Written by Bernardo Traversari
Edited by Simon Bakke
I recently saw a TedX Talk by Will Stephen, a writer for Saturday Night Live. The theme of his talk was… nothing. Absolutely nothing. His talk wasn’t about any topic in particular, it had no insightful data or quirky animations, he had no message to convey; yet he presented himself as this smart guy who was talking about something incredibly important.
And I agreed with him. I laughed at his jokes, was captivated by his performance, and closed out the video feeling that I had learned something new in the span of six short minutes.
Will’s talk, “How to sound smart in your TedX talk,” has been viewed 7.3 million times since it was first posted on Youtube three years ago. This says something powerful about the importance of how to deliver a message. According to Joyce Russell in her article “Career Coach: The wrong tone can spoil the message”, a quality delivery often comes down to one single aspect of communication: tone. “Our tone conveys our attitude,” says Joyce, who has spent more than 25 years coaching executives on everything from public speaking to interpersonal communication. “Sometimes our tone has a greater impact on our audience than our actual message.”
That’s why, in science communication, getting your message across is less about the content of the message itself, but rather how it’s delivered.
Let’s face it. Getting people excited about science is not easy. The task becomes even more difficult when science is communicated blandly and without consideration for how it’s presented — which is, unfortunately, all too often the case. When this happens, science loses its appeal, and with its appeal, the opportunity to connect with a larger audience. It’s doomed to remain trapped in the confines of academia.
Other influential public speakers also agree with Joyce. Dale Carnegie, in his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” — perhaps the most widely read book on social communication skills — notes how tone is essential in conveying emotions, and emotions are key to successfully winning people over with a memorable message. “If you want others to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastic,” he writes. And that’s especially relevant when it comes to science.
Enthusiasm translates into passion, and passion is addictive — it’s contagious.Research has shown that “mood contagion” is often the reason why we believe an idea or why we choose to follow a particular leader. It might also be the reason we become interested in something in the first place. For science, it might just be the missing link between engaging with academically- savvy “sciencephiles” and successfully attracting a more passively-interested public.
My advice to scientists and science communicators? Next time you’re presenting in front of a crowd, be sure to show your passion. Adjust your tone so that people know how excited you are about science. Remember what makes you excited about it. Make what can appear to be a “boring” talk into a life-changing experience. Repeat the phrase: “isn’t this amazing?!” because chances are that, with enough vivacity injected into scientific findings, people will agree with you.
Bernardo on Twitter: @BernardoTraver2
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