Research!America and the Executive and Professional Education program at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) co-hosted a two-day workshop, “Connecting the Dots: Effectively Communicating Science to Non-scientists,” on April 13-14 at the GWU Milken School of Public Health in Washington, D.C.
Thirty-four scientists and communicators from research institutions, scientific societies, patient groups and government agencies participated. The workshop packed a wealth of information into two days by combining instruction with active-learning exercises to provide the participants with tools to more effectively communicate research.
A group of experts in public presentations, communications, media and journalism, academic administration, and science presented theories behind their approaches and gave concrete examples of how to implement the suggested strategies. Topics covered included strategic scientific communication; the difficulties of explaining the scientific process; translating data and science into meaningful, emotional and compelling stories; developing and delivering presentations; incorporating the use of metaphors in storytelling; how to talk to the media and social media engagement.
Experts who shared their insights and knowledge were Frank Sesno, director of SMPA; GWU professors David Karpf, Ph.D., and Emily Thorson, Ph.D.; GWU professor and Washington Post reporter Cheryl Thompson; GWU instructor and former reporter Steve Norton; Gallaudet University professor Regina Nuzzo, Ph.D.; journalists Maryanne Culpepper, former president of National Geographic Television, and Denise Cetta, producer, 60 Minutes; and Research!America board members Jay Gershen, D.D.S., Ph.D., president of Northeast Ohio Medical University; Mary J.C. Hendrix, Ph.D., president and scientific director at The Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute; Susan Dentzer, senior health policy advisor at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Keith R. Yamamoto, Ph.D., executive vice dean, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine; and Allen I. Leshner, Ph.D., CEO Emeritus at American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Dentzer recommended the “succes” approach to crafting a compelling message for media: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and stories. “The more elements you have of the ‘succes’ model, the more your story will stick,” she said.
Hendrix said it is essential to add context and build consensus with the audience. She also pointed out that preparation is key to an effective narration and offered Research!America as a resource for tools and information to help frame a message.
Senso, a former CNN correspondent, also conducted a mock interview with participant Debra Cooper, Ph.D., California Council on Science and Technology Science Policy Fellow, and panelists provided constructive feedback.
“I believe that a workshop of this sort should be incorporated into every scientific curriculum,” Cooper said in a blog post. “I gained a new set of skills to ensure that I can deliver a single message in multiple and unique ways so that each distinct audience can walk away with an understanding of that message.”
Participants said they look forward to putting the lessons learned into action.
“An enormous strength of the workshop is that it brought what seemed to be disparate issues together and linked them conceptually,” said Paul R. Burghardt, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Wayne State University in another blog post. “This approach produced an integrative ‘package’ of skills that will be particularly useful for any scientist who is planning to communicate with non-scientists … The workshop also helped me rekindle the mentality that communicating is an exciting opportunity, as opposed to a ‘task’ that has to be accomplished.”
Click here to see photos of the workshop.