Running a science stand: a volunteer's survival guide
Omar Jamshed | Features
You’ve seen the email; your Society needs volunteers, people like you, to participate in hands-on activities teaching school children about the science behind hormones. Knowing you have the time and instilled by a sense of duty, you volunteer to help. But a few days before the event, you begin to think about what you’ll say and do. You feel stressed – what if you aren’t prepared? Don’t despair, for your benefit we’ve put together our top tips on how to get through the day with success:
1. Think about why you have volunteered. Science communication is about instilling a sense of curiosity and wonder in your audience. You’re giving up your time to encourage them to think and see the world in a different way – a worthy pursuit! Not to mention – you love your subject.
2. Read the briefing document you’ve been sent beforehand. Preparation is key.
3. Try to anticipate the questions you may be asked; children are naturally curious, but questions are likely to be simple and manageable.
4. Ask your audience what they have done before visiting your stand. You might find an opportunity to link your activity to that. For example, asking what they had for lunch is a good way in to discuss blood glucose levels and make the topic seem really relevant to them.
5. Don’t use technical language unless necessary – people may switch off if you talk about circadian rhythms instead of body clocks.
6. Tailor your message to your audience. Younger children may find learning about homeostasis too complicated while teenagers might find being told what glucose is patronising – asking questions is a good way to gauge their knowledge level.
7. Smile! It may be tiring to do this all day but being approachable is key to your audience wanting to come to you and learn something.
8. Don’t be afraid to admit if you don’t know the answer. This only proves you’re human, and avoids spreading misinformation.
9. Probe how much your audience learned at the end of the activity by asking them follow-up questions.
10. Evaluate your performance. Science communication is a skill and you will get better the more you practice and learn from your experience. Watch your fellow volunteers; they might have a way of explaining something you’ve never considered before.
11. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy it! Talking to the public about science is fun and can give you a new perspective on your work.
Communications Executive, Society for Endocrinology