“Sharing Science with Anyone” Workshop

By Nina Gao

Science communication is a skill I believe all scientists should have. After all the hard work in lab, what’s the point of doing cool science if you can’t tell others about it? The American Geophysical Union(AGU)’s Sharing Science Network hosted a one-day workshop down at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to help scientists better communicate their work.

The Sharing Science group aspires to close the growing gap between scientists and the public, a goal that got me interested. Initially, I was anxious to attend a workshop hosted by a group outside of my own field. However, I was pleased to find that the presentations and information provided were broadly applicable for all scientists. I’ve summarized the points that I found especially helpful and thought provoking.

  • Always keep your audience in mind. There’s no such thing as a “general public”. All audiences will have different levels of expertise, and as a speaker, it is your job to adjust your talks to appropriately match your listeners. What do they want to gain from you? Are you speaking to a reporter hoping to write up a story on your research? Or are they children visiting the local museum, eager to hear your explanations of science?

  • Beware of jargon. The easiest way to lose an audience is with jargon. As the “turbo encabulator” above demonstrates, the use of technical terminology easily draws a line between those familiar with the terms and those who were not. In particular, acronyms should be defined before use, unless it is generally used by the public (such as radar or DNA) but don’t assume everyone is familiar with your field and knows what you’re talking about. Don’t force your audience to sieve through your words, searching for context clues. (What’s that IP that you just mentioned stand for? Immunoprecipitation? Intraperitoneal? Intellectual property? Just be clear and spell it out!)
  • Speak with a goal in mind. Plan out what you want to say: what do you want your listeners to leave with? Do you have a call to action? Are you spreading awareness, possibly appealing to voters to approve increases in research spending? District representatives in particular want you to be clear about what you want from them. Even routine meetings with PI’s and collaborators should be held with a list of tasks to accomplish.

The workshop rounded out with guided discussions in groups regarding presentation techniques and structures. After a day of brainstorming, we concluded the workshop with mock talks to test out our new skills. It is difficult to speak clearly about your research in 90 seconds, but it is surprisingly a lot of time!

It turns out the best way to improve communication skills is to practice. I enjoyed the presentations. Though the points they presented were not unheard of, the presenters were clear in addressing the core of each message and the common mistakes that people make. Keep an eye out for any future workshops!

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Explore the Sharing Science website! The group provides other science communication tips and resources, with a webinar on science communication through social media projected for later in 2016. Are you interested in become a better speaker to engage your target policy makers? AGU hosted a webinar with advice on how to visit your local district representative.

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