‘Improv’ your communication
By Melina Gillespie
While you may not be ready for drama classes, consider that many scientists who are using improvisation techniques report that they’re presenting their research quickly and creatively, with less fear, in plain language and with their whole bodies.
The benefits are due in part to them paying more attention to their audience’s needs and forming a connection.
Christine O’Connell is a scientist and science communicator with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, at Stony Brook University in New York. She gave the closing keynote talk at the 2016 ASC Conference on how using improv can help people communicate better with their audience.
We were on our feet for most of her talk. She asked us to pair up and tune into our partner by mirroring their movements. One person led, the other followed. If Christine could tell who was leading, you were out of the game. It was difficult, but also interesting to note how you had to work together.
Interest in using improv techniques to communicate science has been increasing. In a recent ASC interview, Christine said one of the challenges of talking about science was focusing on the audience.
‘Communication doesn’t actually happen unless they get what I’m saying, otherwise I’m just talking’, she says. ‘You need to always be listening, even when you are talking.’
Vicky Miller is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK, and she’s been attending improv classes to improve her communication skills.
‘It’s teaching me to tune in to the rhythm of a conversation, to listen as well as to talk, and to work out how and when to make myself heard most effectively’, she says in an article in Science.
We’re all aware of the importance of knowing our audience. As presenters, it seems what improv does is allow us to focus less on ourselves and more on our audience.
Improv techniques are being adopted at many universities and improv is helping PhD students to explain their work and loosen up.
Christine’s methods certainly worked on me. She made me feel as though she was in conversation with me. Me and the other 100 people in the room.
You can find out more about improv work at the Alda Center in this Nature podcast, ‘Acting Up’.