Brand Insights

For Health Science Executives

How to Present Your Research to a Non-scientific Audience

How to Present Your Research to a Non-scientific Audience

By Karan Cushman, September 9, 2015

Getting support for your science is a matter of building trust.

No matter what kind of research you do, there are times when it’s critical to get support from people who don’t share your scientific background. Whether you’re talking to the media, asking for financial support, or introducing a new product, your ability to create enthusiasm (or confusion) for your bioresearch brand can make or break your efforts.

Here are a few strategies for persuading non-scientists as efficiently and
successfully as possible:

Keep technical explanations to a minimum
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, your goal is not to help your audience understand your science. You merely need them to believe in the value of the work you’re doing.

Most of the time, this doesn’t involve anything more than a little basic information about the science itself. It’s also helpful to relate your technical details to similar concepts that your audience is already familiar with. Take proteins for example. Used in many vital processes they might be referred to as the “building blocks” of the human body.

Finding the line between “just enough” and “too much” technical information can be challenging. When in doubt, go for less scientific detail and more emphasis on the benefits your work offers.

Know your audience
While your presentation needs to be relevant to your research, what motivates your audience might be very different from what seems most important to you and your scientific team. Doing a little research about your audience ahead of time can pay huge benefits.

The more you understand the needs and desires of your audience, the easier it will be for you to find the common ground that encourages interest and support. You’ll also be better prepared to address any common questions or concerns they may have. Try to get a clear idea of two things: what your audience wants from you, and where your goals overlap theirs.

If you’re talking with media people for example, there’s a good chance they have an agenda. They’re looking for something new, interesting and even controversial that will help them create a compelling story for their audience. It’s also likely they’re working on a deadline, so they’ll be looking for information that grabs attention quickly and short phrases that make good quotes.

Potential donors or investors have a different set of needs. They need you to build their confidence — whether for your institution, area of research, or new product launch. Why is your offering better than someone else’s? What problems will it solve? How quickly will it deliver return on investment? And if your ask is for support for projects that are more long-term (such as basic research) what kind of track record does your institution hold? All of these are questions you’ll need to be prepared to answer from their perspective.

Not sure where to start? Check out our recent post on using marketing personas to learn more about engaging your audience.

Know your message 
Many scientists tend to dive right into a long explanation of their work without explaining why it’s important. Until you make the benefits clear, a non-scientific audience will be asking themselves “what’s the point of all this?” Your best bet is to answer that unspoken question up front.

Start by boiling the most exciting and relevant thing about your research down to a single, one-sentence “nugget.” You’re looking for a simple idea, promise, or claim that’s easy for non-scientists to understand: “if we move forward, this great thing could happen.” Think about how your work could benefit the people you’re talking to, their friends, their families, or even their descendants.

Once you have your “nugget,” find three or four compelling reasons to believe that it’s possible. This combination of a single promise backed by solid “proof points” is known as a Messaging Platform. When done correctly, it’s all you need to get an audience excited.

Clearly defining this message ahead of time also makes it easier to keep your presentation on track. If your audience includes skeptics, for example, your proof points should ideally address their concerns in a proactive way. Our Messaging Platforms often include a section that covers potential objections for this very reason. Considering these viewpoints up front enables you to go in prepared to provide positive responses to any obvious questions.

Use clear and simple visuals for support
Non-technical audiences respond best to clear images that help them grasp concepts quickly. Resist the urge to create the kind of scientific poster that works with your scientist colleagues.

Most images used in science presentations are too technical, low quality, or don’t use clearly-distinguishable colors that are easy to see from a distance. The more complicated your images are, the more you’ll have to explain — and the more likely you’ll see people pulling out their cell phones. Check out our post on the power of visual communication: “Design Trends: Infographics a captivating way for bioresearch brands to share data.”

Make your work human
Scientists tend to be very serious, which can make you seem aloof or unapproachable to non-scientists. As exciting as your data might be to you, understand that your personality as a speaker and other emotional components will be just as important to your audience.

Look for ways to relate what you’re doing to human beings, preferably in a way that’s highly relevant for your audience. Will your work make their lives easier? Cure something a family member suffers from? Help their grandchildren live healthier lives? Make research more efficient in a field they’re passionate about? Ultimately, it is how your work affects people that will have the greatest impact.


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