Munich Science Slam – Improving science communication by improving presentation skills
by Alexandra Klein
All of us have experienced at least once in our life as a doctoral researcher how tiring, boring and useless scientific talks can be. At times you are overwhelmed by the sheer mass of data on the slides, the talk is way too long and stuffed with irrelevant information, or the speaker just simply cannot bring across his points. In the end, you leave the seminar room without any major gain in knowledge, feeling your time would have been better spent at the lab bench. This needs to be changed! Researchers have to be able to communicate their science clearly and precisely. This is crucial not only to avoid a sleeping audience, but also to boost the scientist’s personal career (which PI would hire a postdoc who is not able to convince that his PhD work is actually really interesting?). Furthermore, a good scientific talk can advance scientific knowledge in general and promote public awareness to increase social support for science and help inform decision and policy makers.
After considerable thought about this problem of bad science talks, I decided that I wanted to organize a very unique event to teach speakers and the event audience how to present scientific facts clearly, precisely and to be more engaging. Luckily, I spoke to a friend and colleague of mine - Nick del Grosso - just at the right time: He was just as excited as me and jumped onboard without any hesitation. And thus, the Munich Science Slam was born. In general, a science slam is an event where scientists explain a scientific topic to an audience of non-scientists.
Our science slam, however, is different from most other science slam events because of 4 reasons:
- It is not aimed at the general public, but at a scientific audience,
- The speakers present their very own research,
- It is a bidirectional communication event as the audience actively participates
- It is in a niche between conference talks and pop-science talks.
Thus, our main goal is to not only organize an entertaining evening, but also to create an event that improves presentation skills among researchers.
The Munich Science Slam consists of 3 parts: a pre-event presentations skills workshop,a rehearsal for the speakers, and the science slam evening event itself. Because Nick is extremely talented and experienced in holding workshops about presentation skills, he is the primary tutor, while I manage the organization of the event.. During the presentation skills workshop, speakers are trained in different techniques to identify the core message of their talk, they learn how to structure their talks clearly and how to tell an engaging, informative and inspiring story. At the rehearsal, the speakers refine their 5 minute talks by giving and receiving feedback in an interactive atmosphere. During the event itself, the audience is also encouraged to listen carefully to the talks and to improve their presentation skills. Thus, the audience votes on the best talk via an online and real-time voting system, giving direct feedback to the speakers. Additionally, to promote interaction between the speakers and the audience, one of the listeners gives a short improvised summary of the previous talk. In the end, the best science slammers are awarded a small prize such as a plushie, T-shirt or book.
The first Munich Science Slam took place in June 2018, and we are more than happy as it turned out to be a huge success! Meanwhile, our organizing team has grown and we are happy to have Amanda Monte (MPI for Ornithology), Lisi Huber (LMU Munich) and Marita Vater (MPG headquarter) on board, taking care of advertisement, fundraising, speaker recruitment and many other such organizational tasks. So far, we have organized 4 Munich Science Slams with more than 40 speakers presenting a diverse range of topics and more than 400 audience members in total. We were sponsored by Google Munich, JetBrains, IMPRS-LS and the MPG, who supported us with the event venue and food, drinks and prizes. In June 2019, we celebrated our 1st anniversary with the 4th Munich Science Slam!
Interestingly, the doctoral researchers of Max Planck are very keen science slammers and usually make up at least half of the speakers. For example, Tom Body from the MPI for Plasma Physics spoke about “Chaos in a coffee cup: Fluid mixing the key to unlocking fusion”, while Lothar Maisenbacher from the MPI for Quantum Optics gave a science slam about "The secret life of electrons" and Nejc Dolensek from the MPI for Neurobiology gave a talk about “How to read emotions in a mouse’s face”. We received an overwhelmingly positive feedback from both our speakers and audience, and everyone felt like they learned a lot – be it scientific facts or delivering an interesting and engaging talk.
Having said that , there is always room for improvement as well as more helping hands. So, if you would like to either participate as a speaker or as a co-organizer in the next Munich Science Slam, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact me personally. Furthermore, we plan to expand the Munich Science Slam to other cities. So if you want to organize a “Berlin”, “Frankfurt” or “Leipzig” Science Slam, we are more than happy to share our experiences with you and support you with our materials.