31 May 2019

You know you have done something right when 100 per cent of participants in a workshop agree they achieved their goals, would recommend others take part in a similar future workshop, and every rating was in the very good or excellent category.

That was the result when three ARC Centres of Excellence—the Centre of Excellence for Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology (CBNS), Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS), and Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX)—came together for a combined Media and Communications Workshop at the Monash University’s Parkville campus.

The brainchild of Anne Meyer (CBNS), Tim Macuga (ACEMS) and Alvin Stone (CLEX), the combined workshop aimed to deliver practical tips for interview preparation and a non-intimidating venue to practice those media skills.

“The core of the idea was to create an environment where no scientist in the room could say they were dumbing down their work for an uninformed audience,” said Media and Communications Manager for CLEX, Alvin Stone.

“When you have researchers from three Centres of Excellence coming together, all working at the leading edge of their disciplines, that idea gets short shrift. It is immediately replaced with what communication is really about—'translating' your ideas for an audience.”

The translating process started early during group exercises where participants were asked to share their research with those at their table. This led to a constant warm buzz of conversations as they became intrigued by science outside their field.

Those guided conversational exercises combined with afternoon interview sessions helped with the key aim of the workshop—to deliver practical and immediately usable communications skills.

That aim was apparent from the first minute of the workshop when every participant was asked to share their fears around communicating and what they hoped to achieve by the end of the day. It gave the conveners a dot point list that ensured every concern would be addressed and identified which post workshop resources would be most useful for each participant.

“We wanted our participants to walk out with strategies they could immediately use and a toolkit they could refer to the next time they had to speak in any public situation,” said CBNS Senior Events and Communications Coordinator, Anne Meyer.

“It’s an approach that has already paid dividends at our Centres with several of the participants using the strategies to great effect in later media interviews, outreach activities and during question and answer sessions following academic conference presentations.”

In hindsight, there was another reason the workshop delivered—the presenters themselves. Beyond the broad-based science communication background that comes with working at a Centre of Excellence, all three had specific areas of deep expertise. Anne Meyer specialises in interview posture and body language; Tim Macuga has an extensive background as a TV news executive producer in the US; and Alvin Stone was a newspaper editor for Fairfax and News Corp. In combination, their personal experience in different media environments led to a far deeper insight into how the media and communication industries work than most media workshops.

“So often in Centres of Excellence, communications experts work in isolation but this was like having a science communications brains trust with expertise right across the spectrum,” said ACEMS Communications and Media Officer, Tim Macuga.

“It gave the workshop incredible breadth and depth and it also allowed the three of us to share ideas and experiences that led directly to improvements in each of our Centres. It genuinely was a win-win for everyone involved.”

Images: (top) ACEMS Media and Communications Officer ,Tim Macuga, who was formerly a television producer, talks to the workshop about television interview techniques, (bottom)Tim Macuga mock-interviews PhD student, Mandy Freund. Credit: Alvin Stone.