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Top Ten Tips for Science Communication Skills

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As a scientist, how can you promote your research without selling out? By communicating effectively about your research, you are not only doing a great service to the general public and your peers but also your own work.

Here are our top 10 science communication tips to bear in mind.

1. Understand your audience

As a scientist, you were no doubt trained to build up evidence and to support your arguments with meticulously thorough explanations.

When you begin preparing to communicate, you should be thinking about who your audience is. Put yourself in their shoes. The general public is interested in how your research affects their lives or society today, tomorrow, or in ten years’ time. Make sure you understand what your audience is interested in and adapt your communication accordingly.

2. Build your message

In science communication, you will regularly come across complicated topics. Your audience might not remember everything you have said or written once your communication is over. So, you need to define what you want them to retain.You then need to think about your own objectives: what do you want to achieve? By combining all that information, you can define what message you want to convey”.

3. Connect with the public

As a scientist, you should always  ask yourself: “who is the person I am talking to? Why should they care about my work?”. Effective communication is not only about facts and figures, but also about empathy.

4. Tell your public a story

You could also choose to communicate using a story. Storytelling is a very specific way of evoking emotion. Stories are not just for children at bedtime. Just think about how much time adults spend reading novels or watching movies. Structuring the way you talk about your science into a story is a highly effective way to get your message across. Stories are also remembered more easily than technical explanations.

5. Talk to journalists

Having access to a large public above that of your own network, can seem difficult. Amongst the ways of doing so, interacting with a journalist can be very effective. Before meeting a journalist, prepare yourself well. Start by understanding why they have contacted you and why they care about your research. Make a list of the questions you may be asked and prepare short and precise answers.

6. Make your science understandable

A scientific speaker or writer usually overestimates how familiar their audience is with the topic at hand, misjudging their ability to understand. This is referred to as the “curse of knowledge”. The principal is easy: a person who knows a subject well will find it difficult to explain it to non-specialists. When communicating, assume that the person you’re trying to reach has a million things competing for their attention and their concentration”.

As complex words may lead to misinterpretation and confusion, jargon should be avoided. It is better to use simple words and sentences instead: this will help your public to stay focused on your reasoning. Keep in mind that for non-scientific audiences, most of the concepts you are going to discuss sound like a foreign language.

7. Deal with controversial topics

When you are communicating about a controversial issue, expect your public to have preconceived ideas or assumptions about it. In this instance, you should try a new approach rather than by simply bombarding them facts.

It is important not to assume that your audience is hostile. Instead, try to remember that it is easier to listen and trust a speaker who doesn’t talk down their nose at you. By respecting your audience’s opinion and demonstrating a willingness to engage with their questions, you can more easily open up a dialogue. With this in mind, try to see that controversy can have positive implications. And, you never know, it may even help you shed new light on your own research project.

8. Embrace uncertainty

Science is a process of building up evidence. What is true today may not be as accurate tomorrow. Uncertainty is inherent to science and research. A researcher should be able to speak from a place of authenticity and accuracy. Hence, “embracing uncertainty” and not “shying away” from it will help you be more transparent and respectful towards your audience.

As a scientist, you should also shed light on the results that you are sure of based on your evidence. The words you choose should convey that idea of self-confidence. If you’re giving a presentation, it is also important to pay attention to your non verbal communication. That is to say, your presence and your voice – what your audience sees and what they hear.

9. Mix communication channels

Articles, conference talks or the press may be considered as important tools for communicating science. However, in the last ten years, other tools such as social media, blogs or videos have evolved to become important communication channels too.

And they are not only a fantastic way to communicate to the general public, they also provide the opportunity to exchange with fellow researchers and build scientific communities. When communicating, you should think about combining “traditional” tools and with newer ones. This will allow you to communicate in an interesting and dynamic way, broadening your audience’s experience.

10. Learn to communicate

Science communication is a skill that can be learned. Part of the way you may learn is by reading a lot, notice what sort of articles are interesting to you, what sort of quotes amplify a story or make something clearer to you when you’re reading somebody else’s work.” (Laura Helmuth).

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