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.

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