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Unseminars teach powerful science communication strategies

Friday, June 22, 2018

CEBC's new 'Unseminar' series kicked off this summer. The boredom-busting, interactive meet-ups are a good way to socialize, gain skills and exchange ideas with your CEBC friends.

Our “Science Slam” Unseminar focused on the power of storytelling. Humans are hard-wired to enjoy stories. It’s one of the few traits that translates across all cultures.  Listening to stories actually changes our brain activity! 

But most scientists and engineers don’t tell stories. Instead, we tend to operate in exposition mode, describing our methods, experiments, data and conclusions as a series of facts. This might be okay when your audience is made up of intellectuals, but it misses the mark with less technically-savvy audiences.  A good story engages the audience, and keeps their attention.

We discovered just how powerful stories can be at the unseminar by listening to our brave storytellers, which included Prof. Mark Shiflett, graduate students Simon Velasquez Morales and Robbie Hable, and postdoc Julian Silverman. Your stories are inspiring examples of the unusual paths we take to become engineers and scientists!

Do you want to improve your storytelling skills?  Take some advice from Pixar’s ‘Rules of Storytelling.’

The animation film studio Pixar makes megahit movies like Toy Story, Incredibles, and Finding Nemo. One of the secrets to their storytelling success is to use the story spine, a set of 6-7 sentence starters that frame a story. Anyone can use this technique.  Here's how it works:

  • Once upon a time…(introduce characters, setting).
  • And every day…(tell the audience what life is like in this world on a day to day basis).
  • Until one day…(Something happens! Describe how the main character’s world is thrown out of balance, forcing him/her to act or change somehow).
  • And because of this…(Describe how character pursues his or her goal).
  • Until finally…(moment of truth).
  • And ever since that day…(describe the meaning of the story for the character(s) and the audience).

The secret to super-powerful communication: combine storytelling with social media

In CEBC’s first Unseminar we learned about how scientists can use social media to advance their research. Jill Hummels, Director of External Affairs from KU’s Provost Office, showed us how online tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can be very useful for sharing research.  Here are some useful links if you  would like to learn more:

And, if you want to follow the CEBC on social media, here are the links:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/kucebc/​

Twitter: https//twitter.com/KUcebc

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/KUcebc/

--Story by Claudia Bode

 



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