How can you communicate anything to anyone? In particular, how can you communicate science (or technical or complex topics) to a general audience? Let's answer this question by looking at how Neil deGrasse Tyson does it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a scientist who studies stars, galaxies and the universe in general. He’s one of the best – if not the best – at communicating scientific topics to the general public.
How does he manage to be so engaging even if he talks about astrophysics, a complex subject that most people are not familiar with?
His strategy is to take a complex or an abstract idea and put it into perspective. He always finds a way to contextualise his ideas and bring them closer to reality.
For example, if he wants to explain that there are so many stars in the universe, he says that “there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on any beach, more stars than seconds have passed since Earth was formed, more stars than words and sounds ever uttered by all the humans who ever lived.”
This is what I mean by taking an abstract idea and contextualising it in everyday terms.
According to Tyson, the secret to communicating science is not to translate a subject to make it easier for the audience, because by doing that the risk is that you trivialise the topic. The secret is to connect a concept to something that’s already part of mainstream culture. “I always have one foot in my field of study and the other one in mainstream culture”, he says. That allows him to use a language that the general public already knows and accepts.
The secret to communicating science is to meet the listeners where they are. You have to go to them, not the other way round. If you can do that, you can communicate anything to anyone.
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