Posts Tagged ‘audience’

When the audience doesn’t sit still

In February 2017 on February 23, 2017 at 7:19 pm

Image thanks to military health/flickr via Creative Commons 

Have you ever tried to communicate science to an aggressive 23-year old man who just wants to go home and pretend it’s all not happening?

What about to a 35 year old mother of a baby and a toddler, all three of whom can’t stop crying?

Or a 16 year old exchange student, who is incredibly shy and speaks English as a second language?

Perhaps yelling through a door, to a confused, possibly drugged teenager who is shut in a room to protect the wellbeing of others in her vicinity?

Every night the hospital emergency rooms across Australia fill to the brim with worried, angry, over-stretched, poorly-slept parents and their children.

The children may be vomiting, bleeding, hurting, unconscious or even dying.

The nurses and doctors triage the children according to their needs and the resources currently available.

In just minutes, the professionals make snap assessments on the patients and their parents, and then deliver complex medical information tailored to their needs and demands. It requires the hospital staff to decide:

  • How receptive are these people to being told what to do by an “expert’?
  • What is the level of education  – will they understand if I use terms like “abdomen” or “cardiovascular”?
  • What do they value in this interaction – information? guidance? free drugs? …or just somebody to listen to their problems?
  • Can I make assumptions based on my previous interactions with this family?
  • How should I best communicate with these people – talking? brochures? handwritten diagrams? through an interpreter?
  • What level of detail should I present – am I just trying to prove I’m the one in charge, or will this information be useful and applicable by the parents? Do they even care about the ‘why’?

Knowing and pitching information just right for audience is a continual challenge for those working in science communication. And emergency room personal do it damned well.


Psst! Pay attention. I’m communicating

In March 2016 on March 17, 2016 at 9:29 pm


Sarah: Hey! You. Yes, you. Yup, I’m talking to you.

Come over here….I want to tell you some science. And you will listen. And you will learn. And you will walk away wiser. And the world will be a better place.

Does this sound familiar? Does this approach work? How do we best transfer or teach scientific information to an audience? It’s a question I’ve been mulling over since I attended the Australian Science Communicators 2016 National Meeting held in Brisbane last week.

Whilst the full program consisted of many interesting presentations, the final session of the day came from Christine O’Connell, Associate Director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. When she began, it was past 5pm. You can imagine the crowd that sat in front of her. We were all tired. We were all thinking about the drinks coming up. We didn’t really want to see more Powerpoint slides. Fortunately, she had us up and out of our chairs straight away. I’ll tell you about two exercises that were incredibly valuable.


How Christine O’Connell got us thinking about audience

First, Christine set us up in pairs, and we labeled ourselves Person A and Person B.

Activity 1
Person A was asked to imagine that Person B had travelled from 300 years ago in a time travel machine. Person A was asked to grab her mobile phone, place it in her hand and explain what it was without making to Person B think she was a witch. It was really hard! Explanations went like this:

This is technology —> WITCH!
You can receive messages from other people —-> WITCH!
You can speak to people who are a long way away —-> WITCH
You can read daily newspapers on it —-> WITCH!

How would you explain what a mobile phone is? The best answers came from people who thought about what knowledge base a person from 300 years ago might have. The effective communicators mentioned smoke signals, carrier pigeons….familiar ways that information might be transferred from one person to another. To communicate you must work within the audience’s existing world.

Activity 2
This was a mirroring activity. Standing upright, Person A was asked to ad lib a series of movements that Person B was expected to copy, or mirror. For example, left arm up, down, up, down followed by right arm in, out, out, in. It was fun! It was hilarious doing fast movements, and watching Person B try to keep up.

But then Charlotte told us that Person B was the audience. It’s not ideal to try and trick him. You’re supposed to create a series of slow, repetitive, familiar movements that allow him to follow along, not get frustrated, not get left behind. As Person A you must work with Person B to ensure you’re on the same page. Think about his needs. Think about what he’s expecting. Think about what came before. Think about whether he’s tired, or confused, or angry. This is communication – working together to transfer knowledge.


Although I always like to imagine myself as being pretty good at thinking about audience needs, these activities really blew my mind. In essence, Christine was asking us to stop thinking of ourselves as smart-arse experts. To stop assuming the audience can keep up. To stop creating a distance between ourselves and the audience (for professional or whatever other reasons).

Instead, we should meet the science-interested audience on their home turf and play ball together. That’s communication.

[image thanks to]


Accessing science and art

In May 2014 on May 5, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Sarah: A few days ago I had the privilege of talking to a mixed audience of artists and scientists. The event was a workshop co-organised by the RiAUS and Access2Arts; my job was to speak on the challenges of communicating science and — in particular — transitioning from working in the research world to the much more varied space of freelance writing.

What I came to think about in preparing my slides (shown above) was that all scientists are indeed science communicators – the thing that changes from one career pathway to the next is the audience.

If, for example, as a scientist you work in an Immunology laboratory and conduct immunology research and talk at immunology conferences, then you have the luxury of knowing that your audience is reasonably up to scratch on the basic background of your field, and probably has a level of interest in what you are working on. Your skills as a communicator lie in presenting the why? and how? of the research you performed, and placing the results within the context of the specialist field. You might also offer up what you plan to do next. No over-interpretation, no grandstanding, no claims to have solved the world’s problems, please! And certainly no placement of the people involved at the centre of proceedings.

Presenting science to a broader audience is communication with a focus not on the content or procedures, but instead on the people, the stories and why it even matters in a world full of other news. Furthermore, in this space you cannot necessarily assume any level of science knowledge or understanding of what the scientific process involves. Choice of subject matter is critical, language must be different and you need to find your audiences (not quite as simple as arriving to a pre-arranged crowd at a conference facility!).

The best part about the workshop was meeting the audience members and hearing their perspectives on the similarities between art and science — one thing we all agreed on was that both need to be a part of everybody’s education.

I’m popular, I’m never picked last

In April 2014 on April 7, 2014 at 12:47 pm


Sarah: While we’re talking People’s Choice awards, let’s look back over the most popular posts of 2014 so far.

Just by way of reminder, ScienceforLife.365 started as my year-long daily blogging project to show how science can frame the ordinary, every-day decisions in life. Now in its second phase, the blog features weekly contributions from both myself and ecologist/educator Kirsti Abbott. Other guest writers also pop up (and if you have a great idea which would fit under the ‘science for life’ motto, please be in touch).

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the blog is that it attracts two separate audiences (because it appears in duplicate on two platforms, WordPress and Facebook). I’ve presented analysis of the differing interests of the two audiences in the past: at the 100-day mark of the first year, and at day 360, as the 1-year anniversary approached. Over phase 1 of the blog, WordPress readers preferred posts on art, food, fashion, literature, writing and discussions around journalism and communication. By contrast, Facebook friends were interested in animals, science humour, new ways of thinking about science and the more personalised aspects of science and learning.

Differences in content preferences by audience are not so strong so far this year, with many posts appearing in both top ten lists, as shown below. In general however, it is still clear that readers who enjoy the blog through Facebook continue to prefer posts with more personal content (whether that be from myself or Kirsti). It’s also great that Kirsti’s colleagues, friends and family members have strongly supported her move into weekly blogging, as evidenced by their ‘likes’ and comments. Many readers also seemed to particularly enjoy the stories around how Kirsti and I met for the first time earlier this year – happy moments!

Here are the top 10 posts for 2014 (so far) on WordPress:

  1. Knock knock
  2. Water leaked from my face
  3. Part time everything
  4. Getting uncomfortable
  5. It’s another scorcher
  6. Tick tick tock
  7. Sharing the love
  8. Information is beautiful
  9. You want more heat??!
  10. Multiple ways of knowing

On Facebook, the top 10 posts for the year thus far are:

  1. Water leaked from my face
  2. Knock knock
  3. Bone picking
  4. Getting uncomfortable
  5. A new woman
  6. From rocks to vegetables
  7. Friendships in science, part 1
  8. Friendships in science, part 2
  9. You want more heat??!
  10. Tick tick tock

What is your favourite ScienceforLife.365 post?

*title taken from this song

[image thanks to Klearchos Kapoutsis on flickr]




Day 360. Thank-you

In August 2013 on August 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm



Ok, so I’m into the 360s now and it’s pretty exciting.

As I approach the finishing line, I’d love to send a huge shout-out to all of you who’ve come together and formed this blog’s two audiences: the WordPress supporters and the Facebook friends.

It’s been so interesting to keep an eye on what has tickled the fancies of readers. Over the course of a year of blogging, the two audiences have maintained slightly differing interests (see prior discussion of this point at Day 100. A tale of two audiences).

WordPress supporters liked art, food, fashion, literature, writing and discussions around journalism and communication.

The top 10 ScienceforLife.365 posts during the past year for WordPress supporters were (most popular at the top):

Facebook friends were interested in animals, science humour, new ways of thinking about science and the more personalised aspects of science and learning.

The top 10 ScienceforLife.365 posts during the last year on Facebook were (most popular at the top):

Just by way of a little explainer, most WordPress supporters arrived on site after following tweets from my @sciencesarah account. Others found it because they were official followers of the blog (183 people in total), happened upon a post whilst browsing other blogs, or had searched for a key word.

Facebook friends found the posts by following the page itself (261 likes to date), through me sharing posts via my personal Facebook account, and click throughs of ‘friends-of-friends’ and other contacts.

Thank you all once again, and I look forward to holding your attention into the next year of ScienceforLife.365

[image thanks to Lauren Manning on flickr]

Day 332. Making an audience

In July 2013 on July 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm


Writing about science – or indeed any subject – you’re taught to think about your audience.

Who are you targeting? What do they want to read? How can you keep them coming back?

Today something popped up and made me think twice about this concept.

Heather Bray is a researcher and science communicator based in Adelaide, and uses her training in agricultural science to work in and around food science and related fields. She’s currently running the second annual University of Adelaide Intensive Course in Communicating Science (#cs7020).

This morning Heather tweeted the following:

Prof Mike Wilmore‘s media lecture in #cs7020: media makes content & audiences, same with social media. Not thought of myself as audience maker before

Maybe as science communicators we need to think about ourselves as audience makers a whole lot more (follows prev tweet) #cs7020#onsci

This is an idea I really like. In fact, I had a little lightbulb moment when I read it.

*ding* As a writer, I am an audience maker!

There is not a pre-defined mob of people sitting out there waiting for me to fill a void in their lives. If I write stuff that is good enough, I will create a group of followers who actively seek what I write.

Scarily enough, this sounds a lot like marketing.

But I guess that too does make sense. If I can write well enough to convince people that I’m adding value to their lives, then yes, I am a marketer.

[image thanks to Electric Images on flickr]

Day 100. A tale of two audiences

In November 2012 on November 20, 2012 at 10:24 pm

A century of blog posts!

Today marks the 100th consecutive day I’ve posted under the Science for Life.365 banner.

Officially starting on August 13 2012 (National Science Week), each day I create a wordpress post, and market it via a 140-character message (#science365) using my twitter handle @sciencesarah. I replicate the blog post in the Facebook community page of the same name, and often but not always share this content using my personal Facebook profile.

This means the blog has 2 broad audiences.

Here are the top 5 posts (number of views) from each of the hosting sites:


  1. Day 34. Nature as art
  2. Day 54. Fibonacci (guest post by Dr Hannah Brown)
  3. Day 31. 3-minute thesis
  4. Day 95. Sperm
  5. Day 22. Sugar


  1. Day 71. Pharmacies
  2. Day 69. Histamines
  3. Day 68. Asparagus
  4. Day 66. Cancer
  5. Day 64. Family

It’s interesting to consider the differences in the audiences viewing the two hosting sites.

The most popular wordpress posts are those with a true scientific bent, and which presumably have attracted views from my twitter followers and as a result of retweets. Incidentally, here are the twitter posts I sent out which relate to these most popular posts:

  1. Day 34 of Science for Life.365: Nature as art. Should I destroy a book to furnish my walls?
  2. Day 64 of Science for Life.365: Fibonacci. In which @DrScienceLover gets fired up over an Italian
  3. Day 31 of Science for Life.365: 3-minute thesis. A winning tale of prostitution and plastic surgery
  4. Day 95 of Science for Life.365: Sperm. Discussing the ejaculate does not come easy
  5. Day 22 of Science for Life.365: Sugar. It’s not a drug and you don’t need rehab

Obviously sex and drugs sell to a science-interested audience as much as any other!  In addition, 42 other wordpress users follow the blog, and would contribute to these numbers.

The popular Facebook posts almost all have a very personal bent, relating to family and relatively emotive issues. Interestingly, in contrast to the popular wordpress posts – the timing of which is quite varied – the popular Facebook posts fall in a block between days 64-71. Perhaps this reflects my frame of mind during this period, but it’s also worth noting that these numbers are consistent with the recent move of Facebook to only reveal posts to those followers who have recently shown an interest. In other words, perhaps this spike is merely a reflection of Facebook behind-the-scenes manipulations. Overall, the Facebook page currently has 109 ‘likes’.

Thank-you all for your interest over the past 100 days, and I look forward to writing more about the science in and of my life over the next 2/3 of a year.

[image thanks to carlos.a.martinez on flickr]