Public Speaking Hacks for Scientists

As most regular readers of this blog know, I’m a speech nerd.  I competed in forensics (speech and debate) for 11 years, all the way through the collegiate level**.  As a result of this decade long inundation in communications training, I’m deeply invested in the subject of scientific communication.  I’ve taken some really stellar courses and workshops on the subject, and there is a growing resource of training, which focuses on helping scientists get the right content for the right audience and producing a concise and compelling message.  That is hugely important!  As my communications instructor husband told me recently, “Don’t shirk when planning the content of your message.  90% of effective communication happens before you open your mouth.”  It’s a point with which I completely agree.  There are forums where this sort of training is not only hugely beneficial, but is also entirely sufficient: writing popular science articles, starting a blog, or giving a killer one on one interview with a journalist.  

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Mer said I couldn’t make this post live unless I included a picture from my speech days. Here I am, in a suit.

However, there are plenty of communication situations that don’t involve writing or speaking to a journalist one-on-one.  That’s right, the thing folks apparently fear more than death, public speaking.  I would contend that scientists are, often, not confident or competent public speakers.  Furthermore, scientific communication training often lacks detailed instruction on this critical skill.  Have I seen scientists who can throw down on a speech or a talk?  Sure.  But public speaking is really hard!  Lots of folks have legitimate public speaking anxiety, and still others simply haven’t gotten many chances to practice this skill.  Again, learning what to say is more important than how we actually deliver those words, especially for scientists, for whom accuracy is the barometer for competency.  However, I’ve seen some really fascinating scientific subjects, things I was personally invested in, fall flat at conferences.  I’ve seen keynote speakers who had amazing, well written stories to tell fail to really capture the potential of the moment.  I’ve heard folks talking about eminent environmental threats on NPR and wanted to turn off the radio and take a nap.  I think we can do better!***

Enough of that, you’re reading this because of the enticing title.  Tips.  Tricks!  Life hacks (eh, that was probably euphemistic at best)!  In the interest of being concise, I decided I would give you the public speaking advice I give all my friends before their conference presentations or job talks.  Unfortunately, that’s only about two items, so I reached out to all my speech and debate friends on Facebook, and asked them about their best bit of public speaking advice.  I wanted to know that one thing they advise their pals to do to prepare for a talk.  I got some great feedback, and I’ve done my best to distill it all down into a few major themes and spin them in such a way that they will be useful to scientists in a few of the different forums in which we commonly address an audience.  Thus, these tips should be useful to you if you are speaking to your peers or if you are speaking to the public.  I’ve put these in reverse order of importance, so if you read nothing else, skip down to number 5, as this was the advice literally everyone gave, and I thought it deserved some substantial elaboration.

Public Speaking Tips from Nerds, for Nerds Continue reading “Public Speaking Hacks for Scientists”

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A Beginner’s Guide to Pokémon Collection in National Parks

Pokémon Go, made available for download in America on July 6, 2016 (and adding new countries every day!) enables collection, training, and battling of the first 150 Pokémon. Individual Pokémon collection and observation is now possible, and Pokémon trainers will be venturing into their communities and the wilds that surround them in record numbers as they strive to catch ‘em all. By virtue of collecting and learning about (albeit augmented, virtual) animals, people will also rediscover their attraction to the natural world. Through Pokémon Go, trainers will develop a keen eye for their surroundings, patience for tracking, quick thinking in anticipation of Pokémon behaviors.  And what better place for young and old alike to hone their PokéSkills but the expansive wilderness of America’s greatest natural treasure, the National Park system.

The iconic U.S. National Parks have provided access to both nature and natural sciences to visitors for 100 years. Combined annual attendance to these natural wonders registers at a whopping 305 million people each year, attracting visitors from all over the world. Our National Parks span the landscape of the United States and her territories, ranging from the remote reaches of Alaska to the bustling east coast parks, like Shenandoah-a quick drive from several major cities-and hop entire oceans to appear in far pacific lands like Hawaii, American Samoa, and Guam. Sometimes, these parks pack a hefty admission fee, up to $30 in some of the most famous parks. The fees go toward necessary maintenance and upkeep of the most pristine natural environments in the country, preserving the experience for the next generation of visitors. Don’t be scared by the entry fees; reasonably priced annual passes and special free events can make access extremely affordable!  In fact, I planned a trip to Shenandoah National Park this past weekend for both my sister and me as a respite from the rigors of academia. However, once we got the news dropped of the long-awaited Pokemon Go release, our plans quickly adapted to incorporate some Pokemon collecting into our adventure.

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A quick entrance photo at the North Entrance Gate PokéGym.

Continue reading “A Beginner’s Guide to Pokémon Collection in National Parks”

Crawly Cuties and Apartment Composting

My apartment here in State College is quite small, but it’s still the first place I’ve lived where I can make it (along with Benjamin, of course) my (our) own. Long hours at campus mean I want to make the most of my time at home enjoying the space and using it to explore any outside interests I try to maintain throughout graduate school. We use this space to develop some of our shared interests, and this is reflected in how we attempt to arrange the living area in a way that extends our tiny, tiny nook kitchen out into the rest of the room.  We try and cook for ourselves as often as possible and we relish our weekly CSA deliveries of local produce, dairy, eggs, and bread. However, this produces a LOT of food scraps that we don’t want to end up in a landfill somewhere. I really wanted to have a compost bin somewhere outside, but we don’t have a lot of space available to use around our apartment building and I wasn’t sure how well it’d be received. An indoor possibility was on my radar for a while, but, as I’ll discuss, I had some reservations. Having a bin full of worms in one’s apartment seems like something that should be filed under “You know you live with/might be an ecologist when….”, but in my research before I found that they are way more popular than I anticipated! Continue reading “Crawly Cuties and Apartment Composting”