A special podcast with Mr Bill Bryson, author of A Short History of Nearly Everything.
This science communication interview was recorded for the x-change, as part of my work at the British Science Festival 2012 in Aberdeen. So although this wasn’t specifically recorded for Speaking of Science, I think it was still a great opportunity, and a great interview with a humbly, kind and curious man.
I personally don’t get to do as much direct communication as I used to but over the years I have done everything from Bubbles shows to nurseries to debate events with the WI and a TEDx event. Most of my time is now spent training researchers, developing my presenting team and managing the business but I still get to dabble presenting about my love of science and music, and after-dinner science speaking with a difference!
Who is your main audience?
science made simple works with around 70,000 people each year and around two thirds of those are 11-16 year olds. The other third is made up of primary schools and family audiences at festivals. We also deliver training to universities and researchers in partnership with Graphic Science as The Training Group and through that we reach around 300 people each year. I also got to present some science on ITV’s Alan Titchmarsh show last year with viewing figures of over 1 million per programme which was quite exciting!
How did you get into it?
I studied Physics and Music at Cardiff University and thought I wanted to be a sound engineer, then I got a casual job at Techniquest science centre and loved what they were trying to do in changing the perception of physics. I had found people had a bad attitude to my choice of degree subject and liked the idea of trying to do something about that. I also felt it was a way of combining my interest in creative arts, science and performance. I then worked my way up at Techniquest, spent a year travelling science centres in Australia, a year being the IOP schools lecturer and then set up on my own back in 2002. We’ve grown steadily over 10 years and now employ 13 people and reached over 250,000 people.
Why do you do it?
I want to share my passion for science and leave some legacy of changing people’s perception that science is only for scientists who are clever enough to study it a high level. People are inherently quite scared of science and I want people to rediscover that childish curiosity about the world around us and the beauty of how it all works. I love the emotional connection you can make with an audience in a live performance and I know our presenters are making a difference every day they are out delivering shows in schools. There is a buzz in a live performance and the ultimate flexibility in the level of information given that – with the right presenter – can be hugely effective.
What do you love about your job?
Working with people who are passionate about making a difference and seeing the amazingly creative ideas we can generate as a team to translate complex ideas into engaging performances.
What has been your favourite project?
I still get thrills when I see our theatre project, ‘visualise’ – it began as a mad idea in 2005 about trying to do a science show with no words that wouldn’t be a cringe-makingly bad mime show. The show has evolved over 7 years of development and various guest directors and there is still so much we’d like to do with it. But when I see it with an audience gasping at the beauty and curiosity of science and coming away with questions and desire to find out more I feel very proud to have been part of it. When it was short-listed for a theatre award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival the first year we took it there, I was giddy with excitement!
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Get some experience and try and get video footage of yourself presenting something – ideally to a real audience but even just to camera. Don’t try and be like any other presenter, find your natural style and then take every opportunity you can to learn from people beyond our field who are experts at what we’re trying to achieve (ie audience engagement). Comedians, magicians, performers all have years of experience that we need to learn from and bring into the science communication sector. Look broader for inspiration and try and find a niche that you excel at….oh, and if you are a great presenter – send us your CV as we’re always talent hunting!
You can follow Wendy on Twitter @wendyjsadler and read her blogs here.