Tuesday, April 7, 2009

You, Brussel Sprouts, & Supermodels

Yesterday FlyGal wrote about learning that science communication needs to be more than just feeding information to the public. This leads perfectly into the next of Borchelt's points in the Research Roadmap for Science Communication:
Science communication should meet the needs and desires of the audience.
There are three specific points I want to make about this finding.

Communication is about the audience, not the communicator.
It's all about you. And "you" is your audience.

One of the most permeating things I've learned is that communication should appeal to the person receiving it. The sure-fire way to make that happen is to make the message about them. Think about some of the marketing campaigns of the 100 most popular social brands: #39 Just do it and #57 Have it your way. I bet you don't even have to look at the list to know those brands. And in the top ten, every one of the brands represents a product line that is designed for personalization and a true customer experience - heck, two of them have "i" in the name.

Sure, the company is happy you remember their name. But they want you to remember that this experience is about you - that they're working for you. And that's the feeling you want people to walk away from science communication with too.

Needs and desires are not the same thing.
Brussel sprouts are good for you. Gummy bears are not.

I'm not going to delve into this too much because I think we can all recognize the difference between telling someone the truth and what they want to hear. But the point here is that communicators should be able to establish the difference between the needs and desires of their audience and communicate to fulfill both.

If you can easily read above an 8th grade reading level, chances are your needs and desires are different than those of the general public.
Supermodels don't wear crocs (in public).*

Scientists are different from the general public in more than just educational background. There is a culture, a methodology; science is just a different world. That world intersects with the "real world" everywhere and in lots of ways (which is what we hope you're communicating). Like traveling, even if you come from one place, you need to respect the cultures and habits of another. It's more than just simplifying your vocabulary - it's knowing what's important and why it matters.

I know it sometimes seems inconceivable that people don't want all the details, don't want to pursue the question further, or won't go in search of more information. But then again, isn't any number being put to the zero power equaling one a little strange too?

I guess it just depends on your perspective.

For more on communicating to your audience, check out Your Attention, Please. a book on "how to appeal to today's distracted, disinterested, disengaged, disenchanted, and busy audiences" by Paul Brown and Alison Davis. It's a very quick read, broken up into short, digestible chapters.

*I have no proof of this.

This is Part 3 of 6 in the Research Roadmap for Public Communication of Science & Technology Series
Part 1 - Audiences for science communication (here and here).
Part 2 - Understanding versus appreciation of science.

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