Toolkit – for scientists

Tips from scientists who are also great communicators

Some of the best science communicators share their tips on good science communication and how to deal with the media.

online-942410_960_720Brad Tucker, Astrophysicist/Cosmologist at Australian National University

Do your research:

When you’re talking to anyone in the media (print, radio, TV), do a bit of research into both the person interviewing you (what they like, what their background is, etc.) and their audience (age, location, education, interests, etc.).  If you can relate what you say to something the interviewer cares about or is interested in, then they will be very engaged and make it interesting for their audience, which will allow both the audience to care about it and you to get more time to get your message across!

Don’t be afraid to contact them:

Media have lots of things going on and might not be always aware of the newest story/discovery.  Don’t be afraid to approach someone directly with a story, especially if you’ve worked with them before.

Follow Brad at @btucker22 or read more about him.

Katie Mack, Astrophysicist at NC State University

My top tip would be to really work on tailoring your message to your audience. It’s not just about not using tons of jargon, but also about making sure that the context is clear, and giving people credit for being intelligent and curious without assuming they already know anything about the topic. I’d also say it’s always good to let your enthusiasm show. If people can see you’re excited about the science, they’re more likely to get excited too.

Follow Katie at @AstroKatie or read more about her.

Amanda Bauer, Head of Education and Public Outreach at the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, Tuscon Arizona

The first step, before preparing any material for a presentation, activity, or interaction with the media, is to pause and think about three simple things. Make this process a part of your routine.

Isolate the BIG IDEA

What is the main thing you want your audience to walk away from your presentation understanding? This is a single statement. Say it to yourself out loud. “I want the audience to go home understanding how big the sun is.”

Tell a story

Start your science story with a hook that will instantly grab their attention. Maybe you start by asking a provocative question that might relate to their lives. You can ask them to raise their hands if they have experienced a particular thing. You can tell a quick anecdote about a person who experienced your Big Idea and how it made them feel or how it applied to their life. Try to share the human side.

Respect the audience

Be mindful of the language you use: avoid jargon, get to the point, skip the details. Remember, you want the audience to understand you and the words you use.

Read more tips from Amanda in her article for Inspiring Australia NSW.

Follow Amanda at @astropixie or read more about her.

Cameron Webb, Medical Entomologist at the University of Sydney and NSW Health Pathology

Get to know the media

Understanding how the media works will really improve how you present and will also increase the chances media outlets will identify you as “good talent” and will continue to return to you time and time again. Making their job easy will be appreciated. Speak to journalists/broadcasters about how shows are put together and understand the differences in how radio, tv and print outlets conduct and package interviews. Most importantly, listen to radio. Listen to talk back radio and note what you like and dislike about others being interviewed and how they respond to different types of questions.

Keep track of media activity

Keep a list of all your media activities. Make a note of journalist/broadcaster, media outlet, topic, dates and a URL or sound file. Your institutional media and communications department may also be able to provide some information on audience and value provided by media monitoring organizations. Over time you can build a profile that showcases your experience but may also provide a valuable resource that represents ability to promote science, demonstrates research translation and engage with the community. This may then be very valuable for job applications, promotions and even grant applications!

Follow Cameron at @Mozziebites or read more about him.

Euan Ritchie, Ecologist at Deakin University

  • Don’t be afraid to express a view, sometimes with passion and even if it’s a controversial one, but always back it up with evidence!
  • Where possible use positive language, and try to relate scientific information/discoveries back to everyday people and their values and issues
  • Tell stories and share personal experiences as relevant.
  • Communicate because you are an expert and non-experts are already doing so.

Follow Euan at @EuanRitchie1 or read more about him.

Jen Martin, Lecturer in Science Communication at the University of Melbourne 

  • Know who your audience is every time you communicate about science. Who are they and what aspects of your story with be most relevant and interesting to them?
  • Sound excited about your work – if you sound bored, you can count on the fact you will also be boring.
  • Don’t be put off by a question you aren’t expecting or aren’t sure how to answer. You can always turn things around to talk about what your main points are!
  • Enjoy talking with journalists: if you bring enthusiasm to your interview, you’ll almost always find your story is met with similar interest and enthusiasm.

Follow Jen at @scidocmartin or read more about her.

Tips for talking to the media

  • Be cooperative but never do an interview immediately (unless it is an issue you are already prepared for, or you are a senior manager or an expert in this field).
  • Find out what paper or program the journalist represents, and what sort of interview they want (20 second grab or a long interview) and what their deadline is.
  • Find out why they want to do the story. Have they got a media release or some other information from another source? If so, ask if they can email it and promise to get back in 20 minutes time, and do so.
  • Talk to your supervisor/ your collaborators / your media liaison officer to work out what you want to say.
  • Put the message in simple terms and send something in writing to the journalist—and then get back to them at the arranged time for the interview.
  • Never say “no comment”—it sounds like you’re hiding something. Try something like: That’s not in my area of expertise. That’s not really for me to comment on. That’s a question for my director/a doctor/an economist/the government.

Tips and resources for working effectively with the media

  • Learn to speak to the media
    Learn how to pitch a story and make it newsworthy, how to handle a media interview and work with journalists through this online program.
    Media and communication skills – workshops for scientists
    A practical, full day media training course to help researchers shape the essence of their science into a story that works for the media and other stakeholders. Scientists can then practice what they’ve learnt by pitching their work to working journalists from TV, radio and print.
  • Become a spokesperson for science with Fresh Science
    Fresh Science is an annual, national training activity that brings together scientists from across Australia to engage with the media and the public. It provides an opportunity for young scientists to increase the level of coverage of their research, and emphasises the role of science in Australian society.
  • Science journalism – free online resources teach you how to report on science
    These six free modules are recommended for undergraduate/postgraduate students. Learn about and then practise reporting on scientific topics in any media.
  • Access images, footage and graphics for breaking news
    Science Media Exchange (Scimex) Multimedia Hub provides an online space for posting and sharing science-related visual material to enhance the messages of scientists, science communicators and journalists.

Learn to use social media effectively

Principles for science communication

Australia aspires to be an innovative society with a scientifically engaged community and a technologically skilled workforce. The Inspiring Australia strategy aims to build a strong, open relationship between science and society underpinned by effective communication of science and its uses.

In approaching the issue of science engagement together across industries and sectors, the goal of a scientifically engaged Australia will be far more attainable.

To that end, the Framework of Principles has been developed to support a unified and consistent approach to policy development and program implementation by Australian organisations, businesses and governments towards advancing science engagement in Australia.

Principles essential for quality science communication

The principles recognise these key features as essential for quality science communication:

  1. strategic direction and goals;
  2. relevance to Australians;
  3. credible science;
  4. defined target audience;
  5. evaluation; and
  6. program design which enables effective delivery.

To read more about the principles for science communication, download the National Framework of Principles For Science Communication Initiatives [PDF 137 KB].