I’m Not Interesting, But My Research Is

wesIf you are a scientist or graduate student, it’s likely that you agree with the sentiment expressed in the title of this post. What’s also likely is that you are totally wrong.

What other people find most interesting and what will hold their attention is a story—what motivated you to study armadillo penises, how you tried to impress your graduate advisor and almost destroyed his lab, or that a biology laboratory has an intricate social dynamic that eclipses its research complexities.

You can hear those stories and others at The Story Collider, which is a collection of podcasts by scientists, science journalists, and other interesting people, who talk about how science has affected them. The effort was co-founded by Ben Lillie and Brian Wecht. Theirs is part of a larger effort to help scientists connect with a larger audience beyond their peers. I’ve talked about this topic previously because it is a key concept in making videos about science. When someone trained in science tries to explain science to others, they often make the mistake of focusing on facts, data, and statistics and forget that what grabs people’s attention and holds it is a story.

The take-home message you will get from listening to a few of these podcasts is that it’s possible to get those science facts across by telling a story about how your work made a difference in someone’s life—yours or someone else’s. Another thing these podcasts do that many science videos fail to do is they make scientists seem likeable, interesting, and even funny. That is an important accomplishment. People won’t listen to your message or watch your video if they don’t like you. Telling a story makes a scientist sound human.

We can’t always tell a personal story, of course. Sometimes it just won’t work for a particular video project. Also, some of us may be constrained by our organizations as to the format, formality, and content of our videos. However, storytelling techniques can help us craft better science videos. I’ll talk more about that in later posts. For now, try listening to a few podcasts at the Story Collider to better understand how stories can make a science message come alive.

In the TEDMED 2013 video I’m embedding below, you’ll hear from Ben Lillie (co-founder and Director) and Erin Barker (senior producer) of Story Collider who talk about storytelling and why it’s so important in getting across a message about science.