing a bridge and told them how many tons of concrete have been used in these experiments. From the reaction on people's faces I could tell that turned out to be interesting information.
3. Keep it light and informative
Although one of the main rules is not to try to be funny, I thought I little joke and smile here and now was working quite well in this context.
4. Let your enthusiasm shine
If you love what you're doing, your enthusiasm will add a little extra to your talking, and it seems to be really appreciated.