My specialty at Research!America is communications. With that in mind, I'll be presenting the four bases for successful communication – with the public, with media, with anyone who doesn’t have a science background. Why four bases? Touch all four, and it’s a home run. (I can’t believe I wrote that.)
For the sake of Sports Cliché Week (July 11 to 17), I'm reversing everything I’ve taught myself since 1997. In a 12-year career as a sportswriter, I groaned at the sight of “gridders” and “cagers.” I shook my head at stories that began with, “What a difference a year makes.” I became visibly agitated at clichés of construction (overbearing parallel structure (right column)), thought (cursory opinions with no insight) and, of course, verbiage (Player X stepped up! Armchair quarterbacks! Any catchphrase from a SportsCenter anchor after the Craig Kilborn era!).
So, with great mental anguish and a healthy sense of humor, we press on.
It's a single up the middle – a worm-burner, a Texas leaguer, whatever; a hit’s a hit – and Jimmy Hitsalot makes the big turn around…
First base: Show, don’t tell.
This is the first rule of any communication. Think of it like this: If you were speaking to a group of middle schoolers, you’d certainly have demonstrations and examples to drive home the point you’re talking about. Are kids of that age going to listen to a lecture? Of course not.
Just because you’re excited about a certain subject doesn’t mean that others are. But the good news is that you can get them excited.
When you’re speaking, think about your audience beforehand and figure out ways to engage them in what you’re talking about. Different audiences will have different interests (though I think we can all agree that explosions would be cool for any audience). It’s your job, then, to connect the dots between what you’re trying to say and how you’re going to show this to the audience.
When you’re writing, think about word pictures and details. Which sounds more interesting?
Choice A: “A chemical reaction happens, and the liquid rises out of the beaker and spills over the side.”Choice B is significantly more enthralling. You build suspense, and supplement that with words that can put a visual into your readers’ minds.
Choice B: “At the instant the two liquids meet, something begins to happen. Bubbles form. Smoke rises. The reaction grows - quickly - beyond the capabilities of its container. This angry combination of chemicals boils over like an unwatched pot.”
The beauty of the English language is the flavors of words: blue, aqua, turquoise and teal all mean roughly the same thing – but each is slightly different than the other. Challenge yourself to find unique ways to describe a certain event or action.
Be wary of overwriting, however. Make sure your details are relevant to what you’re talking about, and don’t meander. It’s easy to get caught up in creating this beautiful prose, but it will be for naught if your reader gets bogged down in all of the details.
Jimmy's not getting bogged down, though. The stone-handed left fielder bobbles the ball. So he's heading, full steam, for ...
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Brian Hunsicker is the communications specialist at Research!America. He has a Bachelors of Arts from Moravian College in English. This is his first guest post for New Voices.