Tag Archives: speaking

Finding Your Voice as a Science Communicator

Whether you work in the private industry or in the academic world, being able to communicate well is important. However, many people feel anxious or develop fear about speaking in public, which causes a them to sound shaky or unsure of themselves. If you are just starting out in the realm of public speaking, you may be struggling to establish your style, overcome the fear, and find your voice while presenting. Establishing a clear style that you identify with which helps create a speaking routine which can alleviate the stress of being on stage. Furthermore, developing your own unique voice is an important skill that can help you connect with the audience in a powerful way. In this post we explore a few tips to help you find your own unique voice for that next presentation.

Tyson - Apollo 40th anniversary

“Just be yourself”

Often this advice is given to the beginner, “just be yourself” when you are presenting before the public eye. However, when you are new to communication there isn’t a reference point for the on stage “self”. In our lives we have many different “selfs” that we use throughout the day. For example, the person you are at work is generally, very different from the person you are at home with your significant other. The point is, that in the beginning when speaking in public, you will need to do some trial and error work to find the perfect style and voice that fits who you are. A good way to start exploring what that style and voice might be is through emulation. Emulation is a great way to learn a new task well, while still allowing yourself room to grow and adapt to your own style. Think about the people in your field who inspire you and can communicate well, dissect what they are doing and try to emulate it for you next presentation. Practice in front of a mirror (or record yourself on an iPhone), then try it with some friends who can give you constructive feedback. It is important to make sure you are not outright copying someone, but rather learning what they do successfully to help you develop your own style.

As much as we hate to admit it, the audience is not only judging what you say (information) and how you say it (presentation), but also your voice and style. When you are communicating you are not only presenting the information that you are trying to communicate, but who you are as a person as well. A monotone speaker with no enthusiasm will bore the audience and no one will remember the content. So it is important to take time exploring different leaders in your field and see what is working for them. By emulating a well established voice, you can take the worry and uncertainty out of your presentations and begin developing your own style.

An example of two popular science communicators

Almost unequivocally the two of the most popular science communicators around right now are Bill Nye “the science guy” and Neil deGrasse Tyson. What is interesting about each of them is that they are often communicating nearly the same information, but have very different styles and voices that allow them to get their message across. The idea is that if your personality is rich and unique to you, it is an effective tool to communicate and will be listened to.

Bateau et voie lactée (19863443706)

Bill Nye is full of childhood curiosity with fun and imagination about science. He communicates how amazing the world is, a style he developed on his TV show where he focused on teaching science to kids. He uses exciting language with lots of exclamatory sentences to grab the attention of the audience. Neil on the other hand, uses wonderment and amazement of the universe that is bigger than we can imagine to inspire others. He conjures up the image that we can simply gaze out to the stars and wonder what more unexplained parts of the universe are still out there. Neil is an authoritative speaker that uses carefully constructed language and dramatic pauses to draw in the listener. Both Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are very effective at science communication but the differences lie in their personalities that they have developed over the years. There is no right or wrong answer here, the idea is that whatever your voice and style is embrace it fully and it will be a great advantage when communicating.

Elements of communication style

Adding humor to your presentation may help lighten the mood, however you need to make sure that using humor fits your personality. If you are generally a serious person trying to be funny you may end up forcing it and not engage the audience like you expected. On the other hand being light and jovial may be exactly the hook that you need  to use with the audience.

Drama, and emotional postures and speech might be perfect if you are looking to inspire the audience to take action or move them emotionally. Make sure, however, that the content lends itself to a dramatic or emotional tone. Being  overly dramatic can cause the audience to see you as pretentious and disconnect. Consider the topic, setting and audience carefully before you use this strategy with your voice and style.

An unbiased neutral (not monotone!) voice can be used if you are dealing with controversy or difficult topics. If you have watched the news you may have noticed that news anchors try to be neutral in many aspects, such as tone, dress, and body language. The idea is that using clear unambiguous speech and will not bias the story or information being communicated. This style allows the audience to create their own opinions and ideas in an atmosphere that does not influence their thinking.

Finally, be you and be effective

There are many different ways to solve this puzzle of finding your voice while speaking, however the one that works is the one that is effective for your own unique situation. Remember to try different styles as you gain experience and practice in front of friends that will give you honest constructive feedback. Trying things that work and finding what doesn’t will help you develop a unique voice that will aid you for many years in the future.

How to Communicate Science Using a Story Arc

Often times when presenting or speaking in a science communication setting, people feel compelled to use the format of a peer reviewed paper. The traditional, introduction, methods, results/discussion, and conclusion are suitable for the written word, however is not the best choice for the medium of public speaking. The main problem is that the written word can be reviewed, reread, and contemplated at the reader’s own pace. Where as, in a presentation the audience must keep up with the speaker or they can get lost in the details. For the most part almost every story follows a distinct format that allows the audience to be drawn in and immersed in the message. Preparing your next presentation with a clear plan and format will not only increase the audience’s retention but also engage them, making your next presentation well received.

Eduard Geselschap Die Gutenachtgeschichte

Develop your game plan.

The most important part of spoken presentations is to make sure you have a well defined plan. Take time before you make any PowerPoint slides or graphics to decide what material you want to use, how will it add to your message, and what your goals are for the presentation. Think about the setting and format of the presentation as well. If you are only allowed five minutes for a short elevator pitch to a room full the general public, you will need a very different format from a 45 minute seminar to professional colleagues. Even in the shortest of presentations you can still fit all the aspects of a story arc, but you will need to be very concise and use well rehearsed language. Take considerable time to brainstorm and write out thoughts, then return to your ideas, days or even weeks later and see if everything stills fits with your goals.

Starting at the beginning, the introduction.

First you will need to set the stage for what you did and how you did it. For the most part you can take the main ideas of your introduction and methods (from a peer reviewed paper) and combine them for a spoken presentation. Remember, however, that for the most part you only need to provide a setting and backdrop for where and how your story (research) take place. You will not need to use excruciating detail of every method and procedure that you did, just the gist so that the audience has a point of reference. Additionally, craft sound and logical reasoning  for why the research or project was undertaken and why the audience should care. Think about how most movies begin, very early on there are logical sequences of scenes to setup background, to build up characters, and try to get the audience to identify with what is being shown to them. In film, the idea is to get the audience to believe in the illusion that they are actually part of the action they see on the screen. In the same way use words and imagery in your presentation so that the audience is joining you on a journey and become immersed in your work.

Build up tension and add some rising action.

Every story from fairy tales to epics, has some sort of rising action like tension or obstacles that need to be overcome. The purpose is to keep the story interesting, and make the audience want to keep paying attention. Usually this is in the form of a series of actions that keep the main character from completing his or her goal. This keeps a story interesting because we experience the same sort of complex obstacles in real life, and the rising action in a story helps us identify with the characters. When constructing your next presentation you will want to think about all the problems, be it external or internal that were preventing your work from progressing. In some cases this can be dramatic as a major hurricane destroying all your monitoring stations and threatening lives of the researchers, or it can be something more administrative such as the difficulty of funding. The key is to combine elements that create rising tension into your story so that it flows naturally. Make sure to add points along the way about the different struggles such as failed experiments, misadventures in field work, or fighting against biased opinions of colleagues. Whatever the case may be, the point is to include details of rising action in your presentation so that the audience can identify with you and become more engaged.

Define a turning point in your research or project.

Once you have established an introduction and some sort of rising tension in your presentation, it is then time to work on the climax or turning point of your work. This is the point you have been building up to through background (introduction) and established difficulties (rising tension) and the next step is now to show the fruit of that labor. By now in your presentation you probably have the audience following along with your story and already anticipating what happens next. This is the point where you want to show the results of your research and work that you have done. The point is that until now in your presentation it has been unclear to the audience how things might play out. Much like the climax in a story, you will want to show that whatever outcome or successes you have had. Keep in mind, however, that not every story has a happy ending. Even if your experiments or research didn’t pan out, this is still the climax of your story and should be presented to the audience. Science is often a series of failed attempts which leads to refinement and eventual success, which is enough for a climax or turning point.

What are the consequences and falling action.

At this point, it’s time to let the audience know what the results mean and how your understanding of them has affected the rest of your work. For example, how has your hypothesis changed about species X now that you know that they are not adversely affected by the new pesticide that was tested. It is a good idea to also include information about impending publications or reports and how this information might shift the community’s current paradigm. If any of the audience members want to follow up on your work after the talk, providing resources (e.g. links to publications, posters or hand outs) will increase engagement. It is important to make sure that you tie up any lose ends about the project or research so that the story has a complete and coherent feeling. Keep in mind that the audience is likely feeling fatigue at this time from paying attention, so it is best to remain on point and be concise. Generally speaking if you haven’t brought up something by now, then it is probably best to leave it out rather than trying to introduce new topics late in the presentation. If you realize there are crucial details missing from the story then you need to rearrange either the introduction or rising tension.

Childrens' books at a library

Final conclusions and summary.

Here is where you want to present your final closing thoughts on the information and how it all ties together. If you have been following the above format there is a good chance that the audience is also making the same connections based on the information you have given them. Being concise here is also good practice, make the final connections you need to and summarize what you have told them earlier in the presentation. For the most part by following these simple guidelines your presentations will be easier to follow and engage more of the audience since they will become immersed in your story.