Communicating Science to the Public

Monday 1:30pm-4:00pm Student Union: Santa Ana A and B
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Beth Bartel, UNAVCO

Effective communication skills enable practitioners to engage non-experts, inform public opinion and policymakers, inspire the next generation of scientists and voters, and improve our own research process. This workshop takes a hands-on approach to learning the tricks of science communication, focusing on science communication as a conversation. The skills practiced can be applied to all channels of communication, from a public lecture to a social media feed. You will leave this workshop with personal goals for public outreach as well as ideas for incorporating communications training into your geoscience curriculum.


1:30 Welcome

3:55 End of Workshop Evaluation

4:00 Adjourn


The activities presented in this workshop were developed by either the Portal to the public Network (PoPNet) ( This site may be offline. ) or UNAVCO.

PoPNet Activities

We sampled four PoPNet professional development elements. The full PoPNet Implementation Manual is available for purchase. The activities we used are listed below. These materials are based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation.

  • Making Meaning (Acrobat (PDF) 4.6MB Aug25 17) - Draw on existing experience to think, pair, share about what makes a learning experience meaningful. A great icebreaker! We did this informally while I prepared extra materials for the following activity, due to our great turnout. 
  • Building a Common Vision (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Aug25 17) - Explore learning and communication styles by explaining a picture for others to draw, in groups of three. Identify "expert blind spots." 
  • What's In a Word? (Acrobat (PDF) 660kB Aug25 17) - Identify jargon and useful alternatives. 
  • Concept Mapping (Acrobat (PDF) 1.3MB Aug25 17) - Brainstorm what about your research will be most interesting and relevant to non-experts. We went over this only to introduce the activity. This activity is geared toward creating an interactive activity based on your research to share with the public, but can also serve to pull out your main concepts for a presentation or any other interaction.

UNAVCO Activities

We went over one UNAVCO professional development activity, given below. For worksheets on preparing for poster presentations, creating a social media strategy, and creating an elevator speech for networking at meetings, as well as recommended improv games, check out the UNAVCO Science Communication page.

I recommend giving students/participants 5-10 minutes to go through the entire worksheet, then having everyone get up and go through multiple rounds of practice—at least three! I give five seconds to find a new partner, 30 seconds per partner to give the elevator speech, and two minutes for feedback. You can specify the audience as a scientific peer, non-expert public, policy maker, etc. It's fast and fun and participants generally say their speech gets smoother, and gives them an opportunity to get to know the other people in the room.