I joined graduate students and early-career researchers at OIRM’s first Science Communications Workshop, held November 24, 2016 in Toronto. Expert communicators from a variety of backgrounds provided a valuable introduction to the essentials of successful science communication at the day-long event.
We learned that storytelling is a tool that can help you to construct compelling messages. Great stories are important for all forms of communication – including videos, radio segments, podcasts, newspaper articles and blog posts – and include six essential elements. I’ve listed them below, along with videos that illustrate the points. (We also heard great tips for communicating with the media and the importance of avoiding jargon. You can read the post here.)
The Six Elements of a Great Story:
- The Hook
The “hook” of a story is a fact, phrase or message that piques the interest of the audience and makes them want to learn more. At the workshop, we watched the following award-winning advertisement from The Guardian, entitled “Three Little Pigs,” to visually understand how a hook works.
The ad hooks you with the first spoken line: “Little pig, little pig, let us in! It’s the police!” This line is reminiscent of the Big Bad Wolf’s greeting in the traditional fable, but the mention of the police hints that something sinister is going to follow. In a written piece, the hook is referred to as a “lede,” and consists of the first 25 words (or less), in which you focus your thoughts and share what’s most important.
- The Characters
The video below, from the United Way of Ottawa, provides an example of how a character can captivate the audience.
In a great story, the characters are relatable. Nathan, a homeless youth who tells his story in the video, is a good example of this. After sharing why he lives on the streets and his daily challenges, he explains how support from the United Way of Ottawa and donor donations positively impacts his life.
- The Setting
The setting of a story can also help to communicate your message. In the video from the United Way of Ottawa above, Nathan tells his story while walking on the streets where he lives. His story wouldn’t have had the same effect if he was seated at a boardroom table, for example. Similarly, when communicating about science or research, try bringing people to the place you work, such as a lab or research facility.
- The Details
What small details stood out for you in the two videos above? What about the claw marks on the wall in the “Three Little Pigs” video (at 00:57), or Nathan showing the hole in his shoe in the video from the United Way of Ottawa (at 01:16)? These small details convey implicit messages to make the story more robust. Share this level of detail to allow the audience to understand the nuances of your work.
- Inside Information
For decades, Bill Nye “the Science Guy” educated children and teens about science on his television show. What makes Bill Nye’s messages so fascinating? Two things: his knowledge and passion, as demonstrated in the video from The New York Times, below:
When communicating about science, channel these attributes into your storytelling. Don’t assume the audience knows what you know. Share background information in layman’s terms to help the audience connect with your message. Your passion about the topic is contagious and can spark the audience’s interest.
It’s hard to miss that the music and visuals are dark and hard-hitting, alluding to the serious reality of the front lines of child health. This aesthetic differs from SickKids’ previous ad campaigns, so it may be unexpected. This example illustrates how surprising elements can encourage engagement with your messages, and can even make your story stand out from competitors.
Want to learn more about science communications? Learning modules based on content from the workshop are being developed and will be featured on OIRM’s YouTube Channel soon.
Do you know of any online videos that are examples of good storytelling? Share a link in the comments below!
Our regular feature, Right Turn, appears every Friday and we invite you to submit your own blog to info(at)ccrm.ca. We encourage you to be creative and use the right (!) side of your brain. We dare you to make us laugh! Right Turn features cartoons, photos, videos and other content to amuse, educate and encourage discussion.
As always, we welcome your feedback in the comment section.