Effective communication skills are important when you want a message to reach a targeted audience and be understood. This is especially true for scientists in the many fields, who do a lot of interesting research but either keep it amongst themselves or struggle to communicate in a way that is comprehensible to the general public. The people around them and the public do not understand what it is they do locked up in labs and elsewhere all the time, and why it is important.
Communication may take the form of a report document, a proposal, an informal conversation, a press release or a presentation. It takes more than just motivation and enthusiasm to be an effective communicator, practice and skills are also required.
And hence, communication tools for scientists are needed, especially now when we are in a digital era and a multitude social media platforms making information spreading fast. Here are important factors to consider when trying to send a message across to a targeted audience.
Who is the Target audience and why should scientists communicate?
- Friends and Family; like when explaining what you are studying and its importance
- Companies/Investors/Funders; to convince them of the impact of your study/research so as to get funds, and to effect behavioural and policy change. Communication style impacts how the public view it and whether it gets funded or not
- Peers/fellow scientists; to get collaborations for example
- The Media and general public; to reach a wider population and effect behavioural change, correcting public misconceptions, or accountability to funders, policy makers, tax-payers and investors and also to impart your ideas and findings to the world
How to communicate – tips for effective communication
- Know the target audience and plan appropriate means of communication. Communication to a friend or peers is different from a grant proposal writing, a report writing, so a message should be tailored according to the audience type
- Use clear and simple language, avoid jargon and technical terms that will not be easily understood to non-scientists or even scientists that are not in your field. Using analogy and metaphors to build “conceptual bridges” is useful when explaining difficult ideas to non-scientists
- Talk/write about things that matter, whatever it is should matter and be relatable to the target audience. Make sure the important things go first.
- Use multi-media communication, with fewer words and more interesting visuals like pictures, graphs, videos, infotainment and sound clips. This helps you reach a wider audience.
- Gain people’s trust especially when working in a controversial field like GMO products
- Try not to complain and be straight. Condemning is not the same as complaining. Be more factual than opinionated, be positive and projected.
- If there are set guidelines to be followed, especially in formal communications and presentations, make sure you follow the appropriate format.
- Have a very clear understanding of the area you want to communicate.
- When it comes to presentations, preparation and practice are important to make sure it makes sense and the flow is correct
- Where applicable, add a human side to your story. Non scientific examples and stories that the intended audience can relate to can make a huge difference
I hope these tips are useful. Leave me a comment below.
“You don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother” – Anonymous