Tips to share your research in a way the public can understand

 “I am a bit nervous, and only used to giving lectures. How can I share my science with everyday people who are not scientists?” 

by Elsie Adaobi Chidebe, Tochukwu Ozulumba, Orode V U Aniejurengho 

Soapbox Science Lagos (November Team) 

At one of our 2020 online speaker training webinars, someone asked this question “I am a bit nervous, and only used to giving lectures. How can I share my science with everyday people who are not scientists?” We thought it was a question that resonates with most of us, that feeling of anxiety, where your tummy rumbles and your heart pounds before a talk. It is completely normal, and one we have all felt at some point in our STEM careers. To answer this question, we decided to share our team’s 4 tried and tested steps which we have used at different science communication events.   

Just Start – Be prepared  

Public speaking can be a bit challenging. It is important to have a plan and stick to it. Making an outline is particularly helpful as it enables you have a mental picture of the talk beforehand and also identify points in your talk where you have used a lot of jargon. Remember to keep it simple and avoid too much detail. You can start with an introduction followed by the body (the meaty part and demonstrations) and then a closing – a summary of the key take home message). Always stay focused and deliver the important messages. Think – what do I want my audience to say they have learnt? Do-prepare the outline (intro, demonstrations and summary. 

Get to know your audience – your talk is for them  

Spare your audience the unnecessary details and talk on the fascinating things about your research with its societal relevance. Explain these concepts by using everyday language instead of complex terms. Are there current issues or frequent practices in the society that your audience are familiar with? Can you refer to this in some way and incorporate it in your talk? For example, to highlight why it is important for us to wash our hands, you can use colour on your hands and then toucha surface to show the transfer of bacteria and contamination of surfaces. It is our responsibility to engage them in a way that will help promote interest in STEM. Think – who are my audience? Do – use relevant examples in your demonstrations, so your audience can easily connect with your topic of interest. 

Use Props – Simplify the complicated  

Find simple items around you that can be used to demonstrate what you will be talking about. For example, use a bunch of grapes to show the cocci shape of some bacteria, sew on some velcro to show things attaching and detaching, use water and food dye to represent blood, add coloured dyes to liquids to represent chemicals etc. This way, people can better understand and connect to your research. Think: how can I simplify my research? Do – get items or use simple demonstrations that people can see or touch  

Let go of the nerves – Practice! Practice! Practice!  

Remember to practice everywhere you can. You can practice your presentation before your colleagues to check that you have used accurate representations of the scientific terms you will be discussing. This is particularly important if you are working on sensitive topics such as cancer treatment, mental health, climate change etc., to ensure that your audience goes home with an accurate message. Secondly, practice before other people (non-scientists) so you can have a feel of how accessible your talk is. Think: How can I be confident and less nervous?  Do – use your outline and practice to a friendly audience that you know. Don’t forget you are the topic expert, you’ve got this. 

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