By Wendy Sadler

16 April 2019 - 11:19

Wendy Sadler holding a ruler
'If you hold one edge of a long ruler on the edge of a table, with the longest part of the ruler sticking out, and pluck the far end, it vibrates.' Photo ©

British Council

Wendy Sadler is a lecturer at Cardiff University, and the founder of science made simple. These are her six simple tips to become a science communicator.

Say about 100 words per minute 

Most people deliver their information too fast, at about 180 to 200 words per minute. The University of Michigan and the University of Twente recommend speaking at about 100 words per minute. It affects what people remember, and the credibility they give to what you say.

You don't need to speak slowly all the time. You can use pauses to bring down the average speed.

Interact with your audience

Your audience has a limited attention span. Anything you can do to raise that is good.

Interaction could be a question. It could be getting a volunteer on stage. But how about getting the whole audience to do an experiment with you?

Here's one you can try. Make a circle with your thumb and finger. Line up something on the wall – maybe a clock or a picture – inside that circle with both eyes open. Now close your left eye and open it. Close your right eye and open it.

Did you notice anything? Probably, when one of your eyes closed, that object jumped right outside the circle.

This is a way for your audience to find out something about themselves. Your dominant eye is the one you close to make the jump happen. Giving your audience a bit of personal information about themselves is a very powerful way to grab attention.

Use multiple approaches to communicate your idea 

People choose to learn in different ways, and there are dozens of different ways to communicate with an audience. You don't have to use all of them, but if you use two or three you can appeal to a bigger audience.

We can illustrate it with a little experiment. Close your eyes and count to three, but without making a sound. Open your eyes. How did you do it?

You may have seen the numbers fly past in your mind. You may have seen them flip over like a calendar. Some people hear their own voices saying numbers. Some people count on their fingers. Someone told me that they count their teeth.

Use props to explain an abstract concept 

Whatever you do with props will lift the audiences attention. Even holding and looking intently at a relevant prop will make the audience interested in it.

You can use them to explain visually something that is abstract. Even a simple ruler can be used to explain physics in a visual way, like the way musical instruments work.

If you hold one edge of a long ruler on the edge of a table, with the longest part of the ruler sticking out, and pluck the far end, it vibrates. It's slow because we have a lot of ruler. If we make the ruler shorter and pluck it again, the vibrations get faster.

When you have a faster vibration, you get a higher note. That's the basis for all musical instruments.

Your audience must like you

Likeability, or charisma, is very important for an audience, and how they receive your message.

Smile, and make sure your passion comes across. Don't be arrogant; audiences don't like that. In some cultures, being self-deprecating can work well.

Make sure your audience feel like the most important people in the room. They will love you for it.

End your communication well

A lot of people think hard about their opening, but then forget to have a strong ending.

If you started with a question, make sure you end by answering that question.

Perhaps you can give the audience something to do at home. But whatever you plan to do, make sure you have a strong sentence in mind that you're heading for.

And don't forget to thank the audience, so they know when to applaud.

Book your tickets for science communications competition FameLab in 2019. 

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