Back in the Dark Ages of my Leopold training (No twitter! No Facebook! No blogs! How did anyone talk to each other?!), we were put through communication boot camp. Here’s how to talk to journalists: now go practice! Here’s how to communicate with policy makers…go practice! Etc. It was great stuff, and often helpful in ways well beyond the central targets of a given exercise.
And yet, we didn’t spend much time assessing how we talk to each other within science. That made sense – wasn’t really the point of the training – and yet it’s arguably one of the most important things we do. The better we communicate with each other, the better (and faster) ideas are shared, challenged, refined and tested. Do it poorly, and science will slow down. By extension, so too will our goals for translating science into other spheres and for having the research we do help forge a transition to a more sustainable future.
Of late, I’ve climbed onto a soapbox when it comes to a centerpiece of scientific information exchange: presentations. Whether it’s a department seminar or a professional meeting talk, too many presentations fall short of their potential. As a result, the brakes are put on scientific progress: people tune out, miss the key points, fail to be inspired. (Interestingly, talks are the one major form of scientific communication that typically don’t receive formal peer review – maybe part of the problem).
If we continue to rely on talks as the first line of new information exchange (published papers are old news compared to most professional meeting talks…), we should strive to make them as effective as possible, as often as possible. Formal communications training should be part of every graduate program. Professional scientists should put as much care into honing their oral presentations as they do their writing skills. We should all help each other improve, because it’s to all of our benefit. And nobody needs to reinvent the wheel or go it alone: our interweb world is now full of help for the powerpoint impaired.
Some additional thoughts and links are in a couple of recent posts on my blog. Love to see other Leopolders (and anyone else) weigh in with their own thoughts, tips, tricks and resources. I don’t prevent to be the expert in this – just trying to improve in an arena that often does not get enough attention.