Discovering Voice Training

Imagine being told to make gargoyle faces, to hum using different parts of your body, and to read Doctor Seuss tongue twisters aloud in a big empty room. This was my introduction to voice training.

The class was run by Ms Justene Knight, a Senior Consultant: Organisational Development, Human Resources at the University of South Australia. Standing before us she looked so comfortable and confident in her own body and voice – so it didn’t surprise me to learn that she had previously been an Actor.

We began by trying to pay more attention to our  bodies as we stood there. With two hands on our bellies we practised breathing into our stomachs instead of into our chests (where people normally tend to breathe from). To find tension in our bodies we swung arms, rolled ankles and shook our legs. Justene got us noticing how different subtle postures could shorten our breath. Things like standing on your toes, lifting your shoulders or even curling your toes up can impact how grounded you feel and how your breath comes out.

And try this for an exercise! To help shift your voice from the back of your throat or up in your head – Pinch your nose closed and say,

“Hello, my name is _______ and I do _____________ for work.” 

I bet you sounded pretty funny huh? Now try to do it and sound completely normal! No nasal sounding words at all ( I can get some words but not others).

Another great part was having to read a page from the Doctor Seuss story “Fox in Socks” aloud. We tried emphasising the consonants and then the vowels. We even mouthed the words without sound, and wow – that really makes you notice how much (or how little) your mouth moves when you speak. Apparently Australians are particularly bad at not opening or moving their mouths very much when we speak!

Some other tips Justene had for preparing for a talk or presentation were:

  • If you can, find somewhere private to warm up your body (shoulder rolls/ankle rolls etc.), to warm up your face (scrunch it up and then relax it or mouth the first few lines of your talk), and finally your voice (hum a tune).
  • Take a few slow deep breaths into your belly before you begin to speak.
  • “Acknowledge the room”. Now this was more about taking in the size of the room you’re in. So look at the back wall and take in all the space in the room. This will help you to automatically project your voice to fill the space, instead of only talking to the front row (or your shoes).
  • Too nervous to make eye contact? Look at their ears instead! Most people can’t tell.
  • And if you forget a word or a sentence in your talk, just take a slow breathe and move on. It happens to everyone.

But my favourite part of the class was Justene telling us that feeling nervous or scared is utterly normal and to be expected. No, it isn’t a comfortable feeling by any standards. But that energy can help you give a better, and more interesting presentation.

So thank you Justene Knight for the brilliant class. I never would have through that such simple things like posture, tension in your body, or warming up the muscles in your face could actually change the sound and reach of your voice. And for anyone wondering if they should give voice training a go – yes do!

Advertisements

A WISE Event: All the Career Possibilities

One brisk Monday night, a large roomful of women gathered in the silver mirrored SAHMRI building to hear from three amazing women / successful scientists who have trodden a wide range of career pathways and ended up in jobs very different to those they first imagined.

The first speaker was Dr Kate Gridley, now a Research Coordinator in the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia. Check out Dr Gridley’s homepage at – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Kate.Gridley

Dr Gridley started with showing us the difference between her assumed career path once she had finished studying, to the path she actually took – winding in and out of different positions.

The jump from hands on PhD research, to a more administerial position required a serious effort in translation. Mostly, the translation of all the skills Dr Gridley had honed during her PhD to be shown as applicable and valuable skills for non-research work. She spoke of learning to, “sell myself as an asset…” and, “remaining open to any options”.

Dr Gridley finished with asking us, the audience, to think more about our future career and to practice selling ourselves and our skills as transferable to any position.

Next we heard from Dr Kristin Alford, currently the Director of the Science Creativity Education (Sci. C. Ed.) Studio and part of the University of South Australia. The Sci.C.Ed. Studio is set to open in 2018 and will have a mixture of permanent and seasonal exhibits. To learn more about Sci.C.Ed check out their information page –  http://www.unisa.edu.au/science-creativity-education/

Dr Alford started off by comparing her current descriptive title of “A Futurist” with her incredibly technical PhD in Engineering Processes in QLD. The story of her career described incredible leaps from one position and field to the next, assisted by favourable impressions made on past colleagues, bosses and mentors. Dr Alford leapt into the field of science communication by becoming an advocate, communicator and educator for new nano-technology. She has also, until recently, been the licensee for TEDX Adelaide.

Dr Alford’s parting words were to never underestimate the value of your peers and that we should try to take every opportunity that comes our way, because… “how hard could it be?”

The final speaker for the night was Dr Ixchel Brennan, now a partner of Corporate Engagement and Development for UniSA Ventures at the University of South Australia. Follow the link to read her home page – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Ixchel.Brennan

She too began her education and career under very different circumstances. Dr Brennan completed a PhD in appetite and gut function and finished with the full success of many papers published, many conferences presented at, and plenty of career options. But although there were strong expectations for her to continue into an academic career, she felt this wasn’t for her.

Dr Brennan emphasised the importance of learning how to package your skills for varying contexts and careers. She spoke of the need to be able to effectively communicate your differentiated skill set, and that a PhD is so much more than just your research focus. It is also an intense crash course in all project management, communication and creative problem solving skills, so don’t sell yourself short.

Her final advice was to, “Resist the option of knowing what your dream job is”, as she had seen others do – because you never know what jobs will come along, or even what jobs will exist in the future.

From her own experiences, Dr Brennan told us some of the lessons she had learnt along the way:

  • Seek a mentor not form an academic position (they will give you a different perspective).
  • You do not always need to say “Yes” and your job doesn’t define who you are.
  • Be willing to work with people and in roles that push you outside your comfort zone. This is where you learn the most about yourself – what you’re good at and what you could improve.
  • Have confidence in your skills and your contribution.
  • Say “Thank you” and say it often.
  • Emotion does not equal weakness.
  • and finally, that “Authenticity will always shine through”.

It was a wonderful WISE event and I was so glad I attended. It was a relief to hear that these undeniably successful women had been through so many changes, upsets, choices and career transitions. I can’t speak for the other women who attended, but I for one am feeling much more hopeful and less stressed about where I might end up career-wise, after my PhD experience.


Thanks to all the event organisers, SAHMRI, the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia and Flinders University, and a particular thank you to the speakers – you were inspiring!

Fresh Science at the Pub

Last Wednesday night, I attended the FreshScience talks at the Lion Hotel in North Adelaide. I was there to hear from all the South Australian based young researchers who had just been through two days of media and public communications training, and were now going to give a casual but short talk on their research in a pub setting.

The night was hosted by Sarah Brooker – Managing Director of ‘Science in Public’ , “We believe that the media have an appetite for science”. The presenting researchers were kept on their toes and didn’t even know which order they were to speak in. To make the time limit extra obvious, each speaker with given a birthday sparkler. They were to introduce themselves, have the sparkler lit, and then had until the fire ran out to tell the audience all about their work.

They did brilliantly. Most of the young researchers didn’t even seem to need their full sparkler time. They told us the basics of their work, and then would look down, surprised that the sparkler was still going and so they could tell us more. Much of what they said after their first spiel was more about the impact and importance of their work – how it was going to help people of change things. Often it was the most interesting part!

After their talk, each speaker was asked several questions by both Sarah Brooker and the audience. For some of the speakers, the answers merely expanded on what they had already outlined for us. But for a few, the questions and answer time provided a much clearer picture of what their work was about.

The topics varied considerably. We heard about a fascinating array of research. There was everything from using thermal maps of Mars to find liquid water underground, to phyto-absorbtion and -restoration of mining sites using acacia, to the impacts of greater fish oil consumption in pregnant women to lower the likelihood of allergies in their children, to using system dynamics software to help solve complex social problems, a number on severe brain, spinal cord and body trauma reactions and potential treatments, and one talk on a new sensor, sensitive enough to monitor the health of embryos during IVF.

The young researchers had spent the day working with different media representatives, learning how to convey and discuss their work with the media and the public. This night of talks was presented to a mostly academic audience, who were very interested in the scientific details of how the research developed, what the findings were and then what the broader applications were.

It was a brilliant night and I am keen to attend again next year to hear about the work of the next successful wave of young researchers.

P.S The Lion Hotel did a great job of hosting Fresh Science – just watch out for those extra hot chicken wings!


If you would like to know more about the FreshScience competition, or about Science in Public, check out their website at, http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au

 

Book breakdown – “Don’t be such a scientist” Part 2

Here we cover the next part of Dr Randy Olson’s insightful book:

Part 2: Don’t be so literal minded

Olson builds on the first part of his book by describing some of the struggles scientists can have when trying to communicate to those outside of academia. Logical, literal and data based arguments (the head perspective) can be up against an unfair fight when emotional or instinctive arguments (the heart or gut perspectives) are used against them. And who else, besides the scientists themselves, pride themselves on using purely logical, literal and data-based arguments? No-one. Not governments or politicians. And not businesses or industries.

In this loud, information overloaded world – if you as a scientist are attempting to engage anyone outside of academia in the work you have done, it’s not always enough that your work is rigorous or has real-world implications. You will have to promote your work a little… or a lot, to be heard.

One place to start is by coming up with an interesting title for your paper / report / presentation / ‘call to action’/ project. It’s time to let go of being so literal. Olson states that the best titles are a mixture of, “elusive enough but familiar enough”. By this he means be elusive enough to be slightly mysterious, but familiar enough that people don’t instantly switch off because it’s too alien.

We are then introduced to the idea of “Arouse and Fulfil”, also known as “Motivate then Educate”.

This is about getting people intrigued and wanting to know more, before you give them the logic and data. Olson talks about how scientists can get stuck in “Fulfil and Fulfil” habits, or just educating without bothering to do any motivating. In contrast, Hollywood can get caught up doing too much motivating and then never moving on the educating. All style and no substance.But the movie industry does do one thing right – they don’t assume that their work (a movie) will just sell itself. They have huge advertising budgets and promote their work months ahead of release.

Now if scientists aren’t so great at the motivating side of things, what can they use to help them out? The answer according to Olson… is ART. Art is evocative. It stirs people, motivates people and gets them asking questions. And once people are asking questions, then we can cue the scientist to answer them.

Okay, so art can be a powerful visual medium. But what does this mean for scientists?

It means that you can complement your rigorous scientific work, with evocative visuals to help motivate and engage your audience. Any images in your presentations, or images that are part of promoting your work are incredibly important. Below is a small example of the same  powerpoint slide with and without any images. Which do you feel is more engaging?

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 1.27.12 PM

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 1.28.02 PM

Even when teaching a lecture, visuals can be used to help “motivate” the students to want to know more. Olson describes having to teach students about the 35 major groups of vertebrates in biology – some of which are really cool… and some of which are just lots of worm types. You could spend an equal amount of time on each group, describing them. Or you could start with a short film which aims to entertain and not to educate. It would cover all the cool aspects of the different biological groups and get the students enthused to know more. Then you can hit them with all the necessary details and differences.

So for mass communication, keep in mind motivating and then educating. It can be used as a two part process, or as Olson’s next chapter expands… you can use it in a whole other way!


Once again, if you’re interested in reading, “Don’t be such a scientist” yourself, you can purchase the kindle edition from  Amazon.com.au for $13.03, or get the paper version for $26.50 from Booktopia.com.au, or from Angus&Roberston.com.au for $26.99. Enjoy!

Book breakdown – “Don’t be such a Scientist” Part 1

Introducing Dr. Randy Olson, a marine biologist who left the world of academia to find out what Hollywood could teach him. He became a writer/director and couldn’t help but see how all his new skills could be applied to science communication.

His book, “Don’t be such a scientist: Talking substance in the age of style” is one of my absolute favourites. It’s a curious combination of scientific convincing and acting class insights. This short book is split into five parts, each of which I will cover in a post.

Part 1: Don’t Be So Cerebral

The first thing Randy Olson introduces us to (besides some crazy snippets of his old acting teacher screaming at him!), is the idea of the four organs of mass communication… the head, the heart, the gut, and the lower organs.

Olson says that people tend to have different driving forces, different places that they’re coming from most of the time. The head thinkers are quite logical. They like thinking things through and getting things to make sense. Not surprisingly, most academics fit in here, but very few other people do. Attempting to communicate from this perspective to a global audience reaches the least amount of people.

Next we have the heart. Heart thinkers are the passionate, empathetic types. Olson talks about actors and religion fitting here. To me this is where most charities, disaster appeals and petitions speak from. Heart thinkers form a larger group than the Head thinkers, but still don’t include everyone.

Then comes the gut. Olson says that in the gut lies instinct and humour. It’s full of impulses, and also contradiction. When you feel something but can’t explain why, that’s when you’re listening to your gut. Reaching out to people from this perspective will allow you to influence most everyone out there.

And finally the lower organs. Down here there’s no logic, but it is powerful nonetheless. I can’t help but feel that the majority of advertising and movies lives here, and as the old adage says, “Sex sells”. From here you can reach pretty much everyone, and some people won’t pay any attention to anything else.

So why is this at all important for science communication?

Because if you as a scientist want to communicate, explain, persuade or get through to anyone who isn’t a head thinker – you need to be able to speak the language. Or at the very least, be able to take the different perspectives into account. Having to tell others about your research is a non-negotiable part of being a scientist. You will always have to do so, so why not try to get more comfortable with doing it well?

As Olson says – there’s two parts to communicating, the substance of what you’re saying, and then the style of how you say it. You’re more effective, interesting and engaging when you use both.


If you’re interested in reading, “Don’t be such a scientist” yourself, you can purchase the kindle edition from  Amazon.com.au for $13.03, or get the paper version for $26.50 from Booktopia.com.au, or from Angus&Roberston.com.au for $26.99. And no – I’m not getting anything to tell you. I just think it’s a brilliant read. Enjoy!

Why online presence is important for all scientists: The League of Remarkable Women in Science, interview Dr Rachael Dunlop

What a brilliant interview with Dr Rachael Dunlop – I love the idea of starting by learning to communicate effectively and THEN getting into science. Possible a harder way of doing things but she has made it a success.

Recently I spoke with my father Jeremy Pollard about the growing need for scientists to have an online presence. Without being able to communicate your research effectively to people – how will they understand the value? And without examples of your ability to communicate effectively and present in a concise, clear and interesting way, how will anyone – a company, a workshop, or even a conference committee, know you’re any good?

So what can you do? Practice presenting all the time, in front or your mirror, your friends, your family. And when you do present professionally – ask someone to record it. Even with an iphone (just remember to keep it framed on you and keep it STILL). Or if your presentation is filmed by whoever is running the event, ask for a copy. Watch them. Learn from them and upload the good ones to your online profile e.g. LinkedIn.

Don’t have an online professional profile? Then this might be the time to start – LinkedIn is a great simple way to showcase your experience, your skills, even your best work. The best part is that when you connect with those you know on LinkedIn, you can get them to vouch for your skills AND even write recommendations of you. Keep it concise, honest and up-to-date.

Stretching Communication Boundaries

http://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/articles/10.1038/nj7481-121a

This article titled “Communication: Spontaneous Scientists” is from the Naturejobs blog, and it welcomes improvisation to science communication. The article discusses techniques to develop the capacity to adapt during a presentation or a conversation, in addition to how we can even be a little bit theatrical or personable when attempting to communicate. I found this whole idea just so exciting!

During my undergraduate science degree, presentations were always a matter of: making your slides look professional, ensuring you defend your research strongly enough and remaining composed and serious in front of your audience. For many of my classmates at the time, standing up and speaking even just in front of the class was a terrifying, or at the very least, uncomfortable experience.

Now in my PhD research I am still being guided towards keeping my presentations serious, with lots of tables and references. Once I was even told to put more words on my slides, as I was speaking more than what was up on the screen.

I do understand that to be taken seriously by other scientists we need to keep within some traditional boundaries, especially for those of us relatively new to the world of research and publishing scientific journal articles. But I still find it frustrating that your research could be exemplary or ground-breaking, but present that research with too colourful slides or too enthusiastic a manner and you would not be taken seriously.

The article above does refer to presenting research to non-scientific audiences. I guess I am just looking forward to a time when I can push some of these presentation boundaries myself, particularly in an academic setting.

Feature Communicator: Alan Alda

This March Alan Alda was interviewed by Will Grant and Rob Lamberts from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Alan is not a scientist, instead he is simply fascinated by talking to, and questioning all kinds of scientists.

Follow this link to listen to or read the whole interview transcript:
http://theconversation.com/alan-alda-on-the-art-of-science-communication-i-want-to-tell-you-a-story-55769

During this interview Alan talks about the power of curiosity – the drive to ask and find out “why?”, and yet he insists that curiosity combined with ignorance is even stronger!

During his life Alan has had the opportunity to interview many, many scientists. Some of these he did without a list of questions, but more as an informal curious conversation. He said that doing so brought out much more of the individual scientist’s personality than usually shown. And he spoke of wishing that scientists could get into that conversational tone all by themselves, without an interviewer to help them.

Alan is a vocal advocator for teaching communication skills to science students as a core part of their university education.

Alan also spoke of the need to not dumb down the science being communicated but to instead to focus on clarity and vividness. He defined being vivid as, “to show how it affects our daily lives, what the stories are that led to these discoveries.”

Some scientists may ask what good communicating their research to the public actually does for them. According to Alan, the scientists who undertook training at the Centre for Communicating Science found that working to refine their research message resulted in  them becoming much more focussed and clear about what they were doing and why.

This idea that re-working, re-explaining and re-focusing on the purpose and value of your science can actually lead to better science, is amazing. By attempting to communicate your message to a variety of people, journalists, community groups or organisations you are constantly re-afirming and checking how you describe and explain your work. This sort of reflection can be a powerful process for clearer, more vivid science.

WOMADelaide 2016 Composting 101 Workshop

This March, I presented a workshop on composting at WOMADelaide 2016. It was a very big day that began early with dropping off all my props and gear, and finished with a rush of adrenaline in the late afternoon as I realised that it was all done. Nothing went wrong – in fact everything had gone right, and it was so much fun!

My workshop host was Deb Tribe, a fantastic presenter from 891 ABC radio. We met face to face only an hour before the workshop was due to start but she put me at ease straight away. Now, I’m used to presenting in front of a PowerPoint presentation. Usually without props, not much movement and no-one else doing any speaking.

This was very different!

The Speakers Corner stage dedicated to this year’s Planet Talks and workshops had so much infrastructure: couches and comfy chairs, trestle tables, side tables and plants all round the edges. When running through the workshop plan with Deb, she suggested we start sitting down and talking, then move over to the trestle table covered in all the composting examples, and finally move back to the couch to finish. And it wasn’t just me talking. This workshop was a conversation between Deb and I. A back and forth, with her asking questions to clarify things I was doing. To top it off we even had 3 volunteers up on stage to help build an example compost heap right then and there. The young boys that jumped up to volunteer all thought the smelly compost ingredients (like manure) were hilarious!

And it went brilliantly. I had a shock the first time I opened my mouth to talk and looking away from Deb realised that the place was full. It felt wonderful being able to read the audience, to watch their faces, bounce off their reactions and really have fun with it. We covered everything we meant to within the hour and even had time for questions – some of them really curious ones. Later on I was told that the workshop had been filmed and projected up onto a big screen up the hill where even more people had been camped out watching us.

I had the absolute best time and can’t wait for my next experience.

WOMADelaide 2016: Composting 101 workshop preparation.

I was recommended as someone who might be interested in running a workshop on compost at this years WOMADelaide festival in Adelaide. When asked I said, “Yeah, sure – why not?” after which I then went home and forgot about it. Two months later I started getting emails from WOMADelaide organisers informing me of fun details that I’d overlooked. Things like: this workshop needs to be interactive, can you write a description of it that we can advertise right now (!), it needs to go for 1 whole hour (!!) and you’ll be presenting on a stage in a tent in front of about 200 people (!!!)…. I could feel my panic levels rising.

So what have I done since then? Well I sat down and thought about how I was going to structure this workshop of mine… (Alright that’s not strictly accurate – first I freaked out and called my Dad, the business trainer, presenter and workshop runner extraordinaire). I explained that the topic was compost but that I had a free rein, except that I had to fill a whole hour. 

He very quickly got me to calm down and think about it. Yes, the time slot was 1 hour but what about time for questions? That would take at about 15 minutes. So really I only had to fill 45 minutes. And then what about introductions and people settling in? That would take at least another 5 minutes at the beginning. I concurred. So my actual time span to fill was only 40 minutes. He then said, “40 minutes? Oh that’s easy. That’s just talking about 4 topics or 4 different things for 10 minutes each. You can do that.”

It was that simple. He helped me to see that no matter how long the timespan of a workshop, presentation or speech is meant to be, all you need to do is break it down into its smaller (and much more manageable) parts.

From there it was just a matter of choosing what topics I wanted to cover in those 4 x 10 minute slots. Then to decide what I wanted to show people, what props to use and how to make it interactive. And then lots, and lots and lots of practise.

The workshop is this Sunday at 5pm. At least my compost is prepared and ready. Wish me luck!

https://www.womadelaide.com.au/program/the-planet-talks

WOMAD compost