- Be a confident communicator
- Talk about the real world, not abstract ideas
- Connect with what matters to your audience
- Tell a human story
- Lead with what you know
- Use the most effective visual communication
This mostly seems quite reasonable. Certainly, when I talk with my students about how to give talks, I will give similar kind of advice. Be confident, explain the relevance of what you’re presenting, think about your audience, try to have an over-arching narrative (i.e., think about what you would like the audience to take away from the talk and structure it so that this “story” is clear), and make sure the graphics and figures are clear and relevant.
However, I do have some observations about this whole idea. There’s a sense that all we need to do is communicate more effectively, and I’m not really convinced that this is the case (we can always do better, though). It is an extremely difficult communication environment, and there are many who do their utmost to undermine serious communications attempts. For example, imagine trying to tell a story about polar bears dying, or sea level destroying coastlines, or heatwaves, or floods, or droughts, etc. Someone will counter with a claim that whatever it is that you’ve presented is either not related to climate change, not actually happening, or exaggerated, or alarmist, etc.
So, when it comes to climate science, I think that suggestions as to how to improve science communication should include/acknowledge that the communication environment includes those who will aim to undermine our ability to engage with the public. My own view is that it’s important to be confident that one can reaonably defend what is presented (while acknowledging that some will always find reasons to criticise). If you are going to tell some kind of story to illustrate some aspect of this issue, try to make it difficult to be accused of exaggeration, or of presenting something that isn’t strictly true.
Another issue I have is that suggestions as to how to effectively communicate never seem to quite define what they mean by the term effective. I think science communication can have many different goals. It could be simply to make people aware of some scientific information. Maybe it’s to help people better understand some science. Maybe it’s aimed at actually getting the public to accept some science. It could even go further and have a goal of getting the public, and policy makers, to actually accept the societal, and political, implications of some scientific information. Maybe it’s even aimed at the acceptance of a some quite specific policy option. Science communication doesn’t, in my view, have one single goal.
I would guess that most who engage in science communication about climate science would like the public to accept the need to address this issue, but that doesn’t mean that all have the same immediate goals. They could have a simple goal withn the hope that others would take it further. For example, I don’t think scientists regard themselves as those who should be getting the public to accept a specific policy option. They may, however, see themselves as people who can provide relevant information for others who do have this as their goal/remit. I would quite like to see some recognition that not everyone has the same goals and that, ultimately, many can contribute in quite different ways.
Having said the above, I did find the communications handbook quite interesting and thought it made some useful, and reasonable, suggestions. However, I do think that we need to be careful of suggesting that there is a one size fits all strategy, and we should also be careful of implying that the problem is simply that we’re not communicating well enough. I don’t really think the latter is the case, even though it is always possible to do better.