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Panel 206 - Improvisation for Science Communication

Conference Day: 
Day 1 - November 7th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Workshop: Improvisation for science communication

Organized by: LitScientist, Alan Shapiro

Speakers: Dr. Jeff Dunn, Professor, Department of Radiology, University of Calgary; Graduate Program Director, Cumming School of Medicine; Dr. Monica Granados, Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellow; María Cortés Puch, Head, National and Regional Networks’ Program for the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network

Moderators: Mitchell Beer, President of Smarter Shift; Publisher of The Energy Mix; Nikki Berreth, Co-founder, Science Slam; Owner, STEAM Communication; Alan Shapiro, Co-founder and Director of Science Slam Canada, Science Communication Specialist with LitScience

Takeaways and recommendations

  • Improvisation offers a wealth of tools and strategies for enhancing presentations and promoting engagement with non-scientific audiences. Unlike traditional public speaking approaches, improvisation also supports researchers in responding to unexpected factors, such as challenging questions (i.e., related to climate change) and unpredictable audiences.

  • Think of improvisation as a training ground for improving scientific presentations and reducing your anxiety.

  • The workshop used three group exercises (“games”) to illustrate learning outcomes (e.g., how to emphasize the positive and deal with challenges more effectively).

  • Activities were designed to help scientists become more comfortable with speaking publicly, embracing failure and listening. They included:

    • Learn how to genuinely listen: Listen to your audience members and be prepared to follow a changing narrative to become more comfortable with changing events or environments. Adapt and adjust messaging to the person or audience you are addressing, and be positive and supportive in your communications.

    • Learn how to support colleagues in conversation: Understand what your partner is saying and add to the story vs. having a prepared message. A prepared message in this game resulted in a broken narrative.

    • Embrace failure and learn how to recover: As players were eliminated; they left the game and were invited back in, helping them to understand that it is important to get back into the game. The game also helped participants understand that failing can cause laughter, that the consequences are usually small, and it is important to continue and “get back in the game.”

    • Gain confidence

    • Reduce performance anxiety

  • Improvisation teaches you to think on your feet and adapt to your environment.

  • Learning to be spontaneous and stay in the moment are important skills in science communications.

  • Improvisation provides scientists with access to a broad community of diverse backgrounds, but there is still a need to reach out to marginalized groups.

  • Communication is not an afterthought; it needs to be integrated in the science project.

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