This blog post is just for scientists. It comes from many workshops with scientists and science technicians. And I hope you’ll forgive me for being direct.
I’ve experienced this scene many times…
The scientist gets to his or her feet, reluctance showing in body and eye language even before the first word is uttered. Within seconds of speaking the sub message of the presentation is completely obvious to the audience: I don’t want to be here speaking to you. That automatically disengages the audience. No matter how sympathetic they are, they feel a lowering of respect and – even for fellow scientists – it’s harder for them to understand and absorb the message.
Why do scientists in particular find public speaking so difficult?
Because they have extra challenges to speaking. Two stand out. The science discipline is inherently impersonal, deliberately isolated from human feelings. Also, many of those attracted into science are introverted (a large majority of scientists describe themselves as shy). Both factors separate speaker from audience, even when the audience is fellow scientists.
Understanding the beliefs that hold scientists back
Now, I want to help rather than criticize. I love how swiftly scientists respond when they understand how their own beliefs have been affecting their presentations.
Here are classic examples of such beliefs. They’re fascinating because most parade as common sense, but when they’re used to avoid the risks of confidence they can and do cripple presentations.
First these almost universal beliefs...
Then these extra land-mine beliefs for scientists...
Being a scientist and an engaging speaker benefits all of us
In July 2014, the Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce and Education Minister Hekia Parata launched the Government’s action plan to encourage engagement with science and technology across all sectors of New Zealand.
It’s about time. School enrolments in science subjects have been dropping for years. Also, the digital universe is upon us – the community is inundated by emotions pretending to be facts. If for no other reason, we need science as a steadying force.
Ultimately, New Zealand needs its own science ‘stars’ - scientists so confident, so enthusiastic, so engaged with real people that young people in particular think, “Wow, science is so interesting. I want to be a scientist.”