It’s become a truism to say that decisions based on scientific evidence lead to better outcomes. That’s why most industries have trade and education bodies funded by public money or levy fees. The challenge is how we communicate this research to audiences in a way that is engaging, timely, relevant, impactful and above all, useful.
I was reminded recently about the need for clear scientific presentation while working on the video above, which was part of the Strategic Potato Farm (SPot) for AHDB Potatoes. The project was centred on one farm where different commercial approaches to growing potatoes such as soil cultivation, irrigation and spreading manure were compared with practices based on the latest research. The findings were shared with farmers at events throughout the project and at the end through forums, publications, and most importantly (in my humble opinion) video content.
The project demonstrates why video is so useful in knowledge exchange. For institutions, their findings will help growers develop technical skills and methods they can use on their farms. The best practices will increase yield and output, strengthening business and subsequently the UK potato industry. The growers benefit from a thriving business as well as personal enjoyment and reward.
SPot Farm is one example, but there are many other institutions and organisations working towards similar goals, whether it’s healthcare, policing or finance. So if there is a need for excellent scientific communication, how do we achieve it? Here are seven tips for producing effective educational video content.
When working on knowledge exchange programmes, you should have a clear idea of your audience. Before you start, consider what are their interests, prejudices and concerns so that these can be addressed in the videos. Have informal conversations with friends and contacts who fit your target profile. Find out what they like and what they find challenging - otherwise known as pain points.
One example is GPs who need information they can use when talking to patients about new healthcare measures. In that instance, the best people to talk to are the GPs to find out what questions their patients have been asking. It will improve the quality of the videos, and your audience will be grateful for the useful information.
There’s an excellent blog about writing blogs in which the writer explains that the difference between great writing and a meandering mess is “brio”:
“Brio is knowing exactly where one is going, then going there by the shortest possible path.”
Great speakers and communicators also have this skill honed to perfection, but it can easily be achieved with thorough preparation. Keep videos as short as possible to sustain audience attention. FutureLearn guidance suggests between one and two minutes if it’s simple, or less than 10 minutes if you’re going into more detail.
One way of staying concise is to summarise the project and each video in one or two sentences. This statement will identify the subject and then takes a position on it. For example:
“As broadcast professionals, we know that understanding regulation and compliance can be tricky and time-consuming. With our regular updates, we will help you understand everything you need to know to stay out of the Ofcom bulletin.”
In this case, the target audience is broadcast professionals and the subject is industry regulation. By reading their regular updates and following the advice, their content will be compliant and they will avoid penalties from the industry regulator.
Simple statements like this will be at the core of each video and can be referred to throughout the process. If you’ve strayed too far from your mission statement, it’s a tangent and can be dropped. It will maintain the focus of your video and makes sure your content doesn’t bamboozle the audience.
Typically videos about scientific research will feature the scientist - or Subject Matter Expert (SME) - explaining their work.
It’s a good approach but it requires their input at every stage of development. They need to be comfortable with what they’re being asked to do and what they need to talk about. Remember, they can probably talk about their subject for hours, which isn’t helpful here. Give them a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Go through the mission statement with them, or better still, let them help you write it. Once the first edits are done, ask them to review it to make sure it’s accurate.
Each video should be easy-to-follow. Introduce the topic and outline the different sections at the beginning so that people can see where the video is going. Conclude with a summary and any key points you want learners to take away.
At the end of each video, make the viewers think through the implications of the findings for themselves. It’s a common technique in all other areas of teaching (remember comprehension tests at school?) and it shouldn’t be any different for video content. At the end of each SPot Farm video, there is a list of questions directed at growers. It’s a simple yet effective way of getting viewers to switch from being passive to engaged.
An example of questions at the end of each SPot Farm video.
Terrible audio is distracting. You can get away with awful images but if the sound quality is distorted or you can’t hear what the speaker is saying, people will switch off straight away. I cannot stress enough the importance of crystal clear sound. It’s the difference between a video that delivers results and a complete dud.
There is so much to gain from a high-quality scientific presentation. UK industries can get ahead by becoming better informed about science and technology. Insights based on evidence that is clearly communicated in an engaging way is how knowledge will transform industries.
Here are some resources I found helpful when researching this post.