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Open and frank more-so than bare Naked Scientist

I am still picking up the threads of the Fellowship from where I left them 7 months ago. The second interim report has been signed by my DVC L&T (deputy vice-chancellor for learning and teaching) and gone in to the OLT (Australian government office for learning and teaching). You can see why people use acronyms - in this 3 min attention span world, we would never be able to get our message across without them!

Talking about attention spans...yesterday I attended a science communication master-class given by Dr. Chris Smith, aka "The Naked Scientist"{C}{C}. I know what you are thinking and I am not going to go there! It was an interesting session. In one activity we got 2 min to get our message across and then a different member of the workshop was asked to say what that message was and Chris also gave feedback on the presentation. With all my years of teaching I was actually nervous because I was trying to put what I had just learned into practice as well as get my message across to a group of "experts". The old impostor syndrome was strong in this one at that time because they were all talking about the fantastic science research that they were doing and here I was talking about education. I probably gave the shortest pitch of any of them and ended by saying who I was at the end rather than starting with it which was not a disaster. So what did I learn during the workshop?

  • In a recording (podcast, lecture, documentary) don't talk for longer than 2 min without having some sort of change to recapture the audiences attention. This can be achieved by asking a question e.g. How does the Earth know that it has to apply a different force to the medicine ball and the golf ball to get them to both fall with the same acceleration? Or it can be achieved in an interview / discussion format.

  • In an interview you will get around 40s of a monologue before being interrupted by the reporter or edited out in post production. So bring the punch-line to the beginning of your pitch then fill in the background. The first 40s has to say

a) why your work is important
b) give some sort of size to the problem
c) how does your work relate to the real world
d) answer the question "so what does this mean to me - the person listening to the interview?"

e.g. Australia society is based on science and technology, it is all around us, so we need to train people to know how it works and how to use it. Many Australian universities therefore teach science and engineering which means around XXXX students a year in Australia have to study some form of basic physics at university. The majority of these students will be under prepared for a variety of reasons and my Fellowship is looking at ways to assist those students fill the gaps in their background so that they have a better chance to succeeding in their chosen field. Hello I am Chris Creagh, Physicist, and one of Australia's OLT National Teaching Fellows.

  • Then you can go on to talk about what you are doing in more depth about how you are trying to solve the problem and the type of results you have.

  • It is best to build your talk (argument) logically one point on top of the next rather than bringing in lots of diversions. Also link your statements together don't talk in bullet points.

  • If you can tie the spiel about your work to matters of heart, health or wealth then you have a better chance of keeping your listeners interested.

  • Use humour, be chatty, fun and engaging.

  • Polish your spiel so there is no padding in it and no jargon

  • People remember the first thing you say and the last thing so this is why the introduction and conclusion to your talk are so important

  • When you are asked a question you do not wish to answer remember ABC. A - acknowledge the answer, B - bridge to what you wish to talk about, C - communicate your message.

  • In an interview anticipate the questions and work out an answer before the interview

  • You could even give the interviewer some pointers about what your area is and the types of things you can talk about.

There was a great deal more useful information about websites, promotion, and production, such as - If you wish to set up an ongoing "science show" then you can choose between two formats - you as the expert or you as the facilitator of experts. The latter is probably easier to sustain as a long term project.

If you are thinking of attempting something akin to what Chris has achieved  remember it takes time, and money. There are now 5 people involved in the whole "Naked Science" adventure and Chris himself works around 60hrs a week, part of the time being a doctor and part of the time being the one and only "Naked Scientist".