Want To Improve Your Science Communication Skills? Here Are Some Quick Tips

Effective science communication (or SciComm) or health communication is the backbone to science/health literacy and advocacy, both of which tie in with policy and political change. Without effective communication, it would be impossible to inform, educate and raise awareness about matters relating to science and health — matters which concern us all.

Effective science communication is the backbone to science literacy and science advocacy, both of which tie in with policy and political change.

Why Is Science Communication (SciComm) Important?

The importance of science communication has been highlighted multiple times throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. Early in the pandemic, science communicators were involved in informing about hand-washing as a way to prevent COVID-19 infection. As we learnt more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, communicators took on the role of communicating the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing, the vaccine development process, and more recently about the different vaccines being deployed globally.

An image of a girl holding up a placard of a bulb. The background of the image has a number of graphs, equations, pie charts, etc. drawn on a white wall.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Before the coronavirus pandemic too, science communication played a major role in driving actionable change. For example, in the United States, the work of science communicators (and more specifically health communicators) alongside activists, translated to the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 being adopted as a federal law that provides protection and coverage to patients who choose to have breast reconstruction in connection to a mastectomy.

Other common examples of successful communication that drove change includes the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), a change in tobacco packaging (from colourful appealing designs to plain packaging with warning signs and diseased images), a change in the use of antibiotics, etc.

Science communication has played a major role in driving actionable change in all walks of life.

How To Improve Your SciComm Skills?

Given the central role that science communication plays in science literacy and science advocacy, honing these skills is vital for change. Below we provide some advice on how you may better your science communication skills.

1. Always Identify Your Audience

The best SciComm is one where your audience and your goals are identified. If your audience is the “general public” you’re probably not thinking about your audience hard enough. “Public” as a term, however, is ill-defined, and as Jennie French writes in her post, “not everyone is affected or interested by everything”.

Through enough mud at the wall, and something will stick, am I right? This was how I started in science communication too. To communicate your science effectively, however, you need to target your communications around your decided audience – not everyone is interested in everything. Is your audience full of they children? Are you hoping to communicate with people that have a family history of conditions such as diabetes? Or is it someone that has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Identifying your audience is the first step to effective communication. The second is identifying your goal.

As you can see, these are completely different audiences and significantly differ from the “general public”. Once you have chosen your audience, you will be able to (and should) target your communications in a manner that is relevant to them.

2. Identify And Centre Your Goal

For science communication to be effective, you need to identify your goal to know how to target your communication in a manner by which you can achieve set goal. For example, your goal could be to share your research with your particular audience in a way that they can go home with a better understanding of your research (make sure that your goal is measurable).

For example, my goal throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, was to provide adults with a limited scientific background with information relating to the COVID-19 vaccines. I was measuring the success of these articles in terms of readership, engagements, shares, and more.

3. Evaluate Your SciComm Without Exception

Identifying your audience and your goals for SciComm is one half of the battle. But how do you know your SciComm was successful unless you evaluate it? A good (but informal) technique used by science communicators is to read the room – if people are not responding to jokes, or are uncomfortable, take that into consideration.

As I have said often on #SciCommChat:

“The best way to learn is to learn from mistakes! So yeah, totally go for it – practice, make mistakes, fall, fumble, everything, and then one day, get it “right”, rinse, repeat!

What went well? What didn’t? Did people engage with you? If you have consent, record your talk, go over the recording and then see what you can improve on. If you have a website, check your analytics! As a writer, I measure my comms in website visits, readership, number of subscriptions, and most importantly, a number that never lies – engagement! Are people liking your content? Do they share it? Do they leave comments or ask questions?

4. Listen! And Then Listen Some More!

Communication is a two way street and requires talking as much as listening. Listen to the needs of your audience! If you need more: listening is a good trust signal too! If you don’t listen to your audience, they will quickly decipher it and stop engaging – after all, there is a reason you hated that monotonous professor’s lectures!

Listening to your audience and their needs will lead to better engagement. It can also make or break the relationship with your audience.

5. Learn The Art Of Storytelling!

Everyone loves a great story – and a great story is one that connects with the audience. If you are looking to improve your storytelling, definitely learn the art of storytelling. Also learn how to connect your science and your story to the people – you can keep talking about a drug being a groundbreaking discovery but it means little if it doesn’t relate to your audience.

There are thousands of good examples of good storytelling in science communication on the internet. In fact, every TEDTalk begins with a personal story, connecting the audience to the purpose of the talk. Listen to some TEDTalks – what do you like? What don’t you like? Implement these tactics into your own research.

6. Learn From Your Peers!

Who is your favourite Science Communicator? There’s perhaps that one person that stand out in your mind. Amazing! Now analyze this content and list out what it is you like that this communicator did. Check out some other science communicators in the area too – what do you like? What don’t you like? Add it to your list! Use your list as a guiding light for your communications.

7. Join in on the #SciCommChat discussions on Twitter

#SciCommChat on Twitters brings science communicators from all over the globe together to discuss different topics within the SciComm umbrella. These discussions often leave chatters with a lot of ways to improve their science communication. To learn more about these chats, check out our previous post here.

Am I missing any obvious ways in which one can improve their SciComm skills? Please comment your best tips below and barring your permission, I will add it to the list accordingly!

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