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The Best Research Communicators Do This

In this blog I will break down how the best communicators of research get their work seen and used by people around the world, and how you can too!

Research communication, what’s that?

As an outsider to research and not having gone through a PhD myself, I was in awe when I discovered the things people work on in academic research. Cutting edge technologies, never told before history, breakthroughs in health and so much more. As a self proclaimed nerd, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth didn’t I know this stuff existed? Even more importantly, how many people could benefit from this research but don’t know it even exists?

This is the strange system that we have accepted to be the norm. But that’s the topic of another rant. Anyway, it appeared that wise people some years back were also grappling with this question and came up with a partial solution: research communication. Or dissemination, depending how entrenched you are in the system.

The goal of research communication is to put in a bit of effort to tell more people that this work has been done. Traditionally it was just conferences. But then new publications and magazines joined in on the action. And then, the world became internetified and content rich. So Youtube and Twitter became tools to be used, despite how noisy and wild they are. Eventually, we showed up with Acaudio, to cut out the noise.

So, what is good research communication?

Boring and fun are subjective, mostly. Sometimes boring is just a fact. Good research communication is never that. It can turn the dry topic of the philosophy of physics into a lively discussion on an episode of the sci-fi/creepy cartoon Rick and Morty. It can make key hole surgery of the knee sound like a thrilling special forces operation. It can make fasting resemble an episode of Maria Kondo for the cells, so they’re excited to do some cleaning. It captivates people. Not everyone, just some people – and that is more than enough.

What do the best communicators do well?

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing close to 1000 academics and listening to thousands more share their research on Acaudio. To help you better understand how to become a better communicator of your research, I’ve distilled this skill down to 4 things:

1. Embrace Your Flaws – don’t worry about coming across polished

Being polished as an academic is one of the biggest myths in the sector. I’ve spoken to so many academics that are too afraid to communicate their research because they don’t feel they “come across well” – whatever that means. Frankly, this is all just a baseless insecurity. Just look at the top YouTubers, who have millions of active followers. Salespeople. Joe Rogan. And everywhere else around you – nobody is polished. Everyone has flaws and doubts. People regularly pause and erm and ah when they speak. People don’t walk around photoshopped.

The best research communicators are so far removed from self-image. They are playing the role of being a communicator to its fullest. This way, they are focussed on how they get their message across rather than how they come across. And because of this they always, always, always come across amazing!

2. You’re The Expert – and experts can be wrong too!

Being right is the complete opposite to the essence of scientific research. Scientific research is fundamentally an exercise of reduction of uncertainty and disproving ideas and hypothesise. So yes, you are the expert in your niche and line of study. That does not mean you always have to be right. It certainly does not mean you can’t have an opinion either. You are allowed to say things that may turn out to be incorrect later – but guess what? That is actually the very heart of research collaboration and education.

In preparing for recordings and when producing shows for research centres and universities, I’ve had people worry about saying something wrong. Or they’ve reflected on something they’ve said that they now doubt and can’t sleep at night until the mistake is deleted from the video or audio. Don’t be this person!

The best research communicators are open to being wrong and welcome it. They welcome the corrections. In fact, some even see it as something that opens doors for collaborations with other researchers and groups.

3. Speaking Is Trained – and live repetition is the best training!

Don’t be fooled into thinking some people are speakers and others aren’t. Providing that you do have the ability to speak, you are able to improve it. You are an academic, and academics are trained to write but not necessarily speak. You can get away with squeezing an extra paragraph or two in your research article to get your points across. However, speaking about your work is a different skill that requires you to simplify your language and capture someone’s attention in a different way.

Look at your favourite academic TV personality. Whether it’s Neil deGrasse Tyson or Prof. Alice Roberts, there is one thing they have in common generally. They are always appearing on podcasts, shows, or are just active when it comes to facing the public.

The best research communicators are actively talking about their research. They tell their friends and family. They share with their students and colleagues. And they’re always happy to tell more people about their work. This is active practice, and I believe, the best kind!

4. Always Be Relating – create pictures in peoples minds to engage

The choice of language used in academic texts is often times mind numbing. It might be standard practice, but it can be like reading hieroglyphics. I get that this form of communication has a need to be factual. However, this does not work in all other forms of communication. It is dreary and worthy of a skip on YouTube or Spotify. You need to get in the habit of relating research to topics outside of your narrow domain. Remember, others do not see what you see and you need to make them see it in their way.

The good news is that human language, regardless of which one it is, has developed so that we can be more engaging and relatable. All sorts of tools are at your disposal, from analogies and metaphors to emotional language. But the one thing all language has in common is story telling! Be a story teller even if you are talking about the most dense chemistry.

The best research communicators tell stories. I don’t mean fiction or tales. I mean stories of how their research came about. It could be a pivotal moment in the course of the study that opened their eyes to a new phenomena. Regardless of what the story it is, the best find a way to get the audience locked in and invested!

So what should you do now?

In short, get active! Research communication is like your academic career. It’s a journey that is always improving. The sooner you start the journey, the sooner you’ll develop the skills you need to become a top communicator. This topic may seem trivial to many academics, but in reality it is the difference between academics who secure funding, tenure and reach the upper echelons of academia and the rest.

We encourage you to participate on Acaudio, a free and open access platform where you can showcase your work and voice opinions based on your research through short audios. This is one of the ways that you can track your outreach and communication activities. By being on playlists with academics from around the world, you’ll also build genuine interest in your research and become the best!

We are always excited to hear from you, so if you have any suggestions or topics you’d like to share please do get in touch on acaudio.com!

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