Science is boring

‘Science is boring’, says biologist and science communicator Sally Le Page in her YouTube video. Because as a scientist, you spend most of your days performing repetitive tasks, such as numbering petri dishes from 1 to 120.

It really takes no more than 2.5 seconds per dish, but doing a couple thousands of these, you quickly end up spending several hours of your PhD on this, merely numbering petri dishes.

Is that a problem? No, as long as you find fulfilment from being a scientist. It does become problematic when you have to talk about it to an audience. Because talking about a boring topic, is usually … boring.

So how does Sally Le Page manage to draw 19.000 viewers to this video of hers? And how can you draw your audience’s attention when your topic is as boring as Sally’s?

‘Why can’t it be boring?’

‘Why can’t it be boring?’ I often hear scientists say, reasoning that an audience should put in an effort, at least.

You may believe they should put in an effort, but what if they don’t? This could very well ruin your chances of making an impact with your message.

As a presenter, it is your task to share your message and to share it well. Naturally, much depends on your audience: one person’s yum is another’s yuck. It will be up to you to respond to what your audience needs or what motivates them.

So, how do you make it appealing?

Just mix in these three ingredients: a wow factor, relevance, and structure.

1. Wow factor

Know how to capture your audience. Take them by surprise, do something unexpected, ask questions, engage them. Share a story your audience wants to hear the ending to. This is sure to keep your spectators listening until your very last word.

So what is Sally Le Page’ wow factor? She brings the unexpected. When a scientist states that science is boring, you want to hear more. Presenting the art of provoking!

Have you ever heard of universal wow factors? These are actions that will work on almost any audience. Could you possibly link your topic to a famous person, perhaps Donald Trump? Or to a brand, let’s say Facebook, Ikea or Netflix?

Does this sound all too unscientific? Bioengineer Sarah Vanbesien (Ghent University) was able to draw a great amount of attention with her research into a biological ‘dating app’ that matches the right bee with the right flower. Or simply put: ‘Tinder for bees’. Pretty catchy, right? An audience was sure to be discussing that over dinner. And that is exactly what I mean by ‘wow factor’.

2. Relevance

Of course, I understand that going overboard with wow factors could create too much of a spectacle. Ideally, you won’t even need a wow factor, when your story is relevant as is. Meaning that you meet your audience’s needs.

Have you found a way of tackling traffic congestion, or did you develop a tool that will speed up creating an amazing slideshow? Your audience will be all ears.

But at times you will need to present a topic that your audience is not quite as passionate about. Just think back to the bee story. Clever, the wink to Tinder. But really, who cares? Unless we also learn that without bee pollination the entire food chain could collapse. And perhaps Sarah even has some useful tips for us on which flowers to add to our yard or balcony.

So, during your presentation, instead of sharing only what you find important, why not focus on what will appeal to your audience.

How does Sally Le Page make her video relevant? By presenting a reality that is mostly hidden from the outside world. She describes how scientists are often presented as rock stars, while their day-to-day existence could often not be more different. By pinpointing an aspect that so many scientists can relate to, she speaks directly to the needs of her audience.

3. Structure

Do you have one or more wow factors up your sleeve and are you speaking to the needs of your audience? Well done! Your next step should be to organize everything into a solid structure. If you throw everything into a muddled pile, you may draw people’s attention, but by the end of your presentation they will be none the wiser as to your key message.

In our book we describe step by step how to clearly structure your presentation, starting from a specific problem or need to which you are looking to find a solution. And in your conclusion, remember to clearly restate your main message.

In terms of structure, Sally Le Page loses points, seeing that there is little story line in her video and I would have appreciated a concluding message towards the end. Also, the video only starts after 1 minute, once we’ve been presented with an advertising message.

Is your topic boring?

Are you afraid that your research or project is boring? The good news is: there are no boring topics. Any topic can be presented well: add in a wow factor, speak to the needs of your audience, and structure your story well.

During your next presentation, go ahead and share with your audience just how boring your research or project is, but whatever you do: make it fun!


Photo ‘science’ by Louis Reed on Unsplash

Photo ‘bee’ by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash