SciComm Dec 2020The COVID-19 pandemic has added one more layer of complexity to communicating science. But where there’s challenge, there’s also opportunity. Used creatively, our online ecosystem can be leveraged to build new relationships, share our work in innovative ways and increase the reach of our science to different audiences. Whether giving a talk, arranging an event or trying to imagine new pathways to share your work, below are some pros and cons of using digital platforms, and some tips to keep your audience engaged.


Reach more people with your message

In a typical in-person talk, there needs to be a physical location, people have to get there and the number of people who can attend may be limited to room capacity. In a virtual landscape, all of this becomes moot as long as you or your speakers and guests have access to the internet.

Connect with others that you otherwise wouldn’t

If you have an event, or want a guest to join your class or wish to host a panel of experts, the virtual environment allows you to interact with folks from across the country or world – people who otherwise might not be able to join you in person. Take advantage of that colleague you have on the East Coast, or that leader you know from overseas.

Keeps costs down

Hosting special guest speakers or panelists from beyond UW can get expensive to bring them to the city. And traveling to them has its costs too. Virtual gatherings eliminate travel expenses, as well as many of the other associated costs that often come with meetings.

Accommodate people’s schedules

Back when we could all gather in person, attendees had to account for other constraints to attend your talk or meeting, like arranging childcare, travel time (even if only going from part of campus to another) and whether or not they have other conflicts on their schedule. Now participants only have to account for travel time to their nearest internet connection.

People want community and connection

Indeed we are spending a lot of time online these days, but people still crave connection with others. Be mindful of asking people for more screen time, but in many cases events and online meetings are getting more participation than ever.


Zoom fatigue

Yep, this is real. People do want community and connection, but we are also spending much more time looking at screens. Make sure what you’re offering is of value and worth people’s time.

Access to the internet

While the web has connected many, it is still a barrier to others. Take into account if your target audiences have the resources to access content online.

Where is everybody?

It’s hard to give a talk where you can’t see your audience, and reading the room to see if attendees are getting what they want from you is difficult. Think about building in check-ins with your audience to make sure they are following along with you.

Free flowing discussions

One of the best parts of meeting in-person is the impromptu discussions that come along with it. This can be difficult on Zoom, but frequent check-ins with your audience, like asking questions or using breakout rooms, can help.


  • Keep it short. People enjoy interacting with you, but our screen time is way up these days. Eliminate where you can.
  • Give people breaks. If you can’t keep it short, consider giving people breaks to stretch, use the bathroom and get something to eat and drink.
  • Create interactive exercises. To keep your audience engaged, use features like the chat function, polls, breakout rooms for small discussions, ice breakers and checking in frequently with people.
  • Share videos and photos. See if you can build compelling photos and videos into your talk that make for a more engaging session, something that transports people to another time, place, your amazing field location…you get the idea.
  • Nuts and bolts considerations.
    • Lighting: make sure you are well lit so your audience can see you.
    • Window: natural light is best; can you place yourself near a window?
    • Look into the screen at eye level: looking down or up at a camera makes it less personal; try to place your camera at eye-level.
    • Pay attention to background: make sure your background sends the right message to the crowd you’re speaking to.