The First Three Steps

Any science communication activity needs to be approached with careful consideration. You are effectively an advocate for your subject. To make the most of your activity, think of yourself as conducting a marketing campaign using this simple three step approach:

Step one: You have a certain message that you want to share with an audience. Distilling what this message is will be your first step. Do you wish to challenge an attitude? Explain a topic to your audience? Embed a new skill in your audience? Maybe invite your stakeholders to contribute to your field or provide you with data? The first question is always, “What do you want from your audience?”  If you have too many aspects to your ‘message’ they may be lost on your audience so prioritise the most important and focus on these. Ask yourself what you want them to remember in six months. These are your aims; the reasons for the project, and what you want to achieve.

Step two means you need to know your audience. The second important question is, “What will motivate them to become engaged in your topic?” What is in it for them? What are their needs? How do they align with your needs? Are there barriers that stand in the way of them receiving your message? Are they an audience considered hard to reach? What skills do they already have? If working with school-children, their teachers and curriculum can guide you. Other audiences may not be so obvious.

Whoever they are, you need to KNOW your audience and understand why your aims will be important to them. Depending on your initial ideas about how to reach them, you may need to answer specific questions. What are their interests? How do they get their news? What lifestyle habits do they have? Where can you access these people and how can you approach them? For instance, to reach a young adult audience you may consider the internet as a prime route of how they get their news and entertainment. Would a viral YouTube video reach them better than an advert on local radio? Recognise that they are central to your strategy and you need to reach out to them, not the other way round. Even at science festivals, you will still be competing for an audience to engage with you over other stands and show. Without everything being aligned to your audience, your communication strategy will fail.

Finally, when you have identified your message and you know your audience well, you need to find an interesting way to get your message to them so they can engage with you. This is the most creative part of what you will do and will primarily be guided by the first two steps and then by your imagination, confidence, skills and experience. My best recommendation is to look at the things you like doing, maybe as a hobby or pastime, and see whether there is overlap between your audience and these things. Notice I did not say, “Look at your strengths”. You may have to stretch yourself; step out of your comfort zone, and try something you have never done before. Never forget your audience overrule you! Are they the sort of audience who will be drawn towards your baroque-style recital telling the story of the industrial revolution, or would it appeal in a hip-hop form?

Once you have ideas about these three things, it is time to start organising how you intend to make it happen. Let’s look at planning next.

Next: Setting your objectives