Program

Communicating Science Program

Overview

Join Alan Alda, The Kavli Foundation, and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science for an innovative workshop, January 16-18,2014, hosted by the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), at Stanford University and SLAC.

As host of the PBS program Scientific American Frontiers, Alan Alda interviewed 700 scientists around the world. Now, as a founding member of the Alda Center at Stony Brook University, he is helping scientists learn to communicate effectively with the public, including public officials, funders, employers, students, the media, and potential collaborators in other disciplines.

The workshop, led by Alan Alda and representatives from the Alda Center at Stony Brook University, will focus on science communication to reporters, philanthropists, policymakers and the public. This is a 3-day program, with two days of required workshops followed by an optional third day for participants who want more intensive practice. Participants will focus first on improving their skills in understanding and connecting with an audience, and speaking clearly about complex material. Then they will work on applying these skills productively in challenging settings, using scenarios and materials tailored to their real-world needs. This will include practice interviews by reporters on video.

The workshop will be run in two tracks - a master class for those with prior experience in public communication, policy or media and shorter introductory track.

This workshop is sponsored by  KIPAC.


Program
Workshop sessions include:

Improvisation for Scientists
This approach helps scientists connect more directly, and respond more spontaneously, to others. It's not about acting or comedy - it's about paying dynamic attention to the people you're talking with.
Distilling Your Message
How to talk clearly and conversationally about complex science without "dumbing it down."
Media Interview Skills
How to convey the heart of your message concisely, while responding to sometimes unpredictable questions

The workshop will have two tracks:

Track 1: Scientists in leadership positions often are deeply engaged in communicating with the public. They not only need to explain what they do and why it matters; they also need to speak for their institutions, respond to new developments, and make the case for the importance of science to a wide variety of lay audiences. For scientists like these, who are experienced communicators, Track 1 offers master classes to help them hone their skills. This is a 2-day program, with an optional third day for participants who want more intensive practice. Track 1 application is by invitation only.

Track 2: Many scientists are practiced in presenting to professional audiences, but have little experience or training in effective ways to communicate about complex science to those who don't speak the language of their discipline. Track 2 will give such scientists a strong foundation in communicating about their work with a variety of audiences, from students to employers to the media to potential collaborators in other disciplines. This 2-day program will take place on Friday and Saturday with optional lecture by Alan Alda, "Helping the Public Get Beyond a Blind Date With Science", on Thursday night.
 

Track 1

Draft

Thursday, Jan 16: Rethinking fundamental skills

9-10 am: What is the meaning of this? (Alan Alda, Howard Schneider and Liz Bass)

A group exercise in conveying the meaning of complex information so non-scientists can understand. 

10-1 pm:  Improvisation for Scientists - - (Alan Alda, Valeri Lantz-Gefroh and Lydia Franco-Hodges)

Improvisational theater exercises require you to pay close, dynamic attention to others, to read body language and nonverbal cues, and to respond freely.  This is not about acting or making things up. It is about shifting your focus from what you are saying to what the other person is receiving.  This can help you make a more direct and personal connection with your audience.

1-2 pm:  Lunch 

2-3 pm: Introduction to Distilling Your Message - - (Howard Schneider & Liz Bass)

Speaking clearly and conversationally about science, without jargon or “dumbing it down,” is a challenge. This interactive presentation suggests tools and examples to help scientists communicate in ways that resonate with non-scientists.  

3-5:30 pm: Distilling Your Message breakout sessions

Meeting in small groups, we will work on engaging listeners, using different approaches and using the power of storytelling to communicate in memorable ways.

5:30-6 pm: Feedback on the day

7:00 pm: “Helping the Public Get Beyond a Blind Date With Science” - - Talk by Alan Alda

Why is it important to communicate about science, and how can scientists do it better?  What are the challenges for people representing their institutions or presenting their work to public officials, funders, the press and other groups? Alan Alda will share insights and challenges, drawing on his personal experiences. 

Optional for Track 1 participants. Open by reservation to the Stanford community.


Friday, Jan 17: Applying Skills

On Day 1, we worked on connecting with audiences and distilling messages.  On Day 2, we’ll apply the lessons of Improvisation and Distilling in more challenging settings. After a warm-up, half the group will take Media Interview Skills, while the other half will take Improv II.  After lunch, the groups will switch, so each participant will take both workshop sessions.  The day will end with an evaluation session.  

9:30-10 am:   Warm-up, using improvisation skills

10 am- 1pm:  First workshop session

Media Interview Skills

Participants will practice doing a television interview, answering questions clearly and briefly. This is a challenging form of Distilling Your Message.  The interviews will be recorded on video for immediate playback.

Improv II (Improv Applications)

Participants will work on applying the skills of Improvisation and Distilling Your Message in different settings. This includes building physical confidence and using role-playing to help participants deliver their message to their favorite -- and least favorite -- audiences. 

1-2 pm: Lunch

2-5 pm: Second workshop session (same workshops as in the morning)

5-5:30 pm: Reflecting on Our Experiences

We discuss our experiences. What approaches worked better? What choices were productive? Has your approach to communicating changed and, if so, how?

5:30-6 pm: Opportunities for Outreach

How the Stanford University communications staff can help you put your communication skills to good use in outreach, advocacy and public education.


Saturday, Jan 18: Digging Deeper (optional third day)

Track 1 participants can extend their work into a third day by taking two additional sessions. 

9:30 am-12 pm:  First optional session  

Advanced Media Training

Participants will get additional interview practice and feedback tailored to their individual needs and experiences. For many, this is likely to focus on the difficult skill of simultaneously being responsive and being in control of an interview. Or it could focus on meeting a particular communications challenge, such as handling hostile questions or explaining risk, or on preparing for a specific kind of media encounter. Participants will be able to download their interviews later to use as they wish.

Making the Case for Science

Science leaders need to be able to communicate effectively with members of Congress and other policymakers if they are going to build support for their institution, their field, and the overall importance of scientific research and the scientific approach. This session will help participants find common ground (and a common language) with policymakers. The session will be interactive, with role-playing scenarios that can be shaped to the participants' specific needs.

12-1 pm: Lunch

1 – 3:30 pm: Second optional session, with the same two choices as in the morning.

Track 2

Thursday, Jan. 16: Keynote

7:00 pm: “Helping the Public Get Beyond a Blind Date With Science” - Talk by Alan Alda

Why is it important to communicate about science, and how can scientists do it better?  What are the challenges for people representing their institutions or presenting their work to public officials, funders, the press and other groups? Alan Alda will share insights and challenges, drawing on his personal experiences. 

Required for Track 2 participants. Open by reservation to other members of the Stanford community.

Friday, Jan 17:  Improving fundamental skills

9-10 am: What is the meaning of this? An introduction to the program - (Alan Alda, Howard Schneider and Liz Bass)

A group exercise in conveying the meaning of complex information so non-scientists can understand. 

10 am-1 pm:  Improvisation for Scientists - (Lydia Franco-Hodges and Steve Marsh)

Improvisational theater exercises require you to pay close, dynamic attention to others, to read body language and nonverbal cues, and to respond freely.  This is not about acting or making things up. It is about shifting your focus from what you are saying to what the other person is receiving.  This can help you make a more direct and personal connection with your audience.

1-2 pm:  Lunch 

2-3 pm: Introduction to Distilling Your Message - (Howard Schneider & Liz Bass)

Speaking clearly and conversationally about science, without jargon or “dumbing it down,” is a challenge. This interactive presentation suggests tools and examples to help scientists communicate in ways that resonate with non-scientists.  

3-5:30 pm: Distilling Your Message breakout sessions

Meeting in small groups, we will work on engaging listeners, using different approaches and using the power of storytelling to communicate in memorable ways.

5:30-6 pm: Feedback on the day


Saturday, Jan. 18:  Applying Skills

9:30 am-12 pm:  Improv II - Improv Applications - (Lydia Franco-Hodges and Steve Marsh)

Participants will work on applying the skills of Improvisation and Distilling Your Message in different settings. This includes building physical confidence and using role-playing to help participants deliver their message to their favorite -- and least favorite -- audiences. 

12-1 pm: Lunch

1-3:30 pm: Media Interview Skills

We’ll practice doing a television interview, answering questions clearly and briefly. This is a challenging form of Distilling Your Message.  The interviews will be recorded on video for immediate playback.

3:30-4:30 pm:  Reflecting on Our Experiences

We discuss our experiences. What approaches worked better? What choices were productive? Has your approach to communicating changed and, if so, how?

4:30-5 pm: Opportunities for Outreach

How the Stanford University communications staff can help you put your communication skills to good use in outreach, advocacy and public education.