Effective Science Communication: How to give an interview as a scientist.
Given the opportunity, being interviewed as an expert in your field is the best way to try out science communication and immediately reach an audience while investing the least amount of time. But you also give up control over the message that is relayed to the audience.
To help you avoid unpleasant experiences I will share with you some need-to-know basics about communication and give you actionable advice on how to prepare for an interview in this and the following videos.
My name is Dennis Eckmeier, I was awarded a Ph.D. for my research on the neuroscience of innate animal behavior in 2010, and I was a postdoctoral researcher at internationally renowned research institutes until 2018.
Since 2017 I interview scientists on a variety of topics for my podcasts or for YouTube videos. On this channel, I have a couple of videos about academic writing and science communication.
This video is just the first of several in which I share some in-depth-experience about interviews. So, if you are interested, please subscribe, and press the bell. Since this channel is not my main outlet, videos come out irregularly, and without the bell, you probably will miss them.
If you don’t plan on putting a lot of effort into science communication, in the long run, knowing how to prepare and give interviews will provide the best returns on your efforts. And if you do plan on moving on with science communication, learning this skill will be a great starting point.
This is because you can focus on the core elements of science communication and outreach: sharing your expertise with a target audience that is not your colleagues. Everything else – writing popular articles or even produce, host, distribute, and promote your podcast or video channel and all that stuff – is done by someone else.
Now, that said, you still need to put in some preparation work to avoid those negative experiences, stories of which make the rounds among academics; ranging from the final piece having some mistake in it to the piece making exaggerated claims and even up to the point at which quotes were taken out of context to make it seem like the researcher was supporting questionable claims.
So, before we talk about communication, some cautionary words.
Not always are bad outcomes the result of some error in communication between the scientist and the journalist. Sometimes a journalist or an outlet simply isn’t trustworthy. So, before agreeing to give an interview, find out who you are talking to. Just as you would avoid submitting your work to a predatory journal.
Visit the website of the outlet and search for pieces on similar topics and pieces by the journalist you would be working with. If they are being overly provocative or take strong political stances you don’t want to be associated with, those are red flags.
You may find out the journalist interviewed someone you know; that person might be willing to share their experience with you. Call them!
Now that we have the housekeeping out of the way, let’s finally get to the communication part.
Media is plural for medium, which literally describes an agency or means to achieve something. And that is how you should approach the interview. You don’t “talk to the media” you talk to a non-expert audience through the media.
Being Mindful of the Target Audience
Because science journalists are professionals who often have some background in science, during the interview scientists often feel comfortable using their academic language. But the interviewer may not be fluent in your specific field variety of jargon, and – while you are making the job easier for yourself – you create an opportunity for miscommunication.
If you speak to the journalist as a representative of their target audience, you make adapting your words for their communication piece much easier. An added bonus is that they will be more likely to use literal quotes of what you said. They will also add you to their list of go-to experts if they find that you are working with them rather than making their job harder.
The Target Audience: Who Are They?
When preparing and giving the interview, imagine a member of the target audience to be in the room, listening. To address them appropriately, you need to know who they are.
How old are they?
Which educational level did they achieve?
What is their socioeconomic status?
Are they left- or right-leaning, or politically detached?
Are they just curious about a topic, or are they physically, emotionally or financially affected?
Journalists often have a clear definition of the stereotypical member of their audience. If they didn’t already tell you when they first contacted you, you should specifically ask who the target audience is.
You should also check the outlet. How do they position themselves? What is the niche they are filling? Are they the go-to website for patients affected by a specific genetic disorder you’ve been researching? Or do they inform high-tech entrepreneurs about the latest innovations that might disrupt the industry? Or do they make cute explainer videos that your children would appreciate?
The Target Audience: What Are Their Expectations?
While you are looking at the outlet, also take note of the tone they are using. Are they addressing the audience formally or non-formally? Which human needs do they appeal to? The mind? The heart? Or the wallet? Are they informational or educational? Entertaining? Inspiring? Motivational?
Imagine them communicating your expertise. Which aspects of your story may align best with the outlet’s mode of communication?
this is what we learned:
– The skill of giving interviews covers the minimum basics of what you need to know about science communication.
– In case you don’t know them, yet, thoroughly check the journalist that contacted you, and the outlet they will publish their piece on before agreeing to give the interview.
When you agreed to the interview, properly prepare for it:
– Approach it with the mindset:
Don’t talk to the media, talk to the audience through the media.
– Find out who the audience is
– Find out how the audience expects to be addressed
In the next video, I will give you an overview of what kind of questions to expect, and how to prepare your answers.