Welcome to Week One of the SciFund Challenge 2014 video training class! With this class, we have two goals. One: to build our ability to tell compelling stories through video. Two: to help our classmates to build their video abilities. So let’s get started with both!
The center of good video is having a good story. But how do we craft a clear and compelling story from our science? That’s what we’ll be focussing on this week.
The focus of this week is a communications technique called the Message Box. This technique was developed by COMPASS, a fantastic organization that provides communication training to scientists. I can tell you from personal experience that their training workshops are incredible. COMPASS has permitted us to use their materials and I would personally like to thank them for their generous assistance, particularly Nancy Baron and Liz Neeley. Nancy has written an amazing book, Escape from the Ivory Tower, from which we’ll be reading a chapter this week (more on this below).
This week has a five part structure:
- Part 1: Get started with the class.
- Part 2: Read about the Message Box and prepare a version of it for yourself.
- Part 3: Practice using the Message Box with a class partner.
- Part 4: Record yourself giving an elevator pitch and upload video to Google+ page for class.
- Part 5: Give feedback to the videos of others.
Things to do first (which will make more sense if you read Parts 1 and 3 of the instructions):
- Sign up for a discussion section.
- Put your name down on the partner spreadsheet.
Fun and friendly tasks for Week One
PART 1: GETTING STARTED WITH THE CLASS
1. Don’t panic! There are a lot of steps here, but many of them are very quick. There are a few technology things that we want to introduce you to this week and, since some of us are technologically less inclined, we want to lay out these things out very precisely. Hence the long (but hopefully quick to follow) instructions.
2. If you are having trouble joining the class’ community page on Google+, contact me or Elliot immediately (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com). Since the class infrastructure largely exists on Google+, if you can’t access the community page, you won’t be able to participate.
3. Can figure something out or having trouble with something? Send Elliot or myself a note and let’s talk about it.
4. Google+. So, how does the SciFund class community page work anyway? Watch this short screencast, by yours truly, for a short introduction:
5. Discussion groups (part 1). Every week, we’ll be breaking out into discussion groups. This week, we’ll be talking in our groups about our adventures with science messaging. We’ll be having these discussions via one-hour group video conferences, courtesy of Google Hangouts. We have scheduled tons of one-hour discussion sections for this week. Sign up for one of them, please. All sections will be facilitated by one of the course instructors. Sign up now for one of the sections on the Google+ community page for the class (see the Events category). VERY IMPORTANT: Only ten people are allowed in a single hangout (1 instructor, plus nine participants). If you see ten people already signed up for a hangout, that hangout is full.
6. Discussion groups (part 2). The way the discussion groups will work is as follows. A minute or two before your scheduled discussion section is supposed to start, sign in to your Google+ account. At the appointed time, you’ll receive an invite to the Google Hangout. You’ll also receive an invite via gmail (check the Social tab). During the Hangout, be sure to have your sound going through headphones! If you don’t, it is almost certain that someone’s speakers and microphone will cause enough feedback to kill the audio feed for everyone. If you are having specific problems with Hangouts, Google has a troubleshooting page on the very topic.
PART 2: PREPARING THE MESSAGE BOX
The Message Box is a structured method that scientists can use to craft their science messages for nonspecialist audiences. This technique is frequently introduced as a way for researchers to effectively communicate with journalists and, in fact, our use of the Message Box will feature a back-and-forth between a scientist and a (pretend) reporter. But this technique is about a lot more than just media training, as the journalist is really a stand-in for the audience with whom a researcher is attempting to communicate. So, whether you are planning on becoming the next talking head on CNN or just want to explain to your family what you do all day, the Message Box is a great place to get started.
Reading assignments. Nancy Baron has written the bible for science communication, Escape from the Ivory Tower. She has extremely generously allowed us to have a copy of the Message Box chapter from her book (chapter 8), free of charge. Please read this chapter, which you can download on the Google+ page for the class (look for it under the category of Week One). For obvious reasons, we can’t link to the specific chapter from this blog.
As a second reading assignment, please read Communicating the science of climate change, which came out in Physics Today three years ago. The section of the article to focus on is Better Communication. This article really makes clear how words can really get in the way of science communication – sometimes in very unexpected ways. Many scientists already know that the use of jargon can make it hard to talk with people not in their field. But the article discusses a more insidious problem, namely with language that has a double meaning (one meaning for the public and another for the scientist). Read the article to learn how to dodge this particular minefield.
Preparing your Message Box. Using the guidance from Nancy’s book, please prepare a Message Boxes for your own science. At the following link, you’ll find a blank version of the Message Box form.
Please prepare your Message Box for a specific audience, preferably the target for your future videos. To identify your exact audience is incredibly important, as across your possible audiences, what is compelling (and what is unintelligible jargon) might vary tremendously. Here is an example of a specific audience: people in coastal Rhode Island, concerned about flooding, who might want to hear about a researcher’s latest findings about the subject. Here is an example of what is not a specific audience: science-interested people viewing YouTube videos.
PART 3: USING THE MESSAGE BOX
Our Message Boxes will be much better if we can bounce them off a real live human. So, for this week, we’ll be pairing off with another class participant to practice using our Message Boxes. On the Google+ page for the class (look for it under the category of Week One), you’ll find a table where you can find other class participants to partner with. Try to find a partner who is not in your field. By Thursday, please connect on your own with your partner to do the following role-playing exercise. To get more practice with Google Hangouts, I would recommend you connect using that method.
In the exercise, the two partners will interview each other, taking turns in the roles of the Scientist and the Journalist. Each of the interviews should take on the order of five to ten minutes.
For this to work, obviously both partners will need to have completed their Message Boxes prior to the conversation. Don’t share your Message Box with your partner! Only tell him or her the general issue and the audience you are addressing. The Journalist should initiate the interview and say that he or she would like to write a story involving the Scientist’s issue. The Journalist should be sure to ask lots of questions, coming from the perspective of the audience being addressed. If the Journalist doesn’t think something the Scientists says makes sense (for the particular audience), he or she should immediately (but politely) speak up. Keep an eye out for jargon and double-meaning language.
PART 4: MAKING THE ELEVATOR PITCH
An elevator pitch is a compelling and short speech (two minutes or less) about your research intended for someone who isn’t in your field. Think of it as what you might say to a member of your intended audience who you just met. As a first step, please read this short article in Nature that discusses how to give an elevator pitch. The article features Nancy Baron, who wrote the book chapter about the Message Box that we just read. The article should seem very familiar, as Nancy covered many of the same subjects in the chapter.
Once you have read up on elevator pitches, please prepare a two minute pitch about your own research. The point of this pitch isn’t to pack all of your research into two minutes. Rather, it is to make your audience interested in hearing more. As you put your pitch together, please remember that although you are welcome to make brief notes, it is a terrible idea to actually write out a full script. Written language is very different than spoken language and nothing is more excruciating than hearing someone recite a script.
Please record a video of yourself giving your elevator pitch using your iPhone and your iPhone tripod (the GorillaPod). You don’t need to worry about using your lapel microphone for this exercise (regular iPhone microphone is fine). How do you do use your iPhone to record video? Watch this short video!
And in case you were wondering how to use your GorillaPod, the following video is for you.
Uploading your first video. We want you to make your video available on the Google+ class community page (to which only class participants have access), so that others in the class can give you feedback. As a first step, upload your video to YouTube. Don’t worry! The whole world won’t see your video, because you will set your video as unlisted in the privacy settings. If you have watched the first video in these instructions, you know how to enter the community page and how to create your first video post. Create that post, making sure to give the post the category of “Week One”. Post categories can be seen directly below your name, as illustrated in the image to the right. In the text of your post, please state your intended audience, as specifically as you can.
PART 5. GIVING FEEDBACK TO OTHERS
Please comment on the videos of at least three other class participants, focusing on videos that don’t have many comments. As a commenter, here is the most important question for you to answer: if you were in the shoes of the intended audience, would the first 20 to 30 seconds of the pitch make you want to hear more? Why or why not?