Interview with Thomas Müller
Thomas Müller feels just as comfortable at a festive gala as he does at a conference. At both types of events, it is his job to inspire the audience. There are similarities between acting and presenting scientific results, too, says the actor, comedian and presenter, who has been working for many years for Artsbased Solutions, a company that also aims at helping researchers present their talks in interesting and engaging ways. Thomas Müller talks to us about what fascinates him about the mediation of scientific topics, and what tips and tricks might help to both entertain and inform an audience.
Last year, you gave a workshop for our International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS). Is there a connection between theatre acting and the presentation of a scientific talk?
Actually, there are many congruences: both present in front of an audience, both recite by heart, both move on a stage and use technical means. Researchers actually have an advantage compared to actors: they do not have to imagine the content, they know the content inside out. It is their own field of expertise, that’s the difference. At Artsbased Solutions, we work together with researchers and help them to render their talks comprehensible, fresh, and entertaining, without losing credibility.
You’re also a member of “Die Physikanten”, a performance group that aims to bring science closer to people of every age group. What intrigues you about the mediation of scientific topics?
The former teacher in me is delighted that “die Physikanten” are trying to impart knowledge in such a playful way. Complicated technical contents are broken down and are being brought to life with humour and imagination. And, incidentally, I always learn new things. Learning about scientific topics, and the exchange with companies or universities during the preparation for a show is incredibly fascinating. Moreover, to be part of international and scientific conferences, all that helps me with my work as a coach, of course.
What should my attitude be like, if I want to effectively present my research results in a talk to my colleagues?
Authentic, relaxed, knowledgeable, and, every now and then, surprising - let’s call it ‘creative’ or ‘playful’. Whoever is able to be passionate about and thrive on his or her topic, and to surprise themselves during their talk, is authentic and able to draw in their audience.
What should I bear in mind if I am presenting in English, and not my native language?
Firstly, academia is an international community where few people speak English as a first language. This means that nearly everyone speaks English with an accent, and makes grammatical mistakes. Per se, this is not a problem at all. But it does become a problem when language blocks the information process. That’s why it can help to take your time when you are talking, to try and find the right words or to paraphrase what you are trying to say. In addition, it can help to practice beforehand and recite the talk aloud. New vocabulary can be trained and linguistic difficulties can be minimized.
How can you train such “recitation recipes”?
At Artsbased Solutions, we work ‘arts based’, meaning that poem recitation exercises, as well as a creative and playful approach to language are an established feature. We are looking for narrative approaches that create images in the audience’s mind. That influences how we use language. For it is not just about ‘WHAT’ you say, but also ‘HOW’ you say it. That makes the difference!
Are there tips and tricks to recapture the audience’s attention if you realise during your talk: Oh, they’re getting bored.
The trick is: breathe, breathe, and breathe again, and also, have fun!
Often, it all depends on our body, more than 50 percent of our perception depends on the body. In our seminars, we teach body work and breathing exercises. Breath provides the space to change something, to speed up or slow down your pace and thus change the pattern of your talk. And that creates attention. And here’s another pro tip: during your talk, choose people in the audience that are facing you, that are smiling or are nodding to what you’re saying. And by no means try to find out whether they’re liking your talk or not.