In the last post, I made the argument that for a scientist to be competitive, she must not only gain an edge in scientific technical skills but in communication skills, especially ways to connect with a diverse audience. Because this blog is focused on science videography, I’ll be emphasizing the use of video to reach a diverse audience, but the basic ideas and suggestions I present in this series will work for press releases, fact sheets, and other written or oral communications.
In this post, I’d like to explain what I mean by a diverse audience. In addition to scientists, there are resource managers, policy-makers, the news media, students, and the general public. These are all important audiences for a scientist to be prepared to communicate with. Because many of these people are not scientists, you will need to modify your message so that it is understandable, of interest, and accessible to a non-scientist. Some scientists mistakenly believe that this means “dumbing down” their science message and that in doing so the message becomes less than accurate or perhaps is more likely to be misinterpreted or misused.
However, crafting a good science communication product for a broad audience does not mean the message must be dumbed down. It means instead that you need to find the core idea in your information and express it simply. I’ll talk more about this in coming posts.
In addition to focusing on a central idea or message and stating it simply, you must communicate it in a way that is of interest to the broader audience. There are many ways to accomplish this, which I will also go into detail about in future posts in this series. For now, the basic way to ensure interest in your information is to show how it relates to your audience. This result can be accomplished, for example, by including a human-interest aspect in your message. People can relate better to facts and figures if there is a human element involved that they find interesting or that they can connect with emotionally. Of course, putting your message into a short video is an excellent way to not only explain your work but to connect with people in a way that text just does not accomplish.
Another point about effective science communications is that the information must be readily accessible to the broader audience. I often hear scientists stating that their research is published in the peer-reviewed literature, and anyone interested can just read about it. What they are forgetting is that access to technical publications is often limited for non-scientists. They then may argue that their scientific articles are available on their personal websites as downloadable pdfs, but authors are typically prohibited by journals from posting copyrighted material. Most journals hold the copyright to your published articles, and these should not be posted on personal websites without permission (you do know this, right?). However, written summaries or short videos describing your published work can be posted on the internet and will make your work more broadly known and lead students and other scientists to your technical publications. The more people who become aware of your work, the more it is likely to be cited, raising your H-index. In upcoming posts, I’ll describe how you might go about creating short videos that highlight a recent publication and mention some applications that will facilitate the development of these and other types of research briefs.
Finally, a lot of people are looking for science information on the internet in the form of video. YouTube is now a huge search engine, with hundreds of millions of users and channels devoted to specific topics, including science. The average person looking for information about black holes, deforestation, ocean acidification, or sea-level rise is going to prefer a short, informative video over any other type of communication….and if it’s also entertaining, all the better. You can reach a lot more people with a video than with a written document. Students who visit your website are much more likely to click on a video clip than on a text description. If you can capture a student’s attention with a video, they may be encouraged to seek more detailed and technical information about your work or your research group.