A Bull of a Challenge

RSMAS Researcher Assistant Professor Neil Hammerschlag is one of 10 finalists in the Ocean180 video challenge. His research video, ”Bite Size: Bull Shark Predation of Tarpon,” delves into a recent study on the movements of bull sharks and tarpon in South Florida waters. Through satellite tracking, the study reveals some unique behaviors by the large predatory fish in order to avoid becoming bull shark prey.

Sponsored by the Florida Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE Florida) and funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Ocean 180 Video Challenge was designed to inspire scientists to communicate the meaning and significance of scientific research with a broader audience.

Over 40,000 middle-school student judges from around the world are now reviewing the top 10 video abstracts. The winners will be announced in late February 2014.

Communicating Science

Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone. — Albert Einstein

Good scientific presentations can be exciting, inspiring and bring people together to work towards a common goal. Bad presentations can make people tired, angry, or bored, therefore they don’t pay attention and the message gets lost. We have all sat through at least one terrible scientific presentation that is filled with complicated slides and an alphabet soup of acronyms. They are just torturous… But there is hope! There is a new wave of scientists making an effort to add some clarity and excitement to scientific presentations.

Below is a list of tips I compiled after attending two communicating science workshops. These skills can be helpful in giving public presentations, in explaining your science to journalists, and even in writing grants. Enjoy!

Important things to keep in mind when giving a presentation:
• Know your audience –speak to their knowledge level
• Focus on the message –bring it back to why it matters to the broader audience
• Tell a story – your research includes mystery, compelling questions, characters, locations – your audience will care about the outcome
• Include personal anecdotes, passion, humor, analogies, metaphors
• Limit jargon, acronyms, complicated words/phrases
• Simple does not mean dumb, don’t talk down to your audience
• Make your presentations interactive if possible
• Look trustworthy, professional and believable
• Practice – know the material, don’t rush or go over time, be confident
• Ask someone to watch and evaluate your presentation
• Powerpoints:
o Powerpoints should enhance the material, not take over the presentation
o Be able to do your presentation without it, one day you may have to
o Support your presentation with visual imagery – photos, videos
o Don’t read your slides, make eye contact with the audience
o Keep your slides simple, clean, not cluttered – you want your audience to think, not to work

Tips for on-air interviews:
• Be prepared
• Have a few sound bites/talking points prepared before you arrive
• Suggest questions for the interviewer to ask you
• Ask for a do-over if the piece is taped
• Answer the questions you want, lead the interview to the right questions
• Learn from your mistakes

Tips for getting your research featured in news articles
• Squeeze info quickly into a short story.
• What’s the news? How do I explain it as simply as possible?
• Answer the phone – journalists work with very quick deadlines
• Scientific literacy isn’t a job requirement for science journalists so explain your science well to the media so they can put it in a story correctly

Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) Florida Presentation Bootcamp

Communicating Science Workshops:

American Geophysical Union (AGU) Communicating Science Workshop
San Francisco, CA
December 4, 2011
Ellen Prager, PhD – Earth2Ocean, Inc.
Dan Vergano – USA Today
Molly Bentley – Big Picture Science
Dan Kahan – Yale Law School
Brian Malow – Science Comedian

Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) Florida
Presentation Bootcamp

Miami, FL
January 9-10, 2012
Presenter: Rick Tankersley

Do you have any tips/tricks you would like to add? Leave them in the comments section below…

-Laura Bracken
Alumni & Outreach Manager
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