HomeEducationBoreas Leadership ProgramWords and pictures: A captivating graphic record of Speaking Science

Words and pictures: A captivating graphic record of Speaking Science

On Thursday, January 11, IonE – with partners across the University of Minnesota – held our first Speaking Science conference. And we say first, because the consensus is we need to have more events to help faculty and graduate students become even better at communicating the amazing research that takes place here at the U.

Graphic recorder Amy Sparks helped take the conference to the next level, illustrating key messages using a combination of images and words to capture the essence of what was discussed throughout the day. Visual note-taking can significantly increase the amount of retained information, understanding and engagement: In fact, more than one conference attendee confessed they were so mesmerized and captivated by Amy’s live drawing that they found themselves watching her more than the speakers.

Morning Session

Matt Kramer, the U’s Vice President for University and Government Relations, kicked off our morning, reminding us us to speak like a neighbor – and to speak to our neighbors. An improv sketch from the Expression Lab helped everyone laugh at how painful poor communication can be – and taught us to breathe, use eye contact and engage. The morning also had an all-star media panel moderated by Elisia Cohen, director of the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Panelists included David Gillette of Twin Cities Public Television, Maggie Koerth-Baker of FiveThirtyEight, and last but not least, Emmy-award winning investigative journalist Don Shelby formerly of WCCO.

As we continued our morning, I spoke – in my capacity as director of IonE’s graduate leadership programs – to the reality that our true work is beyond communication: It’s about connection. James Rea from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science led an interactive session that guided the crowd through the making the decision to connect – and provided ways for participants to reframe the way they choose to engage with others.

Best-selling author and New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer was there to give us a broad historical and contemporary overview of the ways telling stories about science have both succeeded and failed – from Moby Dick to the era we are currently in, where facts are not sufficient pathway to belief. It was a call to action beyond storytelling and becoming politically engaged.

Your Life Online

No matter which field you’re in, your online presence is a central way of communicating with colleagues and the public at-large. We were lucky to have two afternoon sessions with Susan Hagen, a senior marketing strategist at the University of Minnesota, who led participants through the steps of creating a strategic framework for their online presence, deciding which channels to use, and how to emotionally connect across the screen, setting the right tone through voice and visuals.

Compass Message Box Training

Stephen Posner from COMPASS Science Communication gave tools for scientists to share what they do, what they know, and, most importantly, why it matters in clear, lively terms. COMPASS has a simple yet powerful tool called the Message Box. I highly recommend visiting their website to try it out for yourself, and to distill what you know and why it matters for your particular audience.

We hope that these notes keep the spirit and momentum of the conference going throughout the year. And save the date – we will be hosting another Speaking Science event on Thursday, January 17, 2019! To get more updates on when tickets go live, sign-up for our mailing list here.

Director of Graduate & Faculty Leadership Programs


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