Many of us grew up leaning towards the arts or math and sciences. Some feel they’re more talented or inclined towards one or the other. There is, of course, the special few that have a strong footing in both.
Combining the best of both worlds is no easy feat. Communicating science, whether it’s to educate audiences on a certain topic or to compel individuals to make a behavioral change, is an art in and of itself.
How do we communicate science to audiences in a digestible way? How do we cultivate wonderment and awe to elevate and change minds? Here are seven components from researchers on effective science communication. The following emphasizes visual communication, but it is applicable across a variety of mediums.
Science is complex. Avoid packing in technically loaded phrases or research-heavy jargon. Effective pieces keep things simple, clear, and to the point. You’re not diluting or dumbing down your content. Rather, you get to the heart of the message right off the bat.
Communicate the core of the message or takeaway in a succinct way. Dumping too much information can confuse audiences and deter them from supporting a cause.
To echo another blog we shared, novelty is a powerful ingredient in grabbing attention. Consider starting your content with novel or unique visuals. Sprinkle it throughout the piece. Novelty engages the brain in a matter of seconds.
People have to explore the unfamiliar. It fosters curiosity or breaks everyday patterns. Science at its core is a space of discovery. Researchers suggest that scientists need to reveal gaps in their knowledge through creating an emotional need, then filling those gaps.
It’s easy to assume that most people will understand abstract language. It’s often used in science communication. For example, if someone mentions “sustainable development,” what comes to mind? It’s hard to picture. In contrast, if someone says, “crop rotation” or “building solar panels,” it’s easier to illustrate the image in one’s mind.
Effective science communication uses concrete messages that appeal to the senses. If you can visualize it, you’re more likely to remember it. Try to use concrete messages with tangible qualities whenever possible. Use metaphors and analogies. There’s a reason why writers use illustrative tools like these to convey complex ideas and feelings.
Scientists are usually regarded as trustworthy sources, considering their robust and calculated research within an area of expertise. However, there’s another component of credibility sought by younger viewers, especially on YouTube: likability.
We live in an age where an amplitude of vloggers reside within the YouTube space. Young viewers who identify and empathize with online vloggers are more likely to relinquish their trust. Personality is more important than ever.
How do you balance being professional and likeable? It’s important to maintain confidence or a sense of authority. You still have to support your facts. However, if your delivery is dry, your information will fall into a void of boredom. Attention spans are shrinking. Don’t force it, but find a way to be authentic and personable. Identify your audience and lean into how they’d relate to you or the character.
As mentioned, authenticity is key. Emotions themselves are portrayals of authenticity. Characters are foundational to a powerful message. Show them experiencing joy, awe, or nostalgia. Capture people being themselves. Those people should represent the human experience within whatever topic you’re exploring.
An important note is to emphasize positive emotions instead of negative emotions. Evoke inspiration and hope instead of anxiety and despair. Researchers say positive emotions are beneficial long-term and expands individuals’ capacity to take action.
Some of us may have experienced the sensation of getting lost in a book or movie. We lose awareness of our surroundings, as all of our senses are absorbed in the narrative. This state of immersion is described as “transportation” by researchers. It’s one of the most powerful cognitive mechanisms that can lead to persuasion and attitude change.
No matter how technical it may seem, having story in science is a powerful combination. A story, or narrative, that can induce transportation requires several components. One of them is character identification. When an audience feels empathy towards a character’s goals, they become invested. This identification boosts the likelihood of attitude, belief, and behavioral change in audiences.
Solutions, solutions, solutions. Research indicates that solutions-focused, emotional storytelling, is seen as engaging, believable, and most importantly, empowering.
These types of stories are more likely to stimulate behavioral change or shift in perspective. For example, some are fatigued or overwhelmed from the doom and gloom underlying climate crisis communication. Younger demographics are hungry for solutions and hope. They want real-life applications with what they’re watching.
Finally, solutions-focused messages also promote self-efficacy. This refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to execute behaviors necessary to reach a certain goal. Guide them to visualize themselves being a part of the change. Don’t make it complicated or cumbersome. They cannot do so if they feel overwhelmed or discouraged.
And don’t forget
None of this will work if you’re unsure of one of the most foundational necessities in any form of communication: know your audience. Defining your audience will inform your specific approach with each of these components. Take the time to analyze them. What kinds of stories can they relate to?
There’s no hard wall between science and the arts. Like most things in the universe, it’s all interconnected and intertwined. Harmony can be found within any duality. Science communication is a refined art form, one that allows science to emerge from the depths of the unknown into the curious minds of diverse audiences.