“We need to learn to engage without sensationalizing, enchant without deceiving, compel while staying true to the underlying science.”
As young scientists, my research partner Jetske Vaas and I (Elizabeth Haber) are beginning to navigate the world of outreach and public discourse regarding our research. Briefly, our project aims to provide resources and expertise to facilitate decision-making for invasive plant management in the Caribbean. You can read a bit more about our project in this previous blog post.
Earlier this year, we were approached by Sea & Learn Saba, an environmental education and awareness program occurring every October on the island of Saba, to be experts in this year’s program. We enthusiastically agreed! During Sea & Learn, each expert presents a public lecture, leads a public field excursion, and goes into 3 classrooms to present an interactive activity. From 24-28 October, Jetske and I performed these duties and we found the experience extremely rewarding.
One of the most valuable lessons we learned while completing our whirlwind week of activities came from a source familiar with media and communication: Chizzilala productions on Saba. Being Sea & Learn experts, Jetske and I were invited for an interview to be aired on Saba TV. Since neither of us had done a scientific interview with the press before, we prepared as best as we could the answers to general questions such as:
- What are we doing on Saba?
- What is Coralita (our invasive plant species of interest)?
- Why is it a problem on Saba?
- What can Sabeans do to control Coralita?
- What is the goal of our research?
We sat down in a park in Windwardside with Adam from Chizzilala and over the course of 2 hours we told the story of Coralita on Saba as we know it so far. There were times when we got tongue-tied and times when the interview was interrupted by a garbage truck or a group of free-roaming roosters or rabbits, but overall the interview went very well. We were able to articulate what we wanted to say and we were able to do so in a clear and thorough way.
When the interview had wrapped-up and Jetske and I were preparing to leave the park, Adam asked us if this was our first press interview as scientists. He was asking not because we had done poorly in his opinion, but because we are young and at the beginning of our scientific careers. He has had the opportunity to interview many scientists in all stages of their careers and offered us some thoughtful advice, for which we are very grateful. Media training is something that many scientists do not receive, although media savviness is an extremely important skill to have. I’ve summarized his advice below, with hope that you (the reader) may find a helpful tip for your future interactions with the media:
- You have more than one chance to say what needs to be said. With taped interviews, it’s easy to re-do a segment. Sometimes we forget that it’s completely fine to say, “Can I re-do that last part?”
- Always restate the question in the answer. Unless the interview is going to be aired with the interviewer on screen, the producer will edit out the interviewer’s questions. Restating the question helps the audience know what you’re going to talk about and allows the producer to easily find the segment of the interview on a certain topic.
- It’s okay to pause. It’s much easier for the producer to remove a pause than to add one. As scientists, we sometimes try to squeeze in everything we need to say in a small amount of time. That’s what we are trained to do when we present our results to our peers in 15-20 minute presentations. During a taped interview, we can slow down a bit.
- Show your enthusiasm. Scientists have gotten a reputation of being boring, although I’ve met many scientists who are incredibly enthusiastic. Viewers will tune out if you are also tuned out. Forced enthusiasm is just as repelling as boringness.
Our interview is still in the hands of the producer, so I can’t include a link to it in this blog post just yet. The interview should be available on Chizzilala’s Facebook site in a few weeks. Stay tuned for a link to the interview once it’s published! If you're interested in following our adventures with Coralita in the Caribbean, you can go to our Facebook page The Coralita Girls