Making Science Engaging

A responsibility of scientists and technologists of all ages is to help society make good decisions today for tomorrow.  One way to practice this responsibility is making science engaging to decision-makers. Making science engaging means communicating in an effective way.

The purpose of communication is action. The action is what the communicator wants or needs to happen in a given timeframe. For example, infants cry for their caregiver when they need to be fed, have their diaper changed, be held, or be given medical attention. In contrast, the actions solicited by mature adults tend to be on longer timeframes and more about helping others than helping themselves.

Communication is both an art and a science. The art of communication is expressing a unique point-of-view in a unique way. The science of communication is vast and includes many techniques and tools proven to support action for a given situation.

Scientists and technologists of all ages need to learn about communication in the same way they learn about science. First, study the science behind the topic of interest. Next, practice the science with relevant problems and challenges. Finally, learn from what doesn’t work and then study and practice many more hours to move towards mastery of the topic.  While you want to avoid spam in communication, scientists need to SPAM (study, practice, and master) when it comes to communication. There are many peer-reviewed articles on the science of communication from a whole range of experts including decision scientists, neuroscientists, behavioral scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists (http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/110/Supplement_3/14033.full.pdf). Pick your communication area of interest and SPAM (study, practice, and master) away!

Making science engaging means you have captured both the attention and interest of others. A powerful way to capture the attention and interest of others is through the Golden Circle described by Simon Sinek (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en). Simon Sinek advises that the most effective communication begins with the why, next the how, and finally ends with the what. Simon believes that the passion expressed behind the why connects with the listener’s limbic brain – the seat of emotion in the brain. Neuroscientists are in agreement that emotion gets our attention though the relationship between emotion and attention is quite complex (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00058/full).  The how taps into your values. There is also emotion attached to values. For example, we feel good and happy when our values are practiced by others. We feel bad and sometimes angry when our values are not practiced by others or violated by others. Finally, the what makes the compelling case for others to take action.

The real measure of engagement is how the listener or reader responds during and after the communication. Specifically, does the listener or reader generate useful connections between what is communicated and what they already know? Does the communication trigger valuable insights for the listener or reader? Does the listener or reader recall the communication and think differently to benefit them in the next day or two? Does the listener or reader recall the communication and take action as a result? An answer of “yes” to one or more of these questions means engagement has occurred.

There is much more for all of us scientists and technologists to learn about the art and science of communication. Let’s support each other’s learning through this call to action: share how you #makescienceengaging using this hashtag on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, the comment field below, or other social media outlets. I’ll be sharing to #makescienceengaging on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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