Top tips for Soapbox Science

workshopThis month, Soapbox Science organised a science communication workshop for all of its 2014 speakers. The event, supported by Robin Ince and the Learning and Discovery team at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), provided a fantastic opportunity for the speakers to meet, talk through their plans for Soapbox Science, and exchange tips and ideas with science communication experts. Because we thought that good tips should always be shared, we asked the Learning and Discovery team to summarize some of the points discussed on the day. These are all below – we hope you’ll find these useful


Top tips for Soapbox Science speakers, and anyone interested in science communication:

• Your content is current and interesting – don’t forget that!

• Use props if appropriate – those that illustrate a particular point or are a simple tool to attract attention.  Don’t use them for the sake of using them.  Also, think about appropriate props that you can bring younger audience members up as ‘helpers’ – even if just to hold things!  And always remember a ‘big round of applause’ for them when they are finished – also gives you a little break to think!

• It’s a good idea to think about different ways of saying some of your main points.  Think about a ‘higher level’ and ‘lower level’ to pitch points – think about it as how you would say the point to a child and then say the same point in higher level language to adults.  A kind of ‘For you adults, that means….’

• Make eye contact with your audience – all of them by continually scanning the crowd.  It will make them feel included and engaged and it will help you get a feel for whether they’re interested/understand.

• Try not to speak too quickly.  It’s something we all do when nervous/excited, but don’t be afraid to pause/slow down….pregnant pauses can be a great way of building suspense!

• Be yourself.  Don’t try to take on a different persona/be someone you’re not.  It will be hard to sustain for an hour and people will be able to tell if you’re not being genuine.

• Smile, it will make your audience feel welcome and relaxed.

• If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it’s ok to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘that’s not my area of expertise/research’.  It’s important that people realise you’re human and that’s scientists don’t know everything!  You could suggest they try and find out for themselves or you could suggest some of the possibilities with them (if it’s something that current research hasn’t been able to answer e.g. why are scorpions florescent under UV light?).

• If you’re worried about someone straying into territory that you are not comfortable covering, have a line ready, such as ‘I don’t have time to go into that point right no, but please come and find me afterwards’.

• Have a bottle of water to hand, talking for an hour can leave your throat feeling dry.

• Wear comfortable shoes/clothes.

• Imagine your audience are people you’ve just met at a friend’s house or in the local pub (if they’re adults!).  Talk to them in a relaxed manner, explaining any unusual words/terms but take care not to dumb down.  You can always ask ‘does that make sense?’ every now and then, so that they feel able to interject if they don’t understand.

• Use a question or statement to get people’s attention/keep them involved.  Eg ‘hands up who here studied physics at school?’ or ‘can anyone suggest a cause of pollutants in the air?’  This can also help you get a grasp of your audience’s understanding and what they already know/want to know.

• Don’t expect your audience to remember everything you’ve said. You may not have time/the chance to teach them much but you can leave them with a positive feeling (about science and why it’s important/interesting) and wanting to know more.

• Enjoy yourself, it’s contagious!


DLat ZSLThese recommendations were put together by Rachel Haydon, Charlotte Coales & Cassandra Murray. Rachel Haydon is the Learning Manager at ZSL London Zoo; she manages the team of Discovery & Learning Officers and Practical Learning Officers who deliver a biology and ecology programme to groups in formal education. Charlotte Coales is a ZSL Discovery & Learning Officer, who is in charge of developing and delivering innovative learning programmes to groups in formal education. Cassandra Murray is ZSL’s Evaluation Coordinator, who leads on the evaluation of the learning programme, activity and events across ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo with her band of evaluation volunteers. Cass is also involved in training staff in survey methodologies for conservation projects.

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