OR&R at Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science Boot Camp
This workshop was intended for scientists – including faculty members, post docs, and graduate students who are eager to improve their skills in communicating science to the public. The attendees represented scientists from multiple specialties and backgrounds – astronomers, molecular biologists, medical doctors, science grant individuals, professors, psychiatrists, and more.
The program teaches flexible skills that are applicable to communicating with a range of people outside their own field, including students, funders, employers, policymakers, community members, and scientists in other disciplines.
This intensive 3-day training included workshops from their foundational courses, as well as presentation skills which will be incorporated into a culminating webinar activity. Using improvisational techniques Alan Alda had learned in 50 years of acting on stage and on-screen, he devised what has come to be called The Alda Method®. Since 2009, thousands of scientists and doctors have participated in Alda Method workshops.
Basic to the training is the concept of “What is your story?” We are connected through stories – they are not incidental to the point we are making, but a vehicle that can open the channel of human interaction that is experienced by everyone in the room. Something hooked you to your science. Bring us along in that story – it will not dumb down your work, but reveal a connection to the work that the audience needs to understand from a first-hand perspective. Alan Alda refers to this as the first and second phases of the public’s blind date with science – attraction and infatuation. Connection is not emotional weakness – but strong, passionate investment in sharing your story.
Improvisation is fundamental to the program because it gives you ways to connect with an audience, which is the first essential step in communicating. In the improvisation workshops this week, we focused on paying attention to the other people, anticipating and meeting their needs, reading their reactions and taking responsibility for landing a clear message.
The culmination of the boot camp is an on-camera interview with feedback from instructors and peers. Following the conclusion of the training students reconvene to deliver a webinar on their area of scientific work using the skills learned.