Some of the best tips about speaking to reporters come from reporters themselves. The most memorable point for me came from National Public Radio Science Correspondent David Kestenbaum, who by the way, has a Ph.D. in physics. He energetically said to our audience of biomedical scientists at a media training, “You have to speak to me like I’m the drunk guy at the end of the bar.”
Apparently, he’s not alone in saying this. In 2010, Ireland’s Trinity College began sending its scientists to local pubs to explain their work to patrons in three minutes or less, an idea that has grown so popular it’s become a national competition held in a Dublin theater.
I learned this from a United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine article “Give It to Me Straight,” by Jon Marcus. He writes about the importance of science communication, offering several ways to help scientists communicate better to the public. Marcus tells us about Alex Mayer, a professor at Michigan Technological University, who sends graduate science students to teach middle school kids to get them familiar with the level of language they need to use with the general public. Remember, middle schoolers are approximately age 11-14! Mayer has the right idea. He says, “We need the public on our side. They write the checks, they pay the taxes and they elect the people who make decisions.”
There is actually a growing demand among employers for scientists and technical experts who can communicate clearly. Author Marcus writes, “The Keepers of the Knowledge, as it were, are being asked to share with the rest of us.”