On May 8th, the Science Battle will take place. Researchers will be presenting their work to elementary school children. Out of 24 submissions, the children selected 5 proposals they thought were particularly compelling.
An event for kids, you may be thinking. Not so fast. This could actually be much more relevant to you than it may seem. Would you like to improve your presentation skills? Then do keep reading. No audience is better at pushing researchers out of their comfort zone than grade schoolers.
I have simply been blown away by the immense amount of enthusiasm, professionalism and creativity. And that goes for both the children and the scientists. There is simply an incredible thirst for knowledge during these events.
What is the Science Battle?
Event host Hans Van de Water: “Einstein once said: if you cannot explain it to a six year old, you yourself do not understand it.” Nothing beats presenting to children when it comes to communicating your story in a clear and persuasive manner.
The Science Battle brings science into elementary schools. The children themselves determine what they think is exciting and interesting. Small teams are in charge of organizing the activities. There are teams of judges, press, decoration, time management, etc. And guess what, the best ideas typically come from the children themselves.
Prior to the event, the five presenters received a presentation training from The Floor is Yours, during which they will be taught how to present their content in a clear and concise manner.
During the event, the researchers get 15 minutes to present their work to children ages 6 through 12. They battle for the coveted science trophee. Judges from the fifth and sixth grades have the final say in who wins.
What can we learn from the voting outcomes?
1. Health and technology are popular
Three out of five selected topics were related to health, and two were related to technology.
Does speaking about health require that person to be medically trained? Not at all. Sara Vleminckx studies wasps, but found a connection with inflammation. Koen van den Eeckhout’s field of expertise is lighting, but uses that knowledge to track down medications inside the body.
Even if there is no link with health right now, there may be one in the future. Jeroen Peeters is well aware of this. His heat-sensitive camera can even detect cancerous cells, he writes. The relevance of his research becomes very clear immediately.
2. Clear language
The topics that were selected were written in clear, non-technical language. It works for children, but adults prefer this too.
For example, take a look at Hetty Helsoortel’s proposal about leukemia:
“I research why some children get leukemia, and others don’t. By tracking down the bad guys in the blood of sick children. I do this in in the most spectacular way: with my special machines, I dive right into the blood of both healthy and sick people, and look around. It is my job to find the bad guys. This isn’t always easy, because the bad guys are really good at hiding! When I find where the bad guys live, other people can develop medicines to eliminate them so the children can get better.”
I challenge you to write the summary of your research in the same descriptive and captivating way. Patronizing? Maybe. But if you would try communicating a similar message among 100 adults, I bet everyone would understand what you are saying. And that is what it is all about when communicating to a large audience.
3. Make a show out of it (and announce it as such)
If you are facing the choice between several suggested topics, you want to get an idea for what you’ll be seeing. An interesting topic alone is not enough to persuade anyone. The researchers who made the cut all clearly described the show they had in mind for the event.
Jeroen Peeters, for example, told the kids up front what all can be seen through a heat-sensitive camera. “You may not be aware, but we all leave a trace of heat behind. (…) And if you’d like to find out how you can communicate in a secret language by just using your finger, I’d be happy to show you!
Leverage things that trigger the imagination of your audience. Make it as concrete as possible, and make your potential audience visualize the brilliance of what you’ll be presenting.
The topics that made the cut
- Wasp venom: the key to curing inflammation (Sara Vleminckx, UGent)
- Heat-sensitive camera detects small cracks in airplanes (Jeroen Peeters, UAntwerpen)
- Trace medicines through our bodies using glow-in-the-dark (Koen van den Eeckhout, UGent)
- Curing leukemia in children (Hetty Helsmoortel, UGent)
- Live the life of an engineer or scientist (Lieve Thibaut, KU Leuven)
Children are the best coaches
Teacher Inge of the Prins Boudewijn elementary school told me that the children take their role as judges very seriously. “They are very critical. If they sense that they are being manipulated into voting for a particular presenter, they will give that person a lower score.”
The children asked questions about each of the 5 chosen topics prior to the presentations. One student asked whether CO2 could be detected with the heat-sensitive camera, “because isn’t CO2 a form of heat as well?”. Do not underestimate these kids!
I spoke with several of the teams involved in the upcoming Science Battle. One of them suggested to have scores between 5 and 10. “It’s just like a score between 1 and 5, but we feel bad if we have to give a speaker less than a 5”. Great idea, right? Schools should apply this in their scoring system!
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No doubt about it. Kids can improve your presentation skills. Try it out!