Re: Popular(izing) Science (was RE: SOC/BIO/POL: International Forum on Globa...

Date: Sat Feb 17 2001 - 12:05:04 MST

In a message dated 2/7/01 9:45:28 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

> [snip] I very much want to be a
> popularizer, to attract fresh blood to the science, as well as to inform
> John Q. Public about the wonders of science, and what it can do (and has
> done) for his life.
> That said:
> How can I get there from here? (ATTN: Mr. Broderick and other
> writers/communicators on this list)

[snip discussion of reading good models in popular science and literature -
which is VERY important.]

> Verbal communication, in speech and debate, is one area I cannot seem to
> find good information about. I took a debate class, but it was less than
> useless. I would like to hone my speaking skills, and to that end I have
> been making presentations for the Mars Society. My major failing thus far
> is that I have a low, soft, somewhat soothing voice, and it tends to put
> people to sleep. I do, however, consider myself to be a good communicator,
> and I often can understand where the person I'm talking to doesn't
> understand, and smooth out conflicts.
> I know that there are people on this list who are good writers and
> communicators. For me, and those like me, please share your thoughts and
> resources on how we can better communicate our visions.

I make my living as a communicator and spend a good deal of time teaching
young lawyers how to develop their written and oral communication and
persuasion skills. Based on that, I can make some observations. First,
there IS an element of natural talent in both kinds of communication, but
whatever level of natural talent you have CAN be cultivated and improved.

Second, you can learn some things about oral communication and advocacy from
reading and writing. The first step is to realize that oral communication is
different in many respects from written communication and that the art of
persuasion employs many different tools in the oral arena. Things that work
on the written page do not necessarily translate into good communication or
persuasive speaking in the oral realm.

I highly recommend that you get and read good contemporary speeches. In my
opinion the two greatest orators in English in the 20th Century were Winston
Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. Read them carefully. Study how they
use cadence, rhythm and pacing to compliment the points they are making.
Notice how they choose words for their aural impact and repeat key phrases as
a means of focusing attention. Then listen to the speeches after you've read
them. Then read them again. I won't go into it here, but in fact there are
a few simple tools that great speakers use that distinguish them from others.
 Studying Churchill and MLK, you'll see that there's a science to what they
did, as well as an art.

Finally, there is an essential animal element to in-person oral communication
and advocacy that involves understanding, modulation and control of one's
whole body as an instrument. Again, there is a large element of natural
endowment and talent in this, but whatever instrument you have can be tuned
and amplified.

When I was just starting out as an attorney, I was very fortunate to attend a
two and half week "boot camp" for trial lawyers (the National Institute for
Trial Advocacy) that was aimed at improving these skills. The faculty
consisted of practicing lawyers, judges, actors, theater directors,
professional speech coaches and wardrobe consultants. The curriculum
consisted of individual exercises based on the different specific tasks that
a trial lawyer must master to be a good advocate. Each exercise was
videotaped. At the end of the each exercise, we were immediately critiqued
by faculty members and other students who had viewed the exercise "live" .
Then we went into a grueling "stop-action" critique by another set of
teachers. At the end of the program we tried a full case to a jury, who we
then watched deliberate on video in real time. Then we came home and watched
the whole series on video again: The improvement was dramatic.

Needless to say, most people who want to become better communicators won't go
to the kind of lengths I describe above, which are appropriate for someone
who makes their living as an advocate. However, the basic techniques
developed by NITA can be translated into tools you can use. First, there is
no substitute for DOING when it comes to oral communication and personal
advocacy. The more experience you get, if you take the extra steps necessary
to learn from each "outing", the better you'll be in communicating and
persuading. Those extra steps consist of getting useful feedback. One
invaluable tool is video recording. Make yourself watch yourself and REALLY
watch. Another key ingredient is to do the watching WITH someone, who will
offer honest criticisms (and, just as important, meaningful positive

Following a course of training such as this WILL have a real impact on your
abilities as a communicator. You'll improve your poise and confidence and
you'll become aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a communicator.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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