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CAREER ADVICE

Engaging Audiences: Episode 1 – Keep it accessible and concise

By SHARI GRAYDON | December 9, 2014

Your research is important and deserves as much attention as possible. But if no one can understand what you’re talking about, what’s the point?

University Affairs magazine and Informed Opinions have teamed up to bring you a video series on how to communicate your research to a wide audience. Hosted by Shari Graydon, it will offer tips on making what you know and do more accessible and engaging.

Improving your ability to communicate your research clearly and concisely can help you secure funding, impress in job interviews and even just refocus your brain when you get stuck on a paper or article.

In this first video, Shari shares strategies for describing what you know in ways that lay audiences can appreciate…

Intro music courtesy of Bensound.

Informed Opinions trains and supports experts — especially women — in making their knowledge and ideas more accessible to a broader audience. The non-profit project delivers keynotes that motivate scholars to engage with media, and workshops that give them tips and tools to do so more effectively.

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  1. Reuben Kaufman / December 10, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Great first episode! Bring on the rest!

    It’s true that I use jargon in my research papers (defining terms that aren’t widely known), but I’m happy to say that I always aim for and usually achieve the other virtues you mention (or at least am deluded to think so!):

    I always use the active voice.
    I use the simplest vocabulary (sorry …. words) consistent with expressing the idea at hand (but no simpler! … to paraphrase a well-known scientific dictum ….. sorry …. aphorism …. sorry ….. saying!).
    I write sentences shorter rather than longer.

    And I do many other virtuous things to express my ideas!

    Just promise me one thing, Shari ….. Promise that you won’t advocate presenting one’s PhD research to an audience in 3 minutes. Please promise me that! Getting important ideas across depends as much on having an audience willing to take the time to learn, as on having a presenter using accessible prose …. sorry ….. language!

    Cheers,
    Reuben

    • Reuben Kaufman / December 14, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      I think I owe Shari Graydon an apology for my comment above. Passages like, “to paraphrase a well-known scientific dictum ….. sorry …. aphorism …. sorry ….. saying!” could well have been misinterpreted as a sarcastic dig at her recommendations for simplifying language in our academic writing/oral presentations. I had no intention to convey that interpretation. In essence, I very much agree with her advice to keep it short and keep the vocabulary as simple as possible. If my comment above was interpreted as (poorly) veiled sarcasm, I apologize unreservedly for that. The problem of misinterpretation often arises, of course, because the facial expressions and body language are not conveyed.

      My concluding comment on the 3-minute thesis was indeed meant seriously. I think the concept is lame for the reason I gave. The only value I can see is for the writer to attempt it as a personal exercise in concise communication. But to present these exercises publicly …… nyet!

      • Shari Graydon / January 7, 2015 at 12:41 pm

        Reuben, your first comment effectively ensured that I wouldn’t take offence because it started off with disarming praise!

        However, as a supporter of SSHRC’s Storytellers initiative (I deliver a presentation skills workshop to the Top 25 candidates, and then serve as one of the contest judges at Congress every year), I’m compelled to defend the exercise. And indeed, I see it as an excellent means of compelling scholars to practice the very strategies that I describe in the vlog, and that you embrace.

        Can you do justice to the complexity of your PhD research in 3 minutes? Of course not. But can you demonstrate that it has some value, tell people something they didn’t know before and sufficiently pique their interest in wanting to find out more? Absolutely!

        And given the widespread ignorance about the value of academic research, and the anti-intellectualism that allows governments to justify ignoring evidence in favour of politically expedient decisions, that’s a good thing!

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