At the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., a community of scientists, journalists, and communication practitioners gathered for the third Sackler Colloquium on the Science of Science Communication. Participants shared new ideas and strategies to help science have an even greater impact in the public sphere. Check out our top five takeaways that will help your work resonate with new audiences.

1. Dialogue, not monologue

It is becoming even more firmly established in science communication circles that a “just the facts” approach will not resonate with your intended audience. Emphasis on building relationships with people, making conversations a two-way street and putting yourself in your audience’s shoes matter when communicating your science. There are some keys that will help you get to know your audience more acutely and sharpen your understanding of another’s perspective.

  • Culture: What does their world look like? What are the norms and values that create they context in which they operate?
  • Reasoning: How does your audience look at the world and think about an issue?
  • Constraints: What are limitations or roadblocks this audience faces?
  • Goals and objectives: What is their aim or desired result? What exactly are they trying to do?
  • Preferences and priorities: What is important to your audience? What takes precedence over other objectives?

2. Bridge the perception gap

There are three key attributes on which solid relationships with people and communities are built. Not all three are required, but the more the better:

  • Trust: Can they rely on you (and you on them)? Trust is built through experiences and your reputation.
  • Respect: Do they hold you in high regard? Respect generally is gained through your status, expertise and the role you play.
  • Liking: Do they enjoy spending time with you? Liking is generally gained through spending time together and sustained interactions.

3. Build your story

People are wired to remember stories. That’s one reason that facts and figures just don’t stick. Where you can, incorporate storytelling elements into how you talk about your work. Here’s a formula to remember: a great story has compelling characters overcoming obstacles to achieve a worthy outcome!

4. Focus on real science

Dealing with pseudoscience is something researchers unfortunately have to deal with from time to time. Five common tactics that are telltale signs of pseudoscience are:

  • Alleging a conspiracy
  • Producing false experts
  • Cherry picking data
  • Deploying false analogies
  • Setting impossible research scenarios

When rebutting bad science directly, it often backfires and strengthens the purveyors of pseudoscience.  Think about ways to redirect the narrative—don’t focus on what’s wrong with the pseudoscience, focus on what’s right with the real science.

5. Define advocacy

Most scientists and communicators believe you can advocate for the importance of your research and that people should pay attention to the problem your research is addressing. This is not advocacy in the way we usually think of it. When a researcher starts advocating for a particular position on an issue, or a particular policy decision, or towards a particular societal outcome, then you enter the realm of advocacy.

Bonus: A top 10 from the American Marketing Association Symposium for Higher Education

The same week as the Sackler Colloquia, communications professionals gathered for the American Marketing Association’s conference for higher education. Scientists can learn a lot from marketing and communications professionals about best practices. These 10 communication tips are especially salient for any communication task:

  1. Goal: Why are you communicating your work in the first place? What are you trying to achieve?
  2. Message: What is it you’re trying to say? Why?
  3. Audience: Who are they and why do they care?
  4. Technology: How can you use various forms of tech to communicate and disseminate your message?
  5. Relationships: Do key connections with your audience exist that will help your message resonate?
  6. Timing: Do current events influence how your message will land? Will tying your message to a timely topic help amplify the impact of your work?
  7. Learning: How can you learn from the communities you interact with and help shape your own work moving forward?
  8. Media: What are the main ways engaging in mass communication?
  9. Commitment: Putting yourself out there can sometimes require a sustained commitment – are you ready?
  10. Open-minded: By remaining open-minded, you can connect with communities, people and places that you never may have thought of where your work can have impact.