How to speak without jargon and get yourself heard: Tips from Meet the Leader

What COVID taught one epidemiologist about speaking to build trust, without jargon

What COVID taught one epidemiologist about speaking to build trust, without jargon Image: World Economic Forum

Joe Myers
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  • Meet The Leader is the World Economic Forum podcast featuring the world’s top changemakers, showcasing the habits and traits effective leaders can’t work without.
  • Prativa Baral, Global Shaper and co-founder of Let Science Connect, shares the value of communication skills – in science and beyond.
  • How experts can speak clearly without jargon. An epidemiologist turned comms expert explains
  • Subscribe to Meet The Leader on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

In the latest episode of Meet the Leader, Linda Lacina spoke with Prativa Baral. Among her many other roles, she is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and the co-founder of a social enterprise Let Science Connect.

COVID drove home for this epidemiologist the need for better communications training for scientists. Baral would go on to co-found science communications initiative Let Science Connect, training scientific experts in communication to help bridge the understanding gaps between this academic community and the public.

In this episode, Baral shared tips that can help experts and any leader level up their communications, speaking more effectively, precisely, and building key connections. Here are some of the key takeaways she shared.


A framework to keep things simple

"You don't want to sound like you're the smartest person in the room," Baral says. "That is not the goal of communications."

She explains how we need to build a connection between ourselves and the audience. This is particularly true of academics. "We're incentivized to use that type of language – so, when we write, we use a lot of jargon." It's important to make things clear and easy to understand, she says.

Let Science Connect offers a simple 3-part framework to help with this. Ask yourself: What is it? Why is it important and why should we care about it? This framework can keep you on point and focused.

Have you read?

An exercise to keep your message precise

Distilling your message into a short pitch can help you prioritize your most important points.

"How much can you fit into a 60-second pitch of your research, of your work?" asks Baral. "Are you able to [explain it] succinctly and precisely and in a way that showcases your work without using all the jargon in 60 seconds?"

A visualization to break bad habits

Many experts are used to speaking to other experts, people who understand technical terminology. But Baral reminds scientists that what works in a presentation to the Dean won't work for broader audiences. "Showing data and evidence is not going to have as much impact as you might want it, especially if you're talking to people with fixed values," she says.

Instead, she suggests you retool your message with a loved one in mind -- such as a grandparent or a niece. Practice crafting your message for specific types of people can help you modify your terminology and even your examples to ensure your message is clear and better connect with people outside your field.

A reminder for grabbing audience attention

There's plenty of scope for borrowing from other professions as well, she explains.

Storytelling is a powerful way to keep your message memorable, says Baral. "I think it makes it so much clearer because you're just explaining a story to a person, to an audience, and you're tweaking that story depending on what that audience needs from you", she says. "So, the storytelling technique is something that we've borrowed from journalism and we use it all the time."

But fields such as marketing can also help you challenge yourself to both grab and hold your audience. Baral adds: "At the end of the day, science communication is a form of marketing. You're trying to get a point across, you're trying to show the value of your work."

The value of communication

Initiatives like this are vital to tackling some of the major challenges we're all facing, and communicating their complexities and potential solutions more effectively, explains Baral. "I've seen so many incredible scientists who've done such great work, and then when they go in front of the public and try to explain the specific details of their work ... you notice that the public doesn't necessarily want to get the specifics.

"We need to know how to communicate. If you do the work but no one notices, does it matter? It absolutely does matter, but if you are able to communicate it so more people can get inspired by your ideas, more people can get inspired by your research and come up with new questions, then we're one step closer to solving some of the many challenges we're facing today."

The World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Annual Summit, which takes place on 16-18 June, will bring together young leaders to address many of the issues they face in developing the courage, commitment and solutions to lead positive change in their communities and beyond.

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