Knowing your audience
You can get to know your audience better by taking time to reflect on these questions:
- Does your audience share your perspective and level of knowledge? Your wider views?
- Are there different ways you can ‘frame’ your message for different audiences, based on their knowledge of the subject and interests?
Getting to know what makes your audience tick will be important for building trust between you and your audience.
Trust and credibility - in both the message and the messenger - define the extent to which the public will pay attention to a scientific message, the belief they will have in the message and the level of support they will give to the policy implications of the science.
Whilst research shows consistently high levels of trust in scientists in Europe,1,2 scientists cannot automatically assume that they are seen as trusted experts when communicating scientific evidence with important policy implications.
Politically conservative groups are more sceptical of ‘impact scientists’, (e.g. climate scientists) who examine the environmental and health impacts of technology and industrial activities. These same groups hold greater trust in ‘production scientists’ such as engineers or chemists who produce new technologies and marketable products.
Getting to know your audience
Exercise 1: A good way of learning how to make your research legible and relevant for a non-expert audience is to practice talking about your research with a friend, family member or colleague from outside your field of expertise. Imagine them as a stranger sat on the bus who has asked you what you do for a living. Can you create an elevator pitch (1 minute long) for your research which quickly and clearly communicates why your work matters for the person you are speaking to?
Exercise 2: Work with a colleague to interview each other about your research (10 minutes each). Use this elevator pitch as the basis for your answer in the interview. Then each of you report back to the other a summary of what you heard. Did your colleague report back to you what you would want them to have heard and understood about your research? What could you have done or said differently?
Exercise 3: This exercise is designed to help you think about the challenges of communicating with different types of audiences. Discuss with a colleague (10 min) how you would speak with someone from one of the categories below. Create a list of what you imagine to be their interests, needs and motivations, and what barriers and challenges these present for communicating climate change to them.
- Someone from your local community
- European policy maker
- European College student
- Rural farmer in Uganda
- European business owner
1 Dunlap, R.E., Marquart-Pyatt, S.T., & McCright, A.M. (2016). Political ideology and views about climate change in the European Union. Environmental Politics, 25, 338–358. doi:10.1080/09644016.2015.1090371;
2 US National Science Board. (2016). Chapter 7: Science and technology: Public attitudes and understanding. In Science and Engineering Indicators 2016. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.