Watershed Moments - Newsletter Article


Alan Alda Communications Workshop

Vermont EPSCoR hosted the Alan Alda Communications Workshop on February 3rd, 2015 at the UVM Davis Center.

The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University is dedicated to helping scientists more effectively communicate with the public, with funders, with policymakers, and with fellow scientists.

The goal was to help participants learn to communicate more effectively about science with people outside their field, including the general public, policy makers, the media, students, potential employers or funders and prospective collaborators in other disciplines. Through discussion and practice, we focused on fundamental skills -- knowing your audience, connecting with your audience, and speaking clearly and conversationally about your work and why it matters.

Improvisation for Scientists is a workshop pioneered by science advocate, Alan Alda. Participants took part in improvisational theater exercises aimed at helping them connect more directly and spontaneously with different audiences. This is not about turning scientists into actors or comedians, but about helping the participant recognize and engage with the audience on a level where the message of the scientist can land effectively with the listener. These games required participants to pay close, dynamic attention to others and emphasize the two-way nature of communication: What is received counts more than what is said. Through the course of training, participants investigated body language, listened with more awareness, and responded with greater sensitivity.

The combination of an interactive plenary and small group break-out workshops helped participants learn to speak clearly and vividly about their work and why it matters, in terms non-scientists can understand. Participants practiced finding common ground, speaking at different levels of complexity for different audiences, and answering questions about their work. The plenary addressed problems and solutions in public interactions as well as peer-to-peer communication.

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