About Me

My photo
I'm an assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington State University in Vancouver, where I use tiny zebrafish (the size of an eyelash!) as a model system to study human hearing loss and how we can prevent it. I'm also a long-time Toastmaster and I teach communication workshops. This blog represents the merging of my two passions - science and communication, which has really become one central passion - the science of communication. There's a revolution in science right now...the idea that we scientists should sometimes leave the lab and talk about what we do, and why we do it, to real people. This blog looks at why we should do this, and how to actually talk about science with non-scientists (and with each other!). Portions of this blog are also featured on Qualia, the AAAS MemberCenter blog site.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Communicatalyst has moved!

I've migrated to a site with more functionality.  Communicatalyst.com is on it's way to becoming a real science communication website!  Please update your bookmark and I'll see you on the new site.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 27th communication event!

Want to improve your communication and leadership skills?  Toastmasters can help!  The local Salmon Creek Toastmasters club is holding an open house on Monday, January 27th at 7 PM at the Salmon Creek Burgerville. Stop by to see how Toastmasters can help you reach your professional and personal goals! 

Guests are welcome any Monday, not just this week.  For those outside the Vancouver area, check the Toastmasters International website to locate a club near you.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The 4th C

by Andrea for http://www.clker.com
Last post I mentioned the 3 C’s of communication: content, clarity, and charisma.  It turns out there’s a fourth C: coat.

At the morning competition for FameLab San Francisco, one contestant chose to wear his coat while he delivered his speech.  It was a nice coat – new, neutral color, and very stylish.  But when it came time for his evaluation, the judges focused on the coat more than his content. The take-home message?  What we look like – our clothing, accessories, and overall appearance – makes a difference.  In this case, one judge was so incensed about the coat that she could barely remember the message!

As scientists, we often concentrate on presenting our data…did we get the facts right, and remember to make a particular point?  This is all important, but our public face – what we look like – matters too. For a conference talk, that probably means a tailored shirt and slacks (or a business suit - any M.D.s out there?).  For young women, I highly recommend pants rather than a skirt.  Most of us want the audience to remember our message, not our legs, not matter how great they look! For a public talk in a bar (think Science on Tap), I usually opt for something more causal, like jeans and a blazer.  I want to look professional yet comfortable, and not out of place.  For a talk at a school I’ll break my “no skirt” rule, showing the girls that they can be scientists and still look good in a skirt and boots!

What’s your favorite talk attire? Whatever your look, let the audience focus on your message, not your clothes…and leave the coat at home.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sailing the C’s of Science Communication

Image modified from www.clker.com
A good public talk about science should both inform and entertain (in my opinion, any scientific talk should do both!). At FameLab, with three minutes and no PowerPoint crutch, contestants seek the right balance of information and fun.  The judging criteria really hit this balance using the three C’s of science communication: Content, Clarity, and Charisma. These C’s form the backbone for any good talk, and we’ve looked at components of all of them before.  Here, I want to remind readers that they all fit together. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

FameLab: share your science in 3 minutes or less

Last week I competed in FameLab USA, a science communication contest sponsored by NASA and National Geographic.  Each contestant gets 3 minutes, and only 3 minutes, to talk about research that interests them.  No powerpoint, no graphs, just you, maybe a basic prop, and the audience.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Filler mosquitoes

I once had a colleague who liked the phrase “sort of”…a lot.  He once recorded a record 81 “sort of’s” in an hour-long talk. Not only did these unnecessary qualifications weaken his presentation, but the regular use of a filler word (or phrase, in this case) hindered communication of his message.

We’ve all used them…the ahs, ums, and you knows that creep into our speech when we’re searching for the right words. An occasional filler word is like a solo mosquito - possibly annoying, but not much of a concern.  Too many filler words, however, are like a swarm – the audience is too distracted swatting them away to pay close attention.

Lately I’ve noticed a new filler word cropping up in my own speech; actually. Yes, this is a legitimate word, but I (and several friends) seem to use it as a crutch.  Why say something is “actually over there” when simply “over there” would suffice? Even real words, when used as fillers, can detract from our point.

Monday, October 7, 2013

She did what??

From http://planninga-from-nanninga.blogspot.com
Grab your audience’s attention with an unexpected twist!  I recently attended a workshop on writing successful grant proposals (highly recommended!), and the presenter, Dr.Peg AtKisson, used a clever trick to get us all in our seats after the lunch break. Peg, a rock-music vocalist, briskly launched into a musical story about cats parachuting into Borneo.  We were captivated…and quiet!