Science and Public Speaking

To many, those who understand and work within the realm of science are among the smartest people in the world. However, regardless of the amount of knowledge in their heads, the scientists among us cannot truly achieve success without the ability to communicate their ideas to the common man.  One way for scientists to gain insight into sharing complex thoughts with the rest of the world is to study public speaking.

Most basic college courses in public speaking do not focus completely on giving “speeches.” While they will require students to address the classroom audience individually, they will also present fundamentals of human communication, particularly interpersonal interaction and dialogue.  Such simple sounding instruction can benefit future science-minded professionals in a variety of ways.

First, a course in public speaking can begin to ease almost anyone’s apprehension of talking before an audience. Public speaking is regularly noted to be one of the top fears of modern adults. By learning the theories behind human interaction, perception and understanding, scientists, who on the whole tend to be more reserved, can begin to gain confidence in their ability to stand before a crowd or individual and deliver ideas. This simple skill is critical to the success of even the research scientist, who like other science professionals will most likely be called on to share their work before a board, or conference, or perhaps as an expert trial witness, or lecturer at some point in their careers.

Second, learning more about how others perceive the delivery of information, or how specific techniques can impact not only an audiences’ ability to enjoy a presentation, but its ability to comprehend, can allow scientists to increase public understanding of scientific concepts.  If science were readily understandable, more people would likely pursue scientific careers. Yet it’s widely known that in the United States, students lag considerably in science literacy. Adding public speaking courses to the study of science, and in turn creating scientists who communicate complex ideas clearly, would make science concepts more accessible to the general population. In some cases, better communication may make innovation more palatable to society, and reduce confusion about some of the more complex issues facing the global community, like climate change, energy, and modern health care.

Finally, a firm grasp of communication techniques and confidence in delivering a clear message would no doubt serve all types of scientists in their daily work, making for more enjoyable and efficient workplaces.  For instance, a pharmacist with a grasp of communication theory can easily find ways to modify information delivery to various patients to ensure understanding. The same would apply to doctors and nurses.  Geologists and earth scientists would be more confident in explaining complex topics like mineral extraction, seismology and meteorology to the general populace.  Environmental scientists might better explain remediation and clean up techniques to concerned communities.  Engineers and project directors could easily share information on material strength, and infrastructure design in an easy to understand fashion.

The study of public speaking isn’t only for future politicians and broadcast journalists.  Establishing a clear understanding of the way people interpret information and generate opinions can play a key role in almost any profession, particularly those, like the sciences, that deal in difficult to understand concepts. By incorporating courses that focus on speaking into other disciplines, professionals could easily surmount many of the obstacles to progress that exist in today’s world.