Screenhouse, a science broadcasting company run a media communication workshop in association with Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the “Sky at Night” Presenter.
They propose techniques for presenting science to the public in a clearer and more exciting way, using: catchy headlines, shorter sentences, soundbites and analogies. Two pieces of advice particularly struck me: the first was to think like a tabloid newspaper when constructing a piece for the media. At first this seems completely at odds with ‘good’ scientific practice, since we all know that tabloids often misreport news and especially science news for effect. Nevertheless, leading with a strong catchy headline and summary paragraph with no jargon, and making the science more accessible by making the people doing the work real, using quotes and third person narratives will help to draw people in. The second was related to oral communication: only a tiny fraction ( less than 10%) of our verbal communication is related to what we say, the majority is how we deliver what we say.
They filmed us delivering: first a communication about what we were enthusiastic about, then a piece on our own work. What I found most difficult was striking the balance between delivery a clear and complete message, and speaking fluidly and naturally. I think everyone struggled with modulating the speed with which they talked (which is always much faster than you think), controlling body language (by avoiding fidgeting through planting both feet on the ground and facing straight on) and translating complicating science into simple narratives (using analogies and avoiding jargon)
The course was targeted at women and I came away with a renewed drive to promote women in science. We were given some striking and motivating facts: that the media are desperate for female role models to present and discuss science on television and radio but that women are not well represented in the media likely often to modesty or lack of self confidence. Further that without suitable role models we are likely to still see a misrepresentation of women in science as school girls often see science as a male domain, nor do they see a purpose to studying science. This I find particularly disappointing, although not surprising. I now know that a degree in science and computing can allow a wide range of careers as diverse as research, finance, consultancy or even, though technology starts-ups: fashion and music.