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Illinois IGB



IGB Networking Events – Presenting a Sketch Talk

For IGB faculty presenting at networking events or other relationship-building opportunities with alumni, donors, or industry leaders, we have prepared the following guidelines designed to maximize your impact with these audiences. We have developed an approach called a “sketch talk,” a one slide presentation aimed at individuals who have no scientific training or background, that will deliver a clear takeaway through the use of a compelling image and a narrative content structure.

Sketch talks are one slide long, lasting approximately 3-4 minutes. They are intentionally brief and narrative-driven to evoke a specific reaction with your audience. The following steps will guide you through the process.

1. Choose a subject you are passionate about for your sketch talk

This should be a clear and engaging aspect of your research that you would like to convey to your audience – for example, how you are developing new therapeutic treatments, creating original technological applications, studying unexplored environments, or challenging a societal issue such as hunger, environmental conservation, mental illness, etc.

2. Select one compelling image

Choose an evocative image that will be used for your slide. The image should reinforce the narrative that you will tell to the audience (see point 3) and will serve as a backdrop as you speak.

If you do not have a relevant image or have trouble finding one, contact the Communications group who will be happy to assist. A short explanation of what you are looking for or what you will be discussing will be very helpful for them.

3. Develop a 3 to 4 minute narrative with the “ABT” template

Using the subject matter you chose in Step 1, the following technique will allow you to quickly create a compelling narrative. It’s called the “And, But, Therefore” or “ABT” structure1, and can be completed using the following template:

[This is true and/or observable]   and   [this is true and/or observable OR these data exist],   but   [problem statement],   therefore   [this is how we are addressing the problem] .

Here’s an example from the creator of the template, Dr. Randy Olsen: “I have a PhD in Biology AND I achieved tenure as a professor of Marine Biology BUT I found I had more interest in the mass communication of science THEREFORE I resigned my professorship, moved to Hollywood and became a filmmaker.”

Here’s a second example, with a more specific focus: “The earth is facing a food shortage AND it will become even more critical in the near future if we cannot find alternative ways to grow crops BUT we have reached the limits of farmable land on the planet THEREFORE we are working to increase the photosynthetic capabilities of crops to produce more yield on the same amount of soil.”

The “and” statements are facts that set up the background, “but” introduces a problem, conflict, or challenge, and “therefore” presents a journey, resolution, or solution. Developing an effective ABT statement may take a few tries, but will effectively comprise your entire presentation.

1 from Houston, We Have A Narrative: Why Science Needs Story, Dr. Randy Olson, 2015

4. Create your slide

The Communications group will provide a branded template for your use. Do not add any of the following as it will distract the audience from focusing on you: text, multiple images, animations, references, or citations. Place your image and practice your sketch talk with a timer. Four minutes can go quickly, but the aim here is to immediately capture the audience, deliver an engrossing narrative, and leave a strong impression. An audience will retain a short story delivered well much longer than a collection of figures or data, and after your sketch talk you will be able to engage with interested individuals much more easily.


An important goal of these events and many of our public engagement programs is to raise the awareness of the research and faculty of the IGB to important community stakeholders in industry and academia. With effective communication we are able to make significant impact and have seen these efforts successfully return benefits and revenue to the IGB.

For example, through building our Art of Science program we were able to have a semi-permanent display installed at the Chicago O’Hare airport for a period of 18 months. The president of Carl Zeiss Microscopy was travelling through O’Hare and stopped to view the installation, and noticed that Zeiss equipment was used in many of the research images. This subsequently led to increased relationships between IGB and Zeiss, culminating in the IGB’s Core Facilities microscopy suite being named the first North American location of the ZEISS labs @ location partner program, allowing us to receive special training, equipment discounts, and access to instrumentation before public release.