How to articulate your research to non-academic audiences
Being able to speak with non-academic audiences can help researchers and institutions demonstrate the value of their work to the public, explain the return on investment to funders, encourage donations and enhance a university’s reputation. With the rise of crowdfunding, it can even help a research project get funded. Because science is such a broad, varied enterprise, these skills can also help foster collaboration among scientists with widely different knowledge bases.
This isn’t necessarily intuitive, though.
“I think that’s one reason there’s so little cross-pollination,” says Heather Bowerman, the CEO of a healthcare startup company who has spent her career articulating scientific research to non-scientists. “Everyone is down their own rabbit hole and it’s really hard to crawl out of that and try to engage in other fields where you don’t have that background.”
Speaking to non-academic audiences, however, requires a different communication style and focus than discussing research with colleagues. Here are some tips for effective communication:
Talk about the benefits: The average reader doesn’t care how your discovery works or about scientific nuances. They care about the benefits and how it might affect their own lives. Benefits aren’t the same for everybody, though.
“So if I’m talking to a healthcare payer or insurer about my product, I’ll frame it in terms of dollars saved and outcome,” says Bowerman. “If I’m talking to a user, maybe I’ll talk about how easy my product is to use compared with something else they’d have to get done otherwise. For example, how to avoid an invasive diagnostic procedure and instead use a saliva test.”
Use analogies: When explaining difficult concepts, try to find a simple, everyday thing to use as an analogy.
Contact your PIO ASAP: Public information officers exist at every research institution and help researchers and leadership connect with the press while running university publications. Contact them as soon as possible, even before embargoes are lifted.
“That’s why you read articles that say, ‘published today in Science,’ because they knew about the paper ahead of time, and had time to prepare their interviews, talk to outside experts and finish their article and get it up in time,” says Heather Buschman, PIO at the University of California at San Diego.
When speaking with non-academic audiences, the most important thing to do is get directly to the point about the benefits of your innovation. The rest is about speaking to them in a way that’s easy for them to read.
“People are interested in what’s relevant to them,” emphasizes Bowerman.