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”

2014 Reflections, Resolutions, and Round-Up

Hello, 2015! Rachel and I are living it up with our lovely friends in Boston. This year has been wonderful thus far, but we wanted to take a few moments and reflect on the great things that 2014 brought to us.  One of the most rewarding things for us, in the last year, was starting this blog.  From the launch of our Tumblr blog in January of 2014 to occupying this space in May, we feel so blessed to have this space to share our experiences as travelers, learners, and burgeoning female scientists!

Starting the new year sharing the same physical space is always a blessing for us as a creative duo.  We’ve been discussing our ideas/hopes/dreams for the future of Sweet Tea, Science, and you can rest assured that we are cooking up some exciting content for 2015!

We are so thankful for all of our fantastic readers and everyone who has read and shared our posts in 2014.

The top five STS blog posts from our inaugural year are as follows:

  1. STS and the Super Science Side of Tumblr’s TA Tips 
  2. Getting a Motivational Makeover
  3. Tricks of the Trade: LaTeX
  4. Ten Tips for Tackling that Thesis!
  5. What’s in Her (Field) Bag?
What’s in Store for 2015:
  • More guest posts
  • Rachel getting married!
  • The continuation and conclusion of our Amazing Besties National Park Road Trip Series! (About time, right?)
  • Meridith’s qualification exams.
  • Tons of photos of Rachel’s quality time in the marsh!
  • More science travel and conference visits!
  • Lots of Tumblr posts all week long in addition to weekly blog posts on Tuesdays! 
Thanks for the love and support this year. We’re also eager to hear all about your plans and motivation for the future, so make sure to drop us a comment/note/tweet/carrier pigeon! 

Top 5 Science Podcasts

Screen capture from my list of podcasts!

I’ve been out of the academic atmosphere for over a year now. Sometimes I just really miss getting my learn on. Academia pretty much ruled my entire life before I graduated with my MS degree (and it’s about to take back over!), so you would think I’d enjoy a well deserved break from, well…thinking. But no, I missed it terribly and have found becoming an avid podcast listener to be one of my more enjoyable hobbies. I love that I have a nice little list of podcasts queued up on my phone, so whenever I find myself with an extra 20 minutes or so I can just hit play. There’s no decision making, which is really nice for someone as indecisive as I am.

While I’m sure the internet has many sites for finding podcasts, iTunes is a great starting place. Their podcasts are collected, organized, and ranked, making it easy to browse categories of your interest and subscribe to those you’d like to have pushed to your device. Again, I always listen on my phone, but you can choose where to store your podcasts. I download a few episodes at a time when I’m around wi-fi so I don’t have to use up any cellular data. If you aren’t able to listen in this manner (maybe you don’t have a compatible phone/device) there are a few alternatives. Android users can use the Podkicker app. You can listen through iTunes on your PC. You could listen through a podcast website, such as Podcast Alley, from any computer. Several podcasts even have their own websites where you can listen.

I have loads to listen to currently.

I originally listened most of the time in the car. I often had 30 minute drives to/from schools when I substitute taught or between going to tutor the kiddos. However, now that I am about to settle down in Penn State sans car, there are plenty of other times I have been able to squeeze in a listen. People who conduct research often have simple, yet time consuming tasks to accomplish. Try listening to podcast or two while processing those samples or running those tests. I know a few runners that enjoy listening to podcasts while they go for a jog. Really, most times you are listening to music you could switch to an informative podcast instead*! If you’re really trying to get your learn on in a shorter amount of time, you can always listen to podcasts on 1.5x speed and enjoy a slightly faster, more hilarious experience.

When I first started storing podcasts on my phone I got very overwhelmed by all the options and episodes and those mocking red bubbles with the number of new episodes available! I actually ended up deleting and unsubscribing from everything for a while. I was spreading myself too thin. I can’t catch, errr, listen to ‘em all (editor’s note: Meridith’s geek girl side is one of my favorite things about her!). After this period of initial frustration, I went back and resubscribed to only a few podcasts, this time being much more selective. I also only focused on finding recent episodes that related to my interests. Then, I download these specific episodes so they are ready when I am!

Top Natural Science Podcasts on iTunes

You want a few suggestions? Here are some of mine and Rachel’s favorite podcasts.

 Sweet Tea, Science’s Favorite Science Podcasts

    1. Science Friday [Tumblr, website, Twitter]
    2. The Naked Scientists [website, Twitter]
    3. The family of “How Stuff Works” Podcasts (esp. Stuff You Should Know and Stuff You Missed in History Class, which often has science history episodes!)
    4. Star Talk [Tumblr, website, Twitter]
    5. RadioLab [Tumblr, website, Twitter]

     Bonus: New podcast BBC World Service Elements


    Tell us your tale! Are you on the Podcast Bandwagon? Have any favorite ones (science or otherwise) that you’d like to recommend? Just checked out one of our recommendations and loved/hated it? Let us know in the comments!

     *I just turned off my music and turned on SciFri. Listening to my own advice!