The Alan Alda Center Helps NSPN Members Use Improv to Enhance Science Communication

On Friday, August 6th, a small group of NSPN members attended a Science Communication 101 workshop hosted by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Rather than explain core concepts in a lecture format, workshop leaders Nancy and Julia led participants through numerous hands-on, improvisational exercises meant to experientially practice communication skills. You can read more about the Alan Alda Center’s rationale for using improv tools here.

Here are a few of the key takeaways from the Science Communication 101 workshop:

1. Mistakes will happen and should be acknowledged, but shouldn’t misdirect you from your end goal. Use your communication mistakes to inform future decisions, but don’t accidentally let them drive you away from your communication goal. Throughout the workshop, a comical “Ta-da!” was used to casually acknowledge and move past mistakes during group activities.

2. Communication is a two-way street, and we need to care for our audience as much as possible. As communicators, we should adjust our strategies away from what’s easiest for us, and what is most helpful for our audience. It is not the audience’s obligation to keep up with us – instead, it’s the responsibility of the communicator to make it easy to keep up! We should take this into consideration when we prepare for communication and as we receive feedback from our audience. You can only succeed if you succeed together!

3. Look for common ground first and foremost, and build on what your audience already cares about. As scientists, we often default to defending science and sharing our knowledge, but we should prioritize building connections first. Our message becomes more powerful when we establish a report and better understand the values of our audience. A powerful exercise to practice this during the workshop was to try to spontaneously connect a science topic to a partner’s favorite hobby. Finding connections in unlikely places is a challenging but useful skill.

Although improv exercises can sometimes feel silly, the leaders from the Alan Alda Center excellently related small improv games to important science communication skills. One participant, Dani Bautista, particularly enjoyed that exercises allowed practice in “thinking on one's feet, being spontaneous, and developing the ability to connect with the listener,” and Srikanth Mahankali also added that “a significant aspect of my regular work also involves advocacy and communication, which will now only be enhanced” after the hands-on learning.

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NSPN is excited to increase its efforts in bringing science communication training to our community through the new Public Engagement and Communications committee. If you would like to get involved in the committee, please join us for our next meeting (joint with the Member Engagement Committee) or contact communications@scipolnetwork.org.

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