Some people were just born public speakers. Others are terrible at it, they suffer from stage fright and should just avoid talking to crowds altogether.
That way of thinking is very convenient but, unfortunately (or fortunately), not supported by facts.
Most of us have attended some presentations or watched TED talks that left us with a feeling: “Wow, this guy knows how to get the audience’s attention! I’m so jealous, I wish I was like him/her”. What if I told you that this guy isn’t “a natural”, but has been working very hard to sound so? What if I told you that you can give talks that people would enjoy listening to?
March arrives and it’s time for the annual Natural History Museum (NHM) Student Conference! I am on the student committee and so help with the organisation. There’s a lot to do organising a conference but we learnt from last year and with new members on the team it seemed a lot less stressful this year! Despite the stress and extra work being part of a committee and helping organising a conference is a great opportunity to learn useful skills and make contacts, so I highly recommend getting involved with one if you can.
Talks are compulsory for 3rd year PhD students like me so although I had spoken at the two previous years’ conferences (I need the practice :\ ) I was yet again up on stage. It was quite fun actually as last year I talked about developing my citizen science project Earthworm Watch which was just about to launch, now it has been running a year so I was able to give the first results from the project.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the Houses of Parliament- more specifically a building linked to the Houses of Parliament called Portcullis house. (It really is physically linked by an underground walkway for MPs.) The reason I was there was for an event called the Voice of the Future organised by the Royal Society of Biology.
I say ‘event’ because it was a strange set up. The whole thing was meant to be like a select committee– it took place in the actual rooms where select committees are held. Lots of scientific organisations sent young representatives to ask questions of an array of different politicians.
So, I’ve just got back from Cheltenham Science Festival. It was a really fun and hectic week!
Like most volunteering experiences, a lot of the work we were doing was basic slave labour—cleaning venues between talks, getting water for speakers, clicking people in and out of venues, making tea, carrying messages etc etc. Even while doing these routine tasks however, we were surrounded by such great communicators and lovely people, from the speakers in the talks we attended to the stall holders in the drop-in zones, and the other volunteers.
There was a wonderful atmosphere of inspiration and urgency in many of the talks—most of the speakers were funny and excellent at communicating, but even the ones who seemed initially slightly dumbfounded by the large audiences, had such a depth of knowledge and passion for their subject area that their talks were really brilliant.
I’m volunteering at Cheltenham Science Festival this week and have just got back to the YMCA where we are staying after a long day of unloading chairs and tables and sofas and fridges off lorries and distributing them around the venues. I am not a very strong person (!) so this has been a tiring day, but absolutely worth it, because the venues look incredible now, and one of the things I got to help lift was a giant dinosaur head!
Cheltenham Festival looks like it is going to be a great experience– if anyone is interested in science communication I would thoroughly recommend applying next year.
The medical research that is reported on in the news is generally rubbish—there is rarely any mention (and certainly never any critique) of what kind of research the stories are based on or how they fit into the overall picture of health research. Important studies (meta-analyses and negative results) are not reported in favour of easy stories that proclaim ‘red meat is bad’ or ‘this vitamin is good’ and are soon replaced by other stories claiming the exact opposite.
But you probably knew that. This blog isn’t about these things—and it isn’t even about the contents of an essay I recently finished looking at the rhetoric of how health and medical research is reported.
Tonight I went to a talk by the Physics department’s artist-in-residence Geraldine Cox. I’d somehow never been to one of her talks or exhibits before, though I had seen some of her paintings around Blackett.
I was actually kind of sceptical about her work at the start of the talk, because although I love poetry and plays and novels and all those kind of English-y ‘arty’ things, I am not really comfortable with ‘art’ in general—paintings and sculptures and such. My knowledge of art amounts to knowing that Monet might have been able to see UV light after he had surgery for his cataracts, and that that might have made his later paintings more blue, and also that Turner did some good sea.
Only one day, one tutorial and one lecture to go before Christmas holidays! We had our house dinner yesterday, which was awesome, but this blog is on something a bit different…
Basically, I was trying to listen to a lecture on matter reacting to magnetic fields, when I noticed a great tweet by symmetry mag showing their paper snowflakes in the shape of famous scientists. They look amazing, but are pretty intricate, and I don’t have a craft knife—also I was pretty sure I could make them even more nerdy, so I decided to come up with my own science inspired snowflakes.
This was my previous ‘About me’ section from a year ago:
My name is Emma and I am a second year Physicist. I love reading and writing all kinds of things and have recently become interested in science journalism. I come from a little town called Bridgnorth in Shropshire (which is not in the north but yeah, OK fine is kind of close to Birmingham), and love living in London.
I play clarinet, want to use too many smiley-faces in semi-formal writing, and like to cook over-ambitious things. I’m not terribly sporty, but go running, climbing and play tennis with my boyfriend, who I should probably thank for making me do all these things!
I have just got back from a glorious week in Tenerife where I went in a submarine (!) and also found out that I did well in second year. I hope everyone reading this is having a similarly fun summer and is awaiting/has received good results too!
This week is a bit of a different blog— as you might know, I am in the process of discovering what sorts of careers are involved in science communication. To this end, I am hopefully (if I can find more willing volunteers) going to be asking a few questions to some of the people I talk to about their jobs and experiences for this blog.