Communicating Science – AAAS workshops

by Stephanie Chasteen on May 17, 2010

As a nice follow up to the last post (from Carolyn Gale on communicating science to diverse audiences), I recently went to one of the AAAS/NSF sponsored workshops for scientists on science communication. If you get a chance to go to one of these, do!  It was fantastic, and the workshop leader was top notch.  I learned a lot.   At the website above you can download the workshop packets which are chock full of good advice on communication — for everyone, not just scientists.  Their science communication pages are also brimming with great tips and resources on science communication, as well as some archived 15 minute webinars on honing your message and talking to the media.

Here are a few of the tidbits that I picked up from the seminar.

Gesture. She recommended having your hands in a relaxed position, bent at the elbow, so that they’re out of the way but are accessible enough that if you want to gesture, you have them at the ready.  Don’t overuse gesture — don’t use it just because you feel like you should.  If it’s not natural, then it won’t look natural.  And use it to highlight your points.  The simple gesture of holding up fingers to denote “1” “2” and “3” is surprisingly effective.  One other piece of information that I thought was really interesting — you are more likely to verbally stumble if your hands are tied up and you can’t use them to gesture.

Props.  Sometimes it can be helpful to have a prop to illustrate a point, like a plant leaf, or a cell phone.

Use tools like analogy and alliteration to make your message meaningful and memorable.

Three main points. Keep your message to 3 main points.  We were doing 1-minute research summaries, but even in a longer discussion, 3 points will keep you targeted.  Don’t default to your research questions as the three main points.

Umm...  Try not to use “umm” too much, of course, but beware of the visual “umms” as well.  We’ll often let our eyes go to one side to buy time.  Instead, use some stock phrases that buy time.

Start with the take home message, instead of building up to it.  Your audience isn’t looking for a punchline.

Keep eye contact while you’re talking, especially when you’re pausing.

Smile  a little while you’re waiting to talk — a slack face looks negative.

If you don’t have results yet, then say what you might find, or what you’re hoping to find.

Don’t say things like “it’s intuitive that” or “as we all know.”  That will put off a general audience.

Great tips from the AAAS!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: