Have you ever struggled with communicating effectively with others about your research or public speaking in general? These are common challenges. Last week, some of the RISE lab members attended a fantastic interactive and virtual workshop on the 12th of November 2020 from 9.30-2pm called “Scientifically Speaking” facilitated by Malcolm Love and funded by the British Council in Ireland. The workshop offered to help participants to:
- Present with more confidence
- Develop more powerful body language
- Create impactful material
- Engage effectively with the public
- Enhance communication with the art and skill of story-tellers
- Learn top tips from great communicators
In this short post, we will share some of the useful tips and advice we received.
The first part of the workshop focused on the importance of body language. We learned that body language is extremely impactful when used in moderation, in both face-to-face and online settings. However, trying to find the right balance between too much and too little body movement can be difficult. You may find that overusing body language can actually prove to be distracting for an audience when it draws their attention to your movements rather than the topic you are talking about. Some people have ‘ticks’ – certain movements or expressions that they repeat over and over. It is important to become aware of our own ticks to avoid annoying the audience. It is ok to have an occasional ‘um’ or ‘ah’, this is a natural part of communication and conversation. We also learned that having limited body language and in particular, eye contact and hand gestures, can result in an unengaged audience. A key tip was to practice in front of an honest friend or record yourself in a ‘dry run’ presentation as a means to find the right balance. Even when on a screen, hand movements are to be encouraged!
The second part of the workshop focused on the daunting skill of improvisation – which many felt pushed them outside of their ‘comfort zone’. We learned how to not take ourselves too seriously — it is ok to make mistakes and try new ways of communicating. It turns out that improvisation is a skill that we can develop with practice! Specifically, in situations where you might be faced with unprepared questions after presenting information, take a moment, gather your thoughts and then improvise where necessary – focus in particular about what you can add to the situation that would be new or interesting for the audience. A fun activity we did to become more comfortable with improvising was an exercise called gift giving. Details of this activity can be found here.
The final part of the workshop focused on the art of storytelling – particularly as a means to increase audience understanding and engagement of science. Building up and creating suspense during your talk like you would a story will keep your audience wanting more. Using personal experiences, analogies, and rhetorical questions will also help your audience understand and relate to what you are talking about. One tip was to think of one of your favourite stories (e.g., from a book, movie, or fairytale) and to reflect on the factors that made it a great story and try to include these aspects into your own storytelling style. At the end, we also had an opportunity to meet other excellent science communicators who had been successful in the world-famous, Fame Lab competitions!
Thank you for reading this short post, we hope these tips will benefit you as much as they did us. We are extremely grateful to the British Council in Ireland for making this free workshop available to members of our lab! Make sure to keep an eye on the websites for the British Council and the Fame Lab for any upcoming workshops.
About the Author
Alanna Heraty (@AlannaHeraty) is a 3rd year undergraduate student on the BSc. Psychology programme at the University of Limerick, Ireland. She is currently on research placement (via the cooperative education programme) in the Department of Psychology and RISE lab (@risetoresearch), supervised by Dr. Elaine Kinsella (@elainekinsella). Alanna is particularly interested in the psychology of group dynamics and human development.