Research stories for better engagement

When double Nobel laureate Richard Feynman was asked by a CNN reporter to explain – in one of their standard, three-minute interview slots – why he deserved to have won the world’s top science prize for a second time, it is said that he answered: “If I could tell you in three minutes, I wouldn’t have won the award.”

To be deliberately provocative, at Insights for Impact we’d like to suggest that this is one of the rare occasions on which Feynman wasn’t quite so brilliant. In fact, we’d go as far as to say he was wrong.

Research – your research – has the potential to change the world. But to have its maximum impact – to realise its full potential in the real world, outside of the academic research community – you need to explain it to the right people in the right way and at the right time.

Crucially, you need to tell the story of your research using the right words, and our experience of working with researchers from many, diverse areas is that the right words are simple, clear and precise.

The potential partners and beneficiaries of your research don’t know nearly as much about your research as you do. How could they? You’re the expert after all. So that’s why, when we help you to talk about your research, we encourage you to:

  • Use straightforward language
  • Work with shorter, simpler words and have fewer words per sentence
  • Avoid jargon and technical terms
  • Resist the temptation to show all – or even some – of your workings
  • Be prepared to answer probing and challenging questions, but don’t feel as though your first interaction with a potential collaborator needs to be like a Ph.D viva

Speaking simply and plainly doesn’t mean talking simplistically or dumbing your research down. It means setting out the most important aspects of what makes your research ground-breaking in a clear and concise fashion that everyone can understand.

And it doesn’t mean being just rational and factual. That’s important, of course, but you can also be emotional. Your research may have the potential to change the world – in however small a way that may be – so be sure you let the world know how and why. And not just what.

What’s more, starting simply both prevents initial confusion and enables potential partners to catch on more quickly. It encourages them to ask smarter questions as you get deeper into the topic more quickly. And it helps them to spot how they can bring their expertise – be it technical, financial, social, media; whatever – to your research earlier in your dialogue.

At Insights for Impact, it is our purpose to empower researchers to identify and express the real-world impact of their work and in this way find the right partners and collaborators to enable their research to reach its full potential.

To get in touch with Saskia please visit our contact page

A cup of tea with Saskia Gent