In this Engagement Matters post, Sheena Cruickshank shares her experience of attending a storytelling workshop and reflects on her own role in communicating science.
As a public engagement practitioner, I passionately believe that the use of storytelling and narrative techniques is an important skill for researchers to develop and use. It helps us more effectively communicate our science and engage with both academic and non-specialist audiences. However, I didn’t fully appreciate how powerful stories could be or how best to craft meaningful stories about science until I had the opportunity to take part in a storytelling workshop held at The University of Manchester Friday 26th October. The workshop was delivered by Liz Neeley (Executive Director) and Erin Barker (Artistic Director) from The Story Collider. Based in the States, this nonprofit organisation have been working with storytellers from both inside and outside science since 2010 to develop true, personal stories about science and share them through a weekly podcast and live shows around the world.
In the workshop we learnt how to build a narrative arc, to bring to life the characters who play key roles within our story, to place the audience in the thick of the action, and to explore those emotions that are shape our science story. It might also seem obvious but we also came to realise the importance of ensuring our stories had a considered beginning, middle and end.
What surprised me was the depth of research evidence presented that highlights how storytelling can connect audiences – not just to you as the storyteller but also to the science you love. We learnt the importance of empathy and how critical that is to help audiences trust you and your science. By listening to examples from The Story Collider podcast (storycolllider.org/podcast) we experienced this in action, which helped to reinforce our learning.
The workshop showed us that the journey is as important as the destination – if not more so. I appreciated that too often we rush to the destination – or story end without considering all the fascinating steps that lead us there. Using reflective and practical exercises throughout the day, we drafted our own short personal stories of science, and performed these to each other in small groups, which offered opportunities for rich personalised feedback, refinements, clarifications and improvement.
The workshop genuinely opened my eyes to finding your own stories and I can now see how I will use storytelling to enhance my science communication practice. I have realised that I hide behind the comfort of talking about my science and feel safer discussing parasites in public than I do me. I now appreciate that if I also introduce my personal stories of science, that the audience will be more open to engaging with my science and in turn me. Stories help connect people to subject matter that may at first seem abstract or irrelevant. Stories help to create meaning, context and shared experience – which is the ethos of high quality public engagement. Even where I may not use a personal story to illustrate science, the tools the workshop provided will enable me to be much more mindful of the narrative arc in my writing (whether grants or papers or blogs) and teaching.
I am delighted that The Story Collider (storycollider.org) is partnering with The University of Manchester to hold a live storytelling show at The Birdcage on 6th December 2018. Please do come along to hear true, personal stories about our science in Manchester.
Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/story-collider-true-stories-about-science-tickets-50389471265
Posted on behalf of Professor Sheena Cruickshank, Academic Lead for Public Engagement, The University of Manchester