(This post is part of my Best Practices in Science Communication series. Check the original post for more information)
Know your audience: Tips and Techniques for different groups.
Use these ideas in your next classroom visit, public talk, or conversation on the sidewalk!
Young children: Kids say and do the darndest things, but they can also be the hardest audience to keep engaged. Let them use all their senses including looking, touching, and (sometimes) smelling to really get your point across. Got some samples from the field still in your lab? Bring them with you to facilitate observations with the kids! Young kids love the interaction and wow factor of your science activities and information. Always make it fun and hook them in.
If you plan to do an activity remember that young children need clear instructions. I often make the mistake of thinking that the the kids can figure it out on their own, but often they need to be told exactly what to do. (Bonus: following directions is often part of Pre-K and Kindergarten curriculum, so if you are in a classroom, the teacher will be happy to see that this is met).
Teens: Ah yes, the dreaded teenage years. I am still working on the best ways to reach aloof teens so please let me know YOUR suggestions. I like to treat teens like adults and make conversation with them. Teens love the “cool” factor and interesting stories. Teens today are so connected with the world that they often have ample stories about what they saw on the internet to guide your conversation. As the “spider-woman” (a non-self imposed title), I hear comments like “Did you hear about that story where the spider burrowed into the guy’s belly?” Those cool (although bizarre) stories are just what teens love! Don’t be worried about the sidetracking because you can always wrap it up with your message in the end.
In contrast to young children who need clear instructions, teens like a good physical or mental challenge. In a recent museum activity, we challenged people to perform better than nature’s superstars, like the brilliant crow seen here. The teens loved to show-off their skills especially when told how tough the challenge was. We also took a group of 50+ teenagers and had volunteers battle it out in the physical challenges (jumping, throwing, etc). A little healthy competition and showmanship goes over well with teens. Present your research as a challenge and let teens come up with their own solutions to stretch their brains.
Adults: Hey, that’s us! Most adults like to be treated as equals in a conversation. Open up for them to add experiences, insights, and personal connections. When I asked my parents (very non-sciencey people…sorry Mom and Dad!) about what makes them interested in a science story they said when it has a human connection (global warming, agriculture, habitat changes) and when it has the “wow” factor. Using one of those two hooks can help you get talking with adults and can help you lead the conversation towards your research.
Try it out!
Pick a friend and have them act as either a 5-year old, 16-year old, or adult. Practice telling them about what you do and what you research. Use the tips from above to keep them engaged for 1-2 minutes. (Bonus points for the friend that sits on the floor acting like a true 5-year old or plays on their phone the whole time as that typical teen.)