Guest Column with Andi Horvath

October 13 / 121

Dr Andi Horvath, Media Officer responsible Science, Land and Environment, and Veterinary Science.
Dr Andi Horvath, Media Officer responsible Science, Land and Environment, and Veterinary Science.

Communication mindsets: research success depends on it. 

In my Science Communication training sessions, scientists have often confessed to having feelings of fear, dread or frustration at the thought of being interviewed by the media or having to deliver a public presentation followed by a Q & A session. They comment on the fear of being judged by their colleagues. They also mention the inconvenience of taking time away from research activities and the frustration of dealing with what they perceive to be irrelevant questions from journalists or the public.

Sound familiar? And yet, your future research successes depend on changing that mindset of ‘frustration’ to a mindset of ‘privilege’.

Embracing the concept that it’s a privilege to share ideas with new audiences sets a different premise to how you approach, prepare, deliver and deal with a public communication event. Think of the work experience student that sends out the vibes of “I can’t get out of it, so let’s get it over with” as opposed to one who make the most of this opportunity to learn something new.

Why a privilege? Although your audience is there to learn from you, you also have the opportunity to learn from them. No matter how positive or negative the communication experience is, it’s valuable professional feedback for you as a researcher and as a communicator. A quirky question from a farmer in the audience may lead to you to rethink how you implement your research, or a student who appeared to misunderstand what you said in fact gives you insights into what messages need bolstering in your next talk. Reframe or reflect on the feedback and learn from it.

So that unexpected, irrelevant question from the journalist reflects what some of the audience may be thinking. It’s not an attack on you, its just broader curiosity. You can bring the conversation back to your message and your corner of the world.

Think of the ‘it’s a privilege’ mind set as a return on investment of time spent tailoring memorable messages to your public audiences. You never know who is listening: a future politician, the public representative for a funding body, or a future star research student.

By default, teaching at university quickly diffuses the fear of public speaking. However if you are new to the public speaking game you’ll find the mindset of privilege helps you deal with pubic speaking nerves by shifting the focus off you and onto the audience and the message with which they need to engage. It’s no longer ‘OMG I have to present this info’ its ‘ this is an opportunity to help the audience to walk away with a new idea.’ Stop worrying about you (internalising) and worry about them, the audience (externalise it). Help them by creating digestible and memorable messages.

Most importantly the audience is not your fellow scientists, you are not communicating to them when you are communicating in public. It is the public's understanding that matters not the judgements or the nuances of details on which fellow scientists like to focus on in seminars.

My advice is ‘fake it and you’ll make it’ and be the consummate professional by being there for the public audience. 

The privilege is yours. Do it with an air of dedicated pleasure.

Dr Andi Horvath has recently joined the University Communications team. 

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