Improv. and Science. The odd couple… or a match made in heaven?

In a royally decorated room of the Science Exchange in Adelaide (complete with red carpet, wood panelling and throne-like chairs in the corner), there we awkwardly stood,  30 people in a circle, nervous and fidgeting. We were ready to brave Improv!

This winter, the Royal Institute of Australia (RiAUS) hosted an Improv night specifically geared towards helping scientists, scientists-in-the-making, and other communicators improve their communication skills by diving into a bit of Improvisation.

Dain and Jarred, from OnTheFly Improv (http://www.ontheflyimpro.com) ran the session. They cracked jokes, moved us around and generally reminded us to “keep breathing”. They were wonderful. With my heightened nervous senses, our two-hour session flew by. There were games, mind tricks, advice on stance – all things to could help us to overcome our natural reluctance to blurt out whatever comes first to mind, and instead to trust ourselves. Even in a simple word association game, it was hard not to second guess your answer!

Dain and Jarred also gave us some very practical advice for presenting

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Teaching science to share.

I recently watched a brilliant TED Talk by Melissa Marshall called “Talk Nerdy to Me”. She is a communications teacher and is seriously passionate about encouraging scientists to be able to clearly and effectively communicate their work to people outside of scientific circles.

Her top four tips for scientists, engineers and others were:

1. Tell us why your science is relevant to us and our lives. (This is the big picture stuff, or the day-to-day practicality).

2. When describing your science beware of jargon. Jargon is a barrier to outsiders.

3. Use stories and analogies to engage people. (This one is my favourite – stories are such a good way to connect with people).

4. When presenting – don’t use bullet points. (Now this one is tricky… I confess I love bullet points. I thought they made things simpler. I could have a nice few bullet points up on my slide and then talk and expand over the top of them. But Melissa says – just chat to people).

I think I mostly get excited when I hear science communication being discussed by people who have been both in “science and academia” and have also had interesting careers in fields such as, journalism, or teaching, or movie making, or graphic design. They seem like people who love to combine the best of both, and are thereby able to communicate their work, and the work of others in some really cool ways.

Check out the full TEDTalk: