By now I think we have all established that I love to chat! As a scientist I have spoken about my research at a number of different events, to a range of different audiences. I will talk about science and research with anyone and anywhere!
I was lucky to be invited to a recent event where the focus of the entire conference was dissemination (even the word ‘dissemination’ can throw people sometimes and traditionally researchers aren’t very good at disseminating their research). Dissemination of research can take lots of different forms, you might be thinking a public talk, newsletter, social media post, animation etc etc etc. For this blog post, I wanted to focus on speaking to people about your research and talking to different people about research.
I wanted to use this post to share my thoughts on talking about your research and I really hope that this might encourage you to get out there and talk to people about your research.
Research is a concept that many people struggle with. Sadly, the word ‘research’ can conjure up images of guinea pigs, mad scientists and explosions among many audiences, but the reality is most research is far from this! In fact, we all do research. Don’t believe me? Well let’s imagine you had an unfortunate incident with your mobile phone.
You made the classic mistake of leaving your phone in your back pocket when you went to the toilet, before you knew it your phone was submerged in water and floating. You’ve tried the trick of putting it in a bowl of rice (I have no idea if this trick actually works – please get in touch if you have had success, because I certainly haven’t), but nothing has worked and you will have to buy a new one. You are probably going to do some research before you buy a new phone. Which model would you like? How big do you want the screen to be? Which colour do you fancy? All of this is research. You are gathering information to answer a question, in this case – ‘which new phone shall I buy?’.
While this is a fairly simple example, research is important. While I imagine some of you couldn’t cope without a mobile phone (I include myself in this) research is particularly important in the area of health and disease. Research progresses our understanding of both health and disease which helps to progress treatments and ultimately to help people.
But, let’s be selfish for a minute. As a researcher, talking about your research is vital for you. It will help you fully understand and explain it. You’ll develop a range of skills which will make you more employable, you will be more confident in presenting and adapting your approach. The research that we do is very often funded by charities and the government and for the benefit of the general public, so at the very least, we should tell them about it in a way that is accessible and understandable!
Whilst I am tempted to say you should talk about your research to anyone who will listen (and you definitely should), on a more serious note, understanding your audience is vital when talking about your research. We’ve all been in situations where we just do not understand what the heck someone is saying? Annoyingly, this can be a very easy trap to fall into when talking about clinical research. Sometimes it can seem as if the language used was designed so that nobody can understand it and the acronyms, oh the acronyms!! Be aware of the experience of your audience and whether they are likely to have any prior knowledge. Talking to patient groups will be different from talking to undergraduate students and a public audience is likely to have a range of people, so it is important to make your talk accessible to all. You certainly don’t want to patronise people, but in general I find it is best to start of simple and build up the content of your talk from there.
Talking about your research can be done in a variety of ways. Giving a standard lecture or talk can be great, especially if you are passionate and engaging in your presentation style. But you don’t want to be ‘that presenter’ who doesn’t move away from the lectern, who uses overly complex language and slides with so much information that you lose your audience.
Have a think about how you can make your presentation stand out and be more engaging for your audience:
Can you use any audio to get the audience to think differently? (if you are doing this check with the organiser that it is possible and that there are appropriate arrangements in place for any audience members who are hard of hearing or deaf).
Can you interact with the audience? Taking straw poles can give you an idea of what the audience think and you can adapt your approach accordingly. You might be able to incorporate some quiz questions to engage the audience so that they can express their views.
Can you include a demonstration? Yes, I know, including demonstrations in a presentation can add time and faff, especially if they go wrong! But, they can really make a presentation stand out and probably more importantly, they don’t have to be complex or long. I’ve been known to use a bubble gun to talk about the process of neurotransmission. Firing bubbles into the audience gets people to think in a different way and it will certainly get their attention!
It can be all too easy to only talk about research at the end of a study, when you know the results and the study has been neatly tied up in a bow. But think of all of the opportunities that are lost if you only talk about your research at the end of the study. Traditionally we talk about ‘presenting research findings’, which is great, we should be talking about research findings, but I believe that we should be talking about research throughout the research process. You might want to talk about the rationale behind a study, the implications your study might have for health as well as disease. Think big and take everyone opportunity to talk about your research.
I admit, talking about your research may be nerve wracking, but if you are talking about the research that you do, you probably know more about it than anyone else! Talking about why you wanted to do this research and your motivations will help the audience to see your passion and enthusiasm.
I hope that these observations and reflections have given you some useful thoughts about how you can talk about your research with different audiences.
So please, give it a go, TALK ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH and let me know how you get on!