Thursday, March 26, 2009

Communicating Without Jargon

Chronicles of a Science Policy Fellow

One of the first things I had to learn (and am still struggling with) is communicating without the technical jargon. It sounds simple. But, in reality, is really, really tough. Try explaining vaccine development without using the words peptide or antibody.

Using the correct (scientific) term is an integral part of getting trained to being a professional scientist. That is what I was trained to do for over a decade. Now, I have to learn ways to communicate the essence of the science without leaning on terms and words because they often mean nothing to non-scientists.

My first day at Research!America, I was chatting with my colleagues and they asked me what I did in the lab. I gave them a long-winded explanation and I tried really hard to not use technical terms. At the end of my spiel (which I thought I had done really well), one of my colleagues said, "I think I got about 10% of what you said." That stunned me.

Every scientist should have the three sentence elevator speech about what they do.
People want to know the "what and why" of any argument. But they don't want to spend hours listening to the minute details of the argument.

The difference between being an advocate and being an advocate that people pay attention to is largely a matter of being able to communicate well. No one questions the scientific credentials of scientists. Just by virtue of the fact that you have earned your PhD alone, you gain huge amounts of credibility in the public's eye. Translating that credibility into a platform for effective advocacy involves learning to communicate well.

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