Dr Falkner Goes to Canberra Day 1 “Getting your science out of the lab” (#smp2014 #AdelED @rodl @willozap)

Ok, the play is over and it was interesting but effectively uncaptureable in this format – you can see it in the Tweet stream. Sorry about that. The speakers for this session Dr Rod Lambert and Dr Will Grant, both of the ANU Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Here’s a chance to practice a 60 second pitch of your science – which will be held after the convenience break.

It’s been an intense morning so the banter, which would normally be quite engaging, appears to be losing some of the people in the audience from looking around. Hopefully they’ll settle in shortly.

A question from the floor – there’s some anxiety about the purpose of the meeting, how to approach it, how to build for it and how to build on it afterwards. Answer: all communication is personal. What are you trying to say? Say it to the person opposite you as if they are a person – because they are. Remember that the politician is happy to meet you – let’s start from there and build some common ground. Stick to your own persona and be yourself. You can tailor your personality but don’t go overboard. The meeting may not go to the details you want, but don’t overwhelm with caveats and detail. Listen to the other person, hear their values and motivations and, once again, tailor your message.

Question from the floor – scientists are trained to respond in a particular way where we are very rarely certain but we are actually quite certain enough for most intentions out in the community. How much do you present the uncertainty (without misrepresenting it). Politicians don’t act in certainty and have to make risk calculations before they take action. Talk enough but know when to stop.

You can’t offer a doom and gloom – you need to offer a solution and a way out, something that the politician can do. Be simple in discussions: “My research can do X, then possibly label it.” If you get a blank look, back off, shift down, go forward. You are aiming to communicate, not impress with your intellect. Remember you’re representing someone and you can fall back onto their agendas!

I realise many of my friends don’t necessarily agree with this but the common message is that you have to be good at the show, as well as good at the science, because without communications it doesn’t get communicated. It makes me a bit sad to agree with this because I know some wonderful people who aren’t as great in front of an audience – but this means you need a screaming front person who can help you with it to get the ‘right’ people listening.

And, yes, I’m for hire. (You’ll need to speak to my manager.)

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