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Finding Your Voice

Post by Nancy Baron While not everyone may be interested in your science at first, many people are interested in scientists, as your work seems…mysterious. What do you actually do? Why are you so devoted to it? They want to know what makes you tick. Even if your research can seem obscure, they are often eager to discover a new perspective on the world through your eyes. I remind scientists (and myself too) that when talking about your work, it’s often best to tell your story as if you were talking to friends who appreciate you and are hanging on your every word. Let your audience meet the real you.  You’ll see their eyes light up and their attention engage. For many scientists this is liberating. I have had scientists rush up to me after a talk and say what a relief to hear it’s not only okay, but essential for them to be themselves.  All too often, scientists are trained to downplay, or even cloak their passion for their work, for fear of appearing to erode the scientific rigor of their science or their credibility as a researcher. Yet after they experiment a little with revealing their enthusiasm, they are convinced. Jim Barry, a benthic ecologist from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, recounted at a reception at The Ocean in a High-CO2 World Symposium that followed a COMPASS communication workshop, “I was surprised by how important personality is. Be human.” Jim is a funny, charming guy. But when he spoke at the front of the room, he would put on his “science face”, become serious, and hide his sense of humor.  It was an aha! moment when he realized he could entertain people while talking about his science, just as he did when he talked about other things. Another young scientist, Heike Link  wrote me after a workshop to say “all of a sudden people really listen to me when I answer their questions about my work.” The difference? She told them why she cared about it. But don’t try to be funny if you aren’t funny, or flamboyant if you are not. The important thing is to be your authentic self. wolf There are many ways to find your voice. It can be fun – especially with the feedback and support of others. A few weeks ago, at a science synthesis and advanced communication workshop I co-facilitated in Vancouver, British Columbia, I encouraged a group of academic scientists to experiment with different ways of expressing their personality as well as their knowledge. They were given options that included “How to be yourself on camera,” and “Twitter — a discipline in conveying your content and voice in 140 characters”. But most of the scientists chose to focus on creating op-ed articles in a session titled “Writing Opinions: Your Informed Argument”. Read the full post at the COMPASS blog Nancy Baron is Outreach Director of COMPASS, the Communications Partnership for Science and the Sea, and author of Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter.