Sara Shinton is a freelance research educator who works for a range of universities north of the Scottish border. I’ve followed Sara on Twitter for ages and kept meeting people who love her work. After a series of missed attempts to meet during my visits to the UK, I did wonder if we were destined to be academic ships in the night, but Sara made a big effort to come and have breakfast with me when I was in Edinburgh in early June.
It really was a pleasure to finally sit and talk shop with a fellow traveller. At the end of our breakfast Sara kindly gave me a copy of a book called “53 interesting ways to communicate your research”*, an edited collection of advice which features some of her writing.
The book is the latest in the ‘53’ interesting things series, which includes books on teaching and learning. All the books in the series are full of short, practical snippets of advice that you can dip into for ideas. In fact, they are very blog like in their tone. I already own the 53 book on lecturing and it’s one of my ‘go to’ references whenever I am preparing a new workshop. So I had high expectations of 53 interesting ways to communicate your research – and I wasn’t disappointed.
The book covers a range of communications types and challenges within academia and outside of it. Some of the topics include turning your thesis into a book, turning your research into a lecture, writing op-eds, doing radio interviews, webinars conference posters, abstracts, blogging, tweeting at conferences and many more. No section is more than 3 pages long, so you can imagine how jam packed this book is with useful and relevant information.
By way of convincing you it’s worth investing your hard earned cash, here is a list of 10 things I learned just from flicking through the book on the train ride from Edinburgh to London:
- Include a QR code on your conference posters Suggests Steve Hutchinson. One of the challenges of the poster format is how to avoid doing what Hutchinson calls ‘your thesis on a sheet’. The short section on posters includes advice on word count (400 – 600) and suggests that you use a QR code to lead people to more information. Genius.
- Visual Cognitive dissonance (VCD) is an interesting technique suggested by Debbie Braybrook. VCD happens when the audience is confused by how the image on your slide relates to what you are saying. The book points out that this can be used as a kind of ‘visual cliff-hanger’ to keep your audience interested, so long as your verbal presentation eventually helps them make the connection.
- The ‘news hook’ is a key ingredient of the op-ed piece says Eleanor Carter. Op Eds tend to be about 800 words long and relate in some way to current events. A common tactic is to make a “simple statement of the argument” the author wants to confront, and then spend the rest of the words making a counter argument. Something all researchers should be good at!
- Consider using objects in your presentations says Anthony Haynes. If you are presenting your scientific experiment, why not bring in some of the equipment? If you are doing a history thesis, maybe you could bring in objects from the period (or reproductions). This tactic works, the author argues, because we are all used to slides. The shift into 3D is unexpected and can make the audience curious about what you have to say.
- Mix up the ‘texture’ of podcasts says Lucy Blake. The most interesting podcasts are composed of more than one voice or type of sound. Try getting a friend to interview you, make a podcast of a group discussion or record other kinds of sounds and cut them in.
- When presenting, think in threes suggests Aiofe Brophy Haney. Good stories have a beginning middle and end. The end should ‘resolve’ the story somehow. suggests a 3×3 matrix. Here’s one I made for a 20 minute presentation on social media I have to do in a couple of weeks time:
Topic: how to grow and use your social networks
|The strategies||The tools||The problems|
|Finding and following the right people||Twitter / Facebook / Linkedin||Dealing with ‘information smog’|
|Feeding your network||Flipboard / Scoop-it / Twitter||Remembering where you put stuff|
|Contributing to the conversation||Micro-blogging
Being a good commenter
|Finding time within your schedule and space in your job description|
- Keep a checklist of Tweet types. Sara Shinton points out that some people can fear Twitter because they don’t know what to say. She provides a short, but useful list of possible tweets: signpost to resources (links to other blogs, journal articles); publicise an event, react to something (a news article, a conference presentation) or ask for help.
- Think about how to repackage yourself and your skills in a job interview says Caron King, who breaks down the process of describing yourself and your skills into three ‘E’s’:
- Elicit everything you know and have done by writing it all down.
- Explain what you have done and delivered, including the impact you have made.
- Then think of how to provide evidence, using data wherever possible.
- There are only five types of questioner says Lucinda Becker: Confused, Oratory (basically intent on giving a mini lecture disguised as a question), aggressive, unexpected and helpful. She goes on to give good advice about how to deal with each type.
- When going for a non academic job, speak the employer’s language says Steve Joy. Planning experiments becomes ‘project management’, Supervision becomes ‘leadership’, presenting at conferences becomes ‘engaging with stakeholders’.
This last one is brilliant advice I wish I’d known sooner, in fact – a lot of the book is like that. Go and buy it if you are the slightest bit more interested in how to talk about your research, and yourself, in ways that others can easily understand.
Have you used any of these techniques, or do you have one good communication tip to share? Love to hear about them in the comments.
*I don’t put every book we review in my Amazon associates store, but I loved this one so much I did. My store is a carefully curated selection of what I consider to be the best books to help you do a PhD. I use the money I raise through the Amazon store to buy books to support my work on the blog, or to buy new books for review if the publishers have not sent a copy already.
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