Tag Archives: tips

How to get researchers involved in public engagement

A researcher at my institution has written a blog for the Wellcome Trust about the public engagement event we ran from February-May 2014: Magnificent Microbes. 

Hints on best practice include:

  1. Ask questions! Children can get distracted quite easily so the best way to keep their attention is to ask them what they know. This will also prevent you from telling them things that they know already.
  2. Make your activities as hands-on as possible – really enable your audience to get involved.
  3. Think about your target audience; can you present the exhibit to both young children and adults? How will you tailor what you say to suit them?
  4. Make your exhibit relevant. There is no better way to engage your audience, particularly children, than to make them realise how your research affects them personally. For instance, we use the formation of plaque on your teeth as an example of how biofilms are medically important. This allows us to engage with children by asking them how often they brush their teeth and why they think it’s necessary.
  5. Calculate the quantities of consumables you will need. It doesn’t do any harm to overestimate slightly, but be prepared to be flexible with what you have. In our case we ended up having to ask families to share particular props, as we ran short towards the end of the event.
  6. Don’t over simplify the exhibit to accommodate children. I was really pleasantly surprised at just how much the kids took away from what we told them.

Signposting

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A bit of jargon in itself, signposting means to tell your audience what to expect from your activity at the beginning (though you can also signpost throughout, as a reminder). Signposting allows your audience to feel more confident and comfortable with what is going on, since they know what’s coming, and it can be quite important to reassure them, for example, that you’re not going to talk at them forever and that there will be some fun, interactive bits coming up soon! It also can help flag up the most important bits of your activity so that people can make sure to take them away from the experience.

Phrases you might include:

  • My topic today is…
  • First of all, I’ll… 
  • …and then I’ll go on to…
  • Then/ Next…
  • Finally/ Lastly…
  • You can ask questions at any point…
  • This is important because…
  • If you only remember one thing…
  • To summarise…

The important thing to remember is that your job is to engage with people when doing science communication and the best way to do that is to make it a two-way street or dialogue. Don’t drag them with you and expect them to follow along blindly; instead, let them know what’s coming so they can prepare and anticipate. Doing so will make it much easier for them to relax and enjoy what you’re sharing with them, and it may help them remember things from your interaction far better in the future.