The art of science communication can be defined as the ability to pitch something as complicated as quantum physics in a way that is not only engaging, but also authentic to the audience. So, what’s the key to become a strong science communicator?
In order to come closer to answering this question, we invited Liz Neeley for our latest Digital Campus webinar to discuss good storytelling in science. Years of experience made her an expert at coaching scientists on how to tell their scientific findings for every audience. Based on this webinar and additional research, we have compiled a list of five signs indicating that you’re doing a good job at science communications:
1. You know what you want to accomplish.
In a new study that will come out shortly, Liz Neeley asked a large number of scientists in the US what their goal is when they communicate science. The results can be structured in traditional and strategic goals:
Neeley says that many scientists are willing to put time and effort into improving their storytelling skills. A good science communicator knows his/her audience and what he/she is hoping to achieve. This can mean that they have predefined a few messages that they want to transmit to their audience.
2. You are accurate, but accessible.
Hard facts are important. But a good science communicator knows how to find the right balance between being accurate and accessible at the same time. According to Neeley, audiences admire warm and competent storytellers. If you lack warmth but are competent, they will envy you. And if you lack both warmth and competence, they feel contempt for you.
3. Your audience trusts you.
Trust is based on many factors, but as a good science communicator you acknowledge that your audience is just as intelligent as you, but doesn’t possess the knowledge you do.
While you know everything about the results of your scientific study or research, and how it was collected, your audience may not, which is why as a good science communicator you emphasize how you know what you know.
You’re confident about what you know, but don’t shy away from what you’re less certain about. Showing your audience this sort of respect is one way of gaining their trust. According to Neeley, only by trusting you, people will be willing to take on your scientific advice ranging from climate change to vaccinations.
One question Neeley gets asked over and over again is why scientists should tell stories. Isn’t it enough that they have earned their degrees and have done all these years of research? Neeley points out that credibility is not something that you only earn because of the university you’re employed by or what journals you publish.
In the eyes of the audience, credibility is a combination of this idea of competence (how skilled are you?), goodwill (what are your intentions?) and trustworthiness (does your audience believe that you have their best interest at heart?).
4. You know what it’s all about.
Science is a lot about facts. Facts that are hard to understand for most people who are not familiar with the scientific topic. Before you aim to become a good science communicator, you have to be a good scientist and know all the details about your research.
When delivering your results to your audience, you don’t want them to get lost in statistics but you want to focus on the central question of your research. Neeley suggests a tool called “The Message Box” that helps science communicators draft the main message that should be communicated.
The example below is based on a study about plastic waste in the ocean.
The Message box helps to simplify scientific findings, or to say it with a quote: “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it it to your grandmother.” We know that this is harder than it seems!
5. You are exciting and fun!
You are able to turn your science content into something everybody can understand and sometimes even laugh at. A good science communicator is constantly on the lookout for ways to turn science into something entertaining.
Or, just like Michael Faraday, an English scientist, once said: “The lecturer should give the audience full reason to believe that all his powers have been exerted for their pleasure and instruction.”
A great example of bringing science topics closer to everyone is the “Dance your PhD Contest.” Last year’s winner, a student from the University of Bern, convinced the jury with a dance video that combines hip hop, salsa, and even acro-yoga. But see for yourself: