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What is your message?

In this video, we analyse the third element of science communication: your message, and we introduce a tool that can help you define it.
In the previous steps, we talked about two of the three questions you should ask yourself
before starting a science communication activity: What is your goal, and who is your audience. The third question is what is your message. The question starts with “what you want to talk about?”
But it must also include another crucial aspect: Why should your audience care? The main way to answer this question is finding a connection with their needs and their life.
For instance: I am talking about this new neuroimaging study because it will lead to tools that detect dementias in a very early stage. Maybe your answer is another one. your topic is just timely. A disease outbreak will lead to an increased interest in topics related to medicine; A new space mission could be the starting point for a talk about astronomy or astrophysics.
The closer this event is to your audience, the better: If one of the astronauts is from your country, it is more likely that your fellow citizens will be interested in the topic. Once you decided your topic, and you know why it is relevant for your audience, you can develop it by adding the other elements that complete your message.
A tool to do it the message box: It consists of four sections that flow around your central topic.
The four sections contain questions that must be answered: What is the specific problem that you are addressing? Why is this problem relevant to my audience, and what will happen if it is not solved? What are the potential solutions to the problem? And what are the benefits of resolving this problem? Let’s suppose we want to talk about a new biological method to control agricultural pests. The central topic is the issue of agricultural pests, and it might matter to your audience, for instance, because of an outbreak that is reducing the production of some foods and driving up prices. If the problem is not solved the cultures could be wiped out, and the market for this food could be impacted for years.
The solution you propose is the new biological method you want to talk about, and the benefit is controlling the pest outbreak without resorting to increasing amounts of pesticides.
Another way to look at your message is as the meeting point of three different aspects: What your audience thinks now, what they care about and what you would like them to think. Once you filled your message box, it’s time to refine it.
When in doubt, you can rely (?) on the acronym KISS: Keep it short and simple. Your talk might have multiple stories in it, and branch out in different directions, but taking too many turns and twists will make your message more confusing. Your topic might be complex, but it must be understandable from your audience. If it isn’t, then your communication effort will collapse under his own weight. To support your message and make it more persuasive and compelling you can use a wide variety of techniques, which are not different from the ones that are used in marketing and communication. But we’d like to use the classical rhetorical
triangle: You should appeal to reason, emotions, and your credibility as a scientist. Your talk cannot rely only on logic and data. Make your audience trust you. Engage them, make them laugh, make them proud of something. By balancing the three elements of this equation, you will be able to successfully deliver your message and reach your communicative goals.

What is your message?

By now, you probably defined your goal and your audience. However, there is still one aspect that needs to be discussed: what is your message? What do you want to talk about? As we discussed in the previous steps, your message should consider both your goals and the audience’s ones.

In this video, we introduce a tool that can help you to define and simplify your message, especially when you want to spreading awareness about a problem that our society faces and propose a solution.

This tool is the message box, which we are proposing in the version developed by Nancy Baron and COMPASS, a science communication NGO.

This tool will not help you define your topic, but rather it will help you organize your thoughts and the elements of your argument around its core, and to build a logical flow that binds all together.

The message box is the tool we will ask you to use in this week’s assignment, but it is not the only aid you can use to define your message.

When considering the single aspects, a similar approach is found in the messaging templates proposed by the Scientist’s Guide to Talking with the Media.

This book is published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science organization based in the US. Its desk reference is freely available from the UCS website, and the download link is provided in the “see also” section.

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Science Communication and Public Engagement

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