The planning is done, the announcements are out, and the day has arrived. Now what? It is time to communicate. Unless you are sure that the audience has a technical background, avoid technical details like chemical structures, formulas, and technical names or use them sparingly and define them clearly. During the event, remember your evaluation plans (see the introduction and Element 3), and monitor participant reactions to make mid-event adjustments as needed. Are the participants engaged? What seems to be of particular interest? Does it make sense to focus on one topic to maintain that interest? Is the event still working toward the intended goals and outcomes? Look for additional opportunities to continue engagement after the event, such as collecting the e-mail addresses of participants who request additional information.
How do I relate to my participants to build trust?
Building trust with participants is essential for effective communication and can be a communication goal unto itself. Trust refers to people’s confidence in and willingness to open themselves up to one another. Research suggests that public perceptions of a scientist’s competence, integrity, warmth, transparency, and dependability all contribute to trust. To develop trust with the participants, you might identify and discuss shared cultural or social traits. For example, impart a life experience that illustrates your connection with chemistry
(why it matters to you) and your connection with the participants (why they matter to you).
You may not be trusted if you express strong opinions or take sides on a controversial or emotional topic, or if you work for an industry that has been accused of creating a problem, such as contributing to environmental degradation. If participants express concern (and even if they do not), do not be defensive; participants have a right to be concerned about issues. You should hear what they say, be open about why you believe your work is important, and share your own concerns.
The issue of trust is likely to be important with a topic like fertilizer use and environmental impacts. You know you might have participants with strong feelings about the use of fertilizer—for example, organic gardeners, environmental activists, or farmers who need to economize to make a living—as well as different perspectives. Some will probably be listening for any indication that you have personal, financial, or political motives for making the presentation. If you conducted a test of your presentation (see Element 3), it may have uncovered potential issues that you are now encountering.
You could begin building trust by disclosing up front your affiliations and motivations for speaking. Ask to hear participant concerns before you begin, and acknowledge that the concerns are legitimate (even if the science behind them may not be). If the conversation becomes challenging, stay calm, listen, and try to get the event back on track. Repeat the concerns of the participants to show that you have heard them, and reinforce the idea of the event as a learning opportunity, not a forum to debate hot issues. You could reconsider information you were planning to present, to avoid additional confrontations.