Five steps to favour effectiveness over efficiency in #SciComm

Approximate reading time: 3 minutes 50 seconds

If you are a parent, you understand all too well the difference between being efficient and being effective. Once your children are big enough to be able to “help” with the chores they start making your life miserable. They help unloading the dishwasher and they break half of your favorite plates in the process. They help watering your favorite plants so hard that the next thing you do is go to the neighbors downstairs to apologize for their dripping ceiling.

I sympathize with parents who give up at that point and tell their children to stop being so helpful and start doing something that doesn’t involve dishes, water, fire or basically anything that their creative minds find the most engaging. This way parents can carry on their chores efficiently and the relief they feel is as huge as the mistake they have just made.

The truth is that instead of giving up you should suck it up and let your children teach you to be effective rather than efficient. You are being efficient if you focus rather on a speedy and competent process while being effective means that you focus on producing a desired result even if it requires the process to be long and painful.

While one doesn’t automatically exclude the other, in our busy lives we quite often face a dilemma whether to be efficient or effective and in most cases we choose wrong. Scientists are not different in this respect. They are struggling with conducting research, teaching, writing, participating in conferences and many other work-related tasks while trying to make sure their private lives don’t fall apart. Therefore, in communication they may take shortcuts that lead them astray instead of leading them exactly where they want to go.

To avoid falling into the trap of favoring efficiency over effectiveness in science communication you should remember that science communication is a learning process. Take your time!

There are the 5 steps you should take if you want to be effective rather than efficient:

1. Analyze the purpose of your communication

One of the most important aspects of every science communication should be answering a simple question – what is the purpose of my communication? In fact, there are no wrong answers to this question except maybe for the “there is no purpose to my communication”. Analyzing your purpose will bring you answers to many more questions such as:

  • what is the audience I want to reach;
  • what are the tools I want to use;
  • what is the level of language I want to apply;
  • how am I going to measure my impact and many more.

Never skip analyzing the purpose of your communication if you don’t want to end up doing unnecessary things for irrelevant people with no real benefit.

2. Decide the one simple message you want to convey

Define one message you want to convey to your audience or you will overload people with too many facts and details without giving them clear information on what your research actually is about. People rarely remember more than one fact from a presentation so make sure they remember what you want them to remember instead of a random detail that may blur the overall picture.


3. Analyze your audience

I find skipping analysis of your audience one of the most dangerous mistakes you can make. Not knowing your audience will imply using an inappropriate language (see next step) and not applying proper techniques to reach your audience with your message. It brings one of the most important dangers of making your communication not relevant to people and therefore completely ineffective and pointless.


4. Use a language appropriate for your audience

You can be sure you will apply the appropriate language if you analyze your audience in advance. Speaking the wrong language can make more harm than good to your research. If you’re lucky, people will remain simply uninvolved. However, in the worst-case scenario they may misunderstand your research or your message and pass this wrong message to others. And this process will be beyond your control.


5. Don’t use the same presentation for different types of audience and for different channels

Using the same presentation is a very tempting idea. You do your work only once and reuse it whenever possible. However, what you should keep in mind is that if something is for everyone it’s for no one. Therefore, prepare a base that you can repurpose for another occasion but make sure you take into account the audience, the language you use or the time you will have at your disposal.

Whenever you think about communicating your science, keep in mind that you aim at effectiveness not efficiency.

It takes time and effort but if you care about the result it’s a process that cannot fail. Even if at first you end up with broken plates or flooded plants, suck it up and you are not going to regret it.

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