Scientifically Speaking: highlights from a Spurwing masterclass with Jo Browning


Jo Filshie Browning is author of Scientifically Speaking and Founder and Managing Director of Filshie Browning Associates

How can scientists and researchers communicate their complex messages with impact, while still delivering compelling data that excites their audiences? In a world of never-ending distractions, how do you keep your audience engaged and interested in what you have to say?

There has never been a more important time to communicate science. To help our clients win the war of attention, we hosted a virtual masterclass with Jo Browning, a scientific communications coach and author of Scientifically Speaking, a brand-new book on the power of speaking up and being seen when delivering scientific messages. You can purchase Jo’s book at this link.

Just as an athlete should warm up ahead of a 100-metre sprint, scientific speakers need to prepare carefully if they wish to make an impact with their research, by using what Jo refers tp as her PHD method: You need to Plan, decide on your Headline, and get ready for your Dress rehearsal. Listen to Jo summarise her PHD method for impactful scientific communications in the video below and read on for a recap of the insightful questions she answered from our clients.

Jo’s PHD method for impactful scientific communications



Answering your scientific communications questions

Is ‘less is more’ always the right approach when communicating clinical study outcomes?

The answer to this is audience specific, but research shows that people cannot retain too much new information in one go - they need to hear a message multiple times for it to stick.

Distractions like receiving a phone notification just as you’re delivering your key message, may dilute its impact. So, it’s best to say your piece, summarise, then revisit your key message to make sure you have the main information you want your audience to remember has sunk in.

Who is the better communicator – Fauci or Trump?

What we see with Trump and Fauci is two extremes: Trump is all emotion, and Fauci is all science. Depending on who you are, you will be pro Fauci or anti Fauci, . Your ethos dictates your opinion, and it will be formed by your background, your political stance, and the media you consume.

Fauci is a great communicator, but he is long-winded - you will never get a succinct soundbite from him.

NGO’s often win because they don’t fight back with facts, but with emotion. How would you suggest balancing science with emotion?

Science is full of emotion, and I agree that the balance between science and emotion is important. Very often, we feel science should be devoid of emotion, but I believe science can be very emotional too. There is fear of a climate catastrophe, there is hope for new cancer therapies and Alzheimer’s therapies, there is curiosity, and surprise.

Bringing these stories to the fore is about communicating the so what. It isn’t just about saying “our Alzheimer’s drug was effective in 45% of patients.” It’s about saying, “meet Janet, what does this approval mean for her?” It’s about finding the real stories that bring the facts to life.

NGOs are indeed great at doing this – they put the faces of the people front and centre. So, let’s not forget the people who your scientific work benefits.

What is the hardest challenge to overcome when honing key messages? How do we learn to let go of content that we feel attached to, or precious about?

If statistics are at the core of your message, then put them front and centre – they can be an impactful way of engaging people and grabbing their attention.

Ask yourself, what do you want people to think, feel or do when they hear your information? In a scientific presentation, think about opening your presentation in a way that gives people a reason to stay until the end – give them a preview. For example: “I’m so thrilled to be here today because what I am about to present is going to be practice-changing. This is one of the most exciting studies I’ve been involved in, and I can’t wait to share it with you.”

Do you see a difference in how different genders speak about science?

Ten years ago, I would have said yes – there was more innate confidence in male scientists than in female scientists. But more recently, I would say men and women are facing the same challenges. Nerves are natural for anyone presenting, but what is important is how you channel nerves to be productive, rather than disabling.

In my experience there is an assumption that women struggle more than men, but there are very senior gentlemen I’ve met throughout my career who often question why they have been asked to speak at an event. And contrastingly, I have met strong and confident women who only needed help with camera techniques and eye lines.

I find it interesting how virtual presentations have helped those who are introverted, because they can put all of their energy and focus into presenting without any interruptions before or after. While extroverts find it quite distancing being on Zoom and prefer speaking in person.

You need to think about the details too, and remember that no matter how many times you have given the presentation, for your audience this is the first time they are hearing it.

Are there any things men do subconsciously versus women during presenting that could be distracting?


Anything that distracts from your message is distracting for your audience – whether that is spinning on your chair or playing with your hair. I once saw an astrophysicist presenting about landing a probe on a moving comet, and he gave an interview to the world wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt - no one could focus on his message! You want the attention to be on you, not the pattern on your clothes.


Your vocal tone is also important. The use of a soporific pattern, which is a vocal tone that sends people to sleep by changing the pitch of your voice in an almost tranquilising fashion, is very distracting.

If you’re interested in making an impact with your scientific presentation skills, you can purchase a copy of Jo’s brand-new book, Scientifically Speaking at this link.

To make sure your scientific communication is watertight from creation through to delivery, get in touch with Spurwing at info@spurwingcomms.com

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