#OTalk Research: 2nd June 2020 – ‘That’s interesting’ – communicating your research with a non-research audience.

Hosts: Camilla Long and Sarah Travers, Bespoke Communications

GuidedByTheScience has become an unofficial mantra as governments worldwide adopt measures to combat the #Covid19 pandemic. Robust scientific advice relies on objective, rigorous research. And as the pandemic has highlighted, it’s often people outside your specialist field who have the power to amplify your research outcomes. That can lead to a friction between accessibility and clarity – the age-old ‘dumbing down’ conundrum.

Let’s for a moment imagine pre-Covid times – you’re at a family event. Or that you’re striking up a conversation with the person beside you on a flight home from a conference. Or maybe you’re meeting an old schoolfriend for the first time in years. In response to the question, ‘ so what do you work at?’, you reply that you’re in research. There’s an encouraging nod and a lull in the conversation waiting for you to elaborate. You describe your research. There’s a brief pause. Then the person who asked the question looks at you, says ‘that’s interesting’ in a tone of voice that means anything but, and the conversation continues as though you never spoke at all.


This may have never happened to you! But making your research understood by your family and friends is a great first step in research communication. Your research is intertwined with the needs of other stakeholders in your discipline – be they patients, funders or other healthcare professionals. Communicating your research is about making it relevant to those general audiences, audiences who are made up of people with family, friends and lives outside their workplace just like you. Connecting with people and their needs is the first step in great research communication.
Effective communication opens opportunity for collaboration, consultation and inspiration. You’ve already done this without thinking about it – that time you recruited participants for a study, or the public consultation you ran to assess views and attitudes. What about your blog post or video that got shared by an influential clinician? Or the time you gave a talk in a local school that ended up connecting you with an important local support group? Well planned research communication leads to research outcomes that are more robust, build trust and have greater impact. In other words, great communication moves the response to your research from ‘that’s interesting’ to ‘wow, tell me more, that’s exactly what we need’.
But we’re all busy. And we don’t have time to spend on non-core activities. So, to help you to communicate for maximum impact, here are some questions for you to consider for this week’s #OTalk:

  1. Does your Research Institute value public engagement?
  2. How has communication with non-research stakeholders helped you?
  3. What’s the biggest challenge for you in communicating your research with a general audience?
  4. What public engagement communication activity have your personally undertaken – written articles and blog posts, videos on social media, presentations and talks, media interviews, other activity?
  5. What’s been the most worthwhile research communication activity that you’ve been involved in and why?
  6. After tonight’s #OTalk, what will you do differently when communicating with a non-academic audience?

Bespoke Communications (@bespoke_comms) is a leading people-development agency, specialising in communication – public speaking coaching, presentation skills, internal communications and media training. We help technical experts and researchers to access stakeholders with coaching for pitches, presentations, interviews and events.

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