Spotlight: Nine tips for more effective science communications

If you work in the field of science, at some point in your career you will probably be called upon to communicate an aspect of your work, whether it’s in the form of a presentation, article, interview or paper. Where to start can be daunting, particularly if you’re time-pressed or not entirely comfortable engaging with the public. But communicating science can be done in a compelling way and helps to bring important issues to the forefront of public dialogue.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • While you may be intimately familiar with the subject, remember, other people may not be; at least not to the same degree. Take a step back and consider your audience and how to express what you want to say in a clear, concise way, using plain language.
  • Here’s a helpful exercise: imagine you have two minutes in an elevator with someone to tell your story. What would you say? Force yourself to boil it down to the bare elements; you can always build up from there.
  • Avoid jargon! Free yourself and others from this exclusionary and obscure language. While you’re at it, do your best to steer clear of euphemisms, puns, and clichés.
  • Send your presentation/article/report to a colleague for their feedback. Then send it to someone in a completely different field of work; is it clear to both of them what you’re trying to say?
  • Science-based issues can sometimes be perceived as complicated or too technical. Don’t be afraid to frame the information you want to convey in a story, or highlight a particularly interesting aspect of the information.
  • Make your stories relevant to the public. How will this issue or information impact people? Why is this issue important?
  • Use the resources available to you. Do you have access to interesting audio, visual or other tools that could enhance your presentation? If they’re relevant, try and find ways to incorporate them. If someone else is writing the story, e.g. a journalist, provide them with some resources (other contacts, photos, reports etc.) or help point them in the right direction.
  • Be open to constructive criticism and suggestions about how to improve your communication product, whether it’s a report or a presentation. Even the most seasoned communicators and journalists need editors.
  • You’ve probably heard this one a million times – know your audience – but there’s a reason why. This will help you to tailor your message, increasing the likelihood people will pay attention and find the information relevant to them.

Resources:

  • Nancy Baron, Escape from the Ivory Tower, A Guide to Making your Science Matter, Island Press 2010
  • Cornelia Dean, am I making myself clear? A Scientist's Guide to Talking to the Public, Harvard UP, 2009
  • NSERC http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/_doc/CommSci_eng.pdf

Mailing List Signup

Receive our newsletter, notifications of new assessments topics, news releases, and more!
Preference English  Français
Council Feature

New CCA Report on Transportation Needs of an Aging Population

Long lineups, poor signage, and garbled announcements over a loudspeaker can be a nuisance for any traveller. But for ol...
read more