I’m pretty shy, and talking to a group of people used to be one of the scariest things for me to do. Standing on stage alone, eyes on me, being judged, thinking about how I’ll forget what to say. And amidst the nerves I was supposed to regurgitate the overly-detailed material which I attempted to memorize the night before. Then I would dump some resemblance of that talk onto my audience, essentially saying “I obviously didn’t care enough to make this understandable for you, I wanted to tell you everything I know. So here, you figure it out. Good luck!” Of course, that was never my intention, but unfortunately that is the message a lot of scientists end up delivering. We make the mistakes of using jargon, not making our points clear, not saying why people should care about what we’re doing! We focus on us: what we want to say, what we want the audience to know, we’re concerned with how we look on stage, how we sound. The list goes on, and that behavior turns the communication one-sided: me, the scientist, talking AT my audience, and not WITH my audience. One-sided communication doesn’t get us very far. We need to approach communication as a two-way exchange, and a way to do that is to tell our science story with empathy. That’s what the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science Summer Bootcamp will teach you.
This was a boot-camp for scientists who want to be better science communicators, and it was probably the most valuable professional development workshop I have ever attended. It transformed the way I approach talks and the way I think about science communication. And I’m not the only attendee that feels that way, head on over to Twitter and search the hashtag #AldaBootcamp, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The 5-day boot-camp consisted of several individual workshops which revolved around three main ideas: 1) empathy, 2) storytelling, and 3) engagement.
The importance of empathy for communication was very obvious during the improvisational theater games we played. Communicating became so much easier when we connected with, by paying attention to, another person.
By telling a story of our science, the message became tangible, and we could lead the audience on a journey that was memorable for them. People have transmitted knowledge for thousands of years using stories, and we can harness the power of a story to engage the audience.
And we can maintain that engagement by always answering “so what?” We need to tell the audience why they should care about what we do. These reasons can be practical or transcendent, but giving the audience a reason to care will keep them engaged.
I am super pumped about implementing what I learned at the #AldaBootcamp. I’ll write about it here, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, here are some pictures from the workshop: