I’m currently enrolled in a seminar on science communication called ENGAGE, and it’s been incredibly informative! The goal of the seminar is to teach graduate students how to effectively communicate their scientific research to the general public. It culminates in a presentation at Town Hall Seattle! Dates are to be determined, but be on the lookout for exciting and accessible talks in a few months!
In the meantime, I did a guest blog for the seminar, which you can find here. While I focused on relating the class assignments to my recent board game exhibition, the same lessons applies to scientific presentations as well. There is only so much time in a presentation, so a real challenge is how to pack everything you want to say into an engaging package without skimping on details? Often in scientific presentations, the temptation is to cram every detail in; after all, we don’t want to misconstrue any aspect of our work, right? Unfortunately, when we do that, our audience only gets the sense that there’s a lot of details, and really loses sight of the story.
I recently gave an hour-long presentation to an audience of quantitatively-focused professors and students. Generally, this crowd appreciates seeing the details behind mathematical models, so at first I thought, “Hey, there’s this really cool method that I’m incorporating, and I should talk in-depth about it so others can appreciate how cool it is too!” Upon further reflection though, I realized that my story wasn’t really about this cool method. It was how I used this cool method to show an even cooler framework for solving a central conflict in dam management – namely, how do we allocate fresh water so that human society can benefit from rivers, without drastically harming the river itself? In the end, I cut most my discussion of the “cool method” and focused on the “cool story” where the “cool method” was a supporting actor.
The result? I got to talk about the “cool method” without it interfering with the overall “cool story”. For the people that were interested in the math, I offered up a novel tool. For the people that were interested in dams and applications, I offered up a success story for an incredibly challenging problem. By dialing back on the accuracy just a bit, I was able to engage my audience a little more, and everyone ended up winning.