How to communicate technical stuff as a story: the interview format

11 Jul 19 ARH away tiny
Anthony Haynes

Anthony Haynes writes: You have stuff that you want to communicate about your work. You want to communicate the value of your technical work, for example, or at least the validity of the thinking behind it. How do you do it?

These days, if you ask that question within a group of engineers, it’s likely that pretty soon someone will say, ‘We need to tell the story’.

I find that over recent years the awareness amongst engineers of the effectiveness of story-telling has grown considerably. And the less technical the target audience is likely to be, the stronger the sense of a need for story-telling is likely to be.

But whilst recognising the power of narrative is a step in the right direction, it leaves open the question of how: OK, let’s tell a story — now how do we do that?

It is, after all, extremely possible to become an experienced, well-qualified, engineer without having learnt how to become the next Scheherazade or Boccaccio.

To overcome this challenge, I’ve been collecting examples of resources to help develop narratives that have some technical content.

So here I’d like to share what is perhaps my favourite to date.

On the Cool green science blog, Colin Shanley tells the story of how he learnt to communicate his research, based on quantitative modelling in the field of environmental science, to a non-technical audience.

Shanley highlights the importance of learning to talk about your work, as well as write. And he provides a series of non-obvious practical tips. (For example: ‘The story is infinitely better when you meet on location’).

He also provides links to (a) the open-access scholarly journal paper he wrote and (b) the segment that was broadcast on radio. Making a comparison of those two texts seems to me one of the most instructive things that an aspiring technical story-teller can do.

A scientist’s field guide to the media is available here.

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