Connecting with Community Groups

Reaching out to local groups is a great way to share your science and explain why it’s relevant and important to your community.

Visit our page on Potential Audiences to find the right group to connect with and tips on thinking about your audience.

Click on the image to watch Dr. Drew Feustel’s Public Lecture, “Adventures of a (Geoscientist) Astronaut”

Getting Started:

  • Make plans. Use our Brainstorming tip sheet (PDF) to help think about your goals and approach.
  • Find community partners. Libraries, local service organizations (Kiwanis, rotary), business associations, churches, activities groups (gardening clubs, hikers, skiers, etc.), and museums are just some of the many groups that may already host lecture series or be interested in working with you. Use our Template for First Contact (PDF).
  • Know your goals. What do you want your audience to get out of this talk? Do you have a call to action for them?
  • Know their goals. What would your audience like to get out of this presentation? Do they enjoy many opportunities for discussion or debate amongst themselves? Do they simply want to be better informed on an issue? Do they wish to connect your expertise to a larger question or topic?
  • Know your audience. What are the demographics of this group? What is the average level of education and in what fields? How familiar will the members of this group be with scientific terms or methods?
  • Know your audience’s interests. Your specific research is unlikely to be interesting to your audience unless it has a direct influence on their lives. Instead, ask yourself, “What aspect of my field of study will be most relevant to this group? What kinds of questions will they have? How does my research or discipline relate to important or timely events in my community?”
  • Remember your connection. You may not be a member of the organization you’re reaching out to, but you are a part of the same larger community, and you share many of the same concerns and interests as those in the group. Make sure that’s clear to you and to the group when you talk with them.
  • Know your format. Is this group looking for a lecturer or someone to moderate a discussion, be part of a panel, or answer their questions?
  • Emphasize relevance. Explain the importance of your topic in relation to local interests, health, or investments.
  • Find a venue. If your community partner doesn’t have one, choose a spot that’s convenient and appealing to your intended audience: Will it attract them? Is it kid friendly? Does it have the right AV equipment? Will it hold enough people?
  • Spread the word. Flyers, postings in local papers, and press releases can all serve to inform people in advance.
  • Prepare your materials. You may want to provide fact sheets, brochures, or other handouts.
  • Practice your talk. If you haven’t presented this information to nonscientists before, practice on friends or family to see if anything is confusing.
  • Make it a dialogue. Make room for questions, and have some questions ready that you can put to your audience about their experiences and concerns.
  • Follow up. Make sure your audience and/or community partners know that you’re available as a resource for future talks and conversations.

Potential Community Partners:

  • Museums and science centers
  • Universities
  • Chambers of commerce
  • Service organizations (Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary clubs)
  • VFW and Elks clubs
  • Environmental groups and clubs
  • League of Women Voters
  • Libraries

Not sure how to phrase your email or letter to the community group? Use our Template for First Contact (PDF).

Planning your approach

Before the event:

  • Gather demographics. Determine the composition and size of the prospective audience.
  • Find out what they want. Design the agenda around the target outcome for the event, which should be based on the interests of the group and the prospective audience.
  • Give them resources. Prepare hardcopy resources or information on how audience members can learn or do more.
  • Be ready to continue the conversation. Collaborate with community partners to establish plans for building upon this discussion.

On the day of the event:

  • Set up a good dynamic. Establish an atmosphere of mutual respect.
  • Invite their response. Ask community members about their own concerns, experiences, and interests on topics related to your science (e.g. geology, weather, rivers, space, etc.)
  • Emphasize relevance. Explain the importance of your topic in relation to local interests, health, or investments.
  • Avoid digressions. During discussion, maintain the focus, and ask questions that will redirect the conversation to your topic.
  • Encourage dissemination. Encourage participants to share what they’ve learned with others.

Planning your presentation

Things to remember:

  • Speaking is different than writing. As you compose your talk, think about how it will sound and how easy it will be for you to read.
  • Make your notes visible. Use a large font that you can read easily.
  • Include stage directions. Remind yourself to pause, to point at the screen, to explain an image.
  • Aim for cues. If you don’t want to read your speech, write down various reminders, notes, and numbers to guide you through your talk.

Design

  • Tailor your design not just to your audience but to your site: Does the location support AV equipment?
  • Test everything. Don’t just practice your speech at home—make sure you have enough time to test out all AV equipment before your talk.
  • Keep slides brief. Use one image, idea, or (clear) figure, to illustrate—rather than reiterate—your speech.

Practicing

  • You should always practice your talk out loud, ideally to an audience; you can even videotape yourself.
  • How do you sound? Practice your enunciation, voice projection, breathing, and pace.
  • How do you look? Practice looking confident—neither stiff nor slouching—and make sure that any gestures are deliberate rather than fidgety.
  • Give yourself pauses. Your speech should be measured, with natural pauses; don’t make the audience race to catch up.
  • How long are you taking? If you’re running long, now’s the time to cut things out.
  • Should you brace yourself? If your topic is controversial, plan in advance for how you can calmly deal with hostile questions or comments.

Prepping the space

  • Visit the space. See how it sounds and looks, where your audience will be, how it will make you speak or move, and whether any obstacles can be removed.

Presenting

  • Breathe deeply. This will remind you to pause (and may relax you).
  • Greet the audience. You can also introduce yourself—but only if someone hasn’t already done this.
  • Be happy. Even if it’s a performance, try to appear comfortable and pleased to be there.
  • Make (general) eye contact. Let your gaze move—slowly—and look at members of the audience, not just one individual.
  • Don’t apologize. Unless you’ve set something on fire, apologizing will only draw the audience’s attention to slight errors (nervousness, misspeaks) that likely only you have noticed.
  • Check your time. Make sure you have a way to casually check a clock, watch, or timer.
  • Check your pace. If you’re running overtime, don’t speed up; think about what you can cut out or where would be a good point to end early.
  • With a bang, not a whimper. End on a strong note, with a compelling story, idea, or statement, and don’t let your voice fade away.

Q&A

  • Pause. Give yourself a second to consider your response and make sure you’re really answering the question.
  • Repeat questions. If other audience members couldn’t hear what was asked—or if you want to make sure you’ve understood—repeat the question before answering.
  • Don’t be baited. If you have a heckler or hostile questioner, remember that you won’t impress your audience if you respond to them in kind.
  • The finish line. When you’re done, try not to look too relieved.

Checklist–Giving Public Talks:

  • Be personal. Begin by letting your audience know who you are, why you study what you study, and why you’re speaking.
  • Tell a story. Find your narrative, whether it’s a story of how researchers learned something or what they know.
  • Be friendly. Your audience will be more receptive if you are approachable and amiable—especially if you remain so even if you have to deal with a cantankerous individual.
  • Give examples. Make your story easier to visualize with specifics: local examples and impacts, numbers put in context, or vivid images.
  • Presentation is important. Voice projection, posture, enthusiasm, gestures, and smooth delivery are all necessary aspects of your talk and just as worth preparing as your content.
  • Use pictures. No one is averse to seeing beautiful images—and if they help your audience remember the science, all the better.
  • Avoid slides with text. Clear diagrams that explain processes (e.g., the carbon cycle) can be helpful. Other text, however, will only distract from your talk and is unlikely to be retained by your audience.

Examples:

Astrobiology magazine’s TED Talks for Space Junkies