“Have fun with your audience, make them smile, keep them engaged”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Rob Wix
Who do you work for?
What type of science communication do you do?
For Sustainable Science I write, produce and present live presentations and workshops for schools, colleges and universities. For On-Show I develop interactive science communication strategies for businesses, charities and science organisations.
Who is your main audience?
My main audience is school pupils and the public.
How did you get into it?
After leaving college, I wanted a job where I could meet people and do something a bit different. All my friends went off to university; something I knew nothing about. I started presenting science shows when I was 18, usually doing 2-4 shows a day on an amazing variety of topics. I spent all of my available time in the science theatre, watching presenters both good and bad, picking up tips and honing my skills. Hard to believe that was nearly eighteen years ago!
Why do you do it?
I do it because I enjoy having a good time with the audience. Whether I’m presenting to 10 or 500 people, I treat it like a conversation. I discuss ideas with them, show them things that I enjoy and that they might not have seen before. I have enough experience to sense when the might not have understood, or when they are ready to move on, and I like being a part of their journey.
What do you love about your job?
The part of my job I love is when I see someone make a connection with science that they didn’t make before; whether it’s them understanding how a solar panel works, comprehending the distance between the Earth and the Moon, or just seeing science as accessible and relevant. A celebrity once informed me that she ‘didn’t like science’ – in my mind she confused ‘science’ with the stereotypical image of scientists that the media continues to feature, specifically men in white coats with funny hair and colourful chemicals. Of course, there are a small number of scientists who do look like this, and even have the chemicals…and yes, they play a vital role in pushing the boundaries of knowledge, but there is so much fantastic investigation being done by so many people around the planet, it’s a shame they don’t appear to have a foothold in the media. So it’s great when I can show someone that science can be done by a whole range of people, not just those who are ‘dressed for the part’ in their white coat.
What has been your favourite project?
My favourite project so far was writing an interactive science gameshow. I am pleased to say that it is still touring and that I have just written a Christmas version!
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Depending on which area you would like to do, there are different ways to start. If you are studying at Uni, seek out their Public Engagement department (hopefully they’ll have one) and volunteer for some activities. If you are a scientist who wants to tell the World about your research, prepare a short (3 minute) pub-style conversation about your work, then go to the pub and try it out. If you can’t give people the gist of it in three minutes, then ask for feedback. If you would like to start presenting shows about science, walk away from your computer and dig out some real-life props; an audience always responds much better to real items than to pictures on a PowerPoint screen. Have fun with your audience, make them smile, keep them engaged, keep your feet still and finish when you say you will, so that the next person can do their presentation.
You can follow Rob Wix on Twitter @RobWix