• Elisabeth Kugler

Researcher Visbility: Keeping your audience in mind

Who are you talking to?

The most important thing with any communication is to keep your audience in mind. For example, when talking to subject experts you probably need less introduction, or when talking to a lay audience you probably want to avoid any jargon.


Things that helped me reframe my communication, were prompts such as the following:

Have you ever tried to explain your research to

.. a colleague?

.. a 5 year old?

.. someone in a significantly older generation?

.. someone in a completely different field?

.. a journalist?


Have you ever tried to explain your research in

.. one sentence?

.. one minute?

.. five minutes?


For any of these, keep your audience in mind and take your time to find common grounds. If you lose audience attention at the start it is extremely difficult to get it back.

One thing many scientist struggle with is the mind-set of absolute perfection and accuracy. Although thinking scientifically is fantastic in the lab when doing experiments, when communicating your research this might hold you back. This becomes especially apparent when thinking about the details and intricate characteristics of your research. This is not to say that you should “dumb it down”, but think consciously about the detail and specifics you really need to communicate what you are doing.


Example:

Scientific (biology) conference talk:

“Zebrafish are an excellent model to study cardiovascular development and disease, due to 70% genetic homology, larval transparency, and ex utero development.”


Rework step 1 – get rid of jargon:

“Zebrafish are an excellent model (we can study) to study cardiovascular (blood vessels) development and disease, due to 70% genetic homology (share DNA), larval transparency (transparent), and ex utero (outside their mother) development.”


Rework step 2 – add context:

“Zebrafish are an excellent model (we can study) to study cardiovascular (blood vessels) development and disease, due to 70% genetic homology (share DNA > study things in fish and learn about how they work in human), larval transparency (transparent > look inside their body), and ex utero (outside their mother > collect the eggs and study individual fish) development.”


Lay audience (>18 years, any background):

“We can study blood vessel development and disease in zebrafish. This is because we share about 70% of our DNA, allowing us to study things in fish and learn about how they work in human. Zebrafish embryos are transparent, allowing us to look inside their body. And, zebrafish develop outside their mother, allowing us to collect the eggs and study individual fish.”


“The Curse of Knowledge”

Communication barriers can also be caused by differences in knowledge of fields. For example, when speaking about a “model”, a biologist, mathematician, and the public are likely understand three completely different things (e.g. a model organism, a simulation, and a fashion model). In addition to differences in terminology, also the structure and maxims of communication often differ between fields. “The Curse of Knowledge”, meaning you cannot unlearn what you know.


To bridge those barriers you can look at communication types used by others, can experiment with different communication formats, talk to lay audiences, or talk to someone in a completely different field. If you can, ask for their feedback, e.g. (a) Does what you said align with what they understood?, (b) What do they remember most?, (c) If you called for a particular action, did people feel encouraged to do it?


Together, the (probably) most important thing to consider when wanting to communicate your work is to remember who you want to communicate with.


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© 2020 by Elisabeth Kugler.