Monday, June 01, 2009

scientist's message floats like a butterfly

The Chronicle of Higher Education has captured a moment from one of the Communicating Science workshops I've been leading for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. When we start to explain the concept of developing a three-point message to construct a clear explanation of the scientists' work, I pull a volunteer from the audience and we do a message makeover in front of the group, translating from the technical as we go. Here, from the article is where the aha! moment occurred from our Raleigh workshop:
One such effort helped Ms. Leidner realize that public explanations of her study, "The Effect of Urbanization on an Endemic Coastal Butterfly," didn't really need the word "endemic" to help people recognize that an environment that's bad for butterflies could be bad for other living creatures, too.

"You can explain what you want without the word 'endemic,'" said Ms. Leidner, who is now pursuing her research at the University of Maryland after earning a doctorate in zoology at North Carolina State University. "So why make it more confusing?"
And, by the way, I get no advance clue about what the scientists will bring forward for that exercise--it's entirely done on the spot, and we've always been able to boil down the message in ways that will reach a broader audience, but stay true to the science.

The Chronicle goes on to note that this participant put her message makeover to use just a week after the workshop, explaining her studies to the North Carolina delegation in Congress during a lobbying day organized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. But, as we discuss in the workshops, learning to communicate clearly is a skill you can use in many settings, from family gatherings and cocktail parties to meetings with your boss or public speaking. To find out about arranging workshops and training for your organization, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

Related posts: Two more views into the AAAS workshops

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