Increase the impact of your research: Basic Broadcasting Tips for academic researchers
In recent years, there has been a big focus on researchers being able to demonstrate the impact of their research. One great way to get your research out there, or to have an input into the public dialogue around your field of interest, is to appear on television or radio.
It may seem like a lot of effort to get on air, but there are ever more outlets, all wanting content and many valuing expert knowledge and opinion. There are also innumerable podcasts and online video content creators, some of which would be great ways to inform an interested section of the public about your work.
People like the physicist Brian Cox, anthropologist Alice Roberts, or political researcher John Curtice are British academics who have also become experienced presenters. There are equivalents in other countries around the world. It’s worth watching appearances by people like them, to get an insight into how to make a great impression on an audience, but it’s also possible to use broadcasts to help make an impact without becoming a regular on national television.
You can start small and build up your confidence. By following some simple tips, you can make a good impression on the audience, and improve your chances of getting invited back. Many institutions have a department which fields media enquiries, and once you have some experience of broadcasting, you might find yourself getting regular requests. For a relatively small amount of effort, you can demonstrate the increased impact of your research.
Getting invited to appear on broadcasts
Outlets need to know that you are available and interested in appearing. Make sure that your institutional profile makes clear which topics you are interested in, using language that a programme producer can understand. Once you’ve gained a bit of experience, you could add a list of appearances, so that producers can see that you’ve been on air, and came over well enough that you were invited back.
If you’re employed by an institution, they will generally be keen to help you with media appearances. Find out which department handles media enquiries, and let them know your interests. If you receive any invitations, be sure to let them know, as they can often provide advice and also make sure that there’s no danger of bringing the institution into disrepute.
If you’re not getting any interest, and particularly if you are a postgraduate researcher and may not have the same institutional support, there’s no harm in contacting appropriate outlets to see whether they might be interested. This approach is most likely to work with smaller-scale outlets; a local or community radio station, or a podcast on your field of interest is much more likely to be interested in your offer than a national television channel.
Presenting on radio or a podcast
On radio, or a podcast, it’s all about how you sound. There are some basics to get right. If you’re in a studio, you’ll be shown where to sit, often facing the presenter, and usually in the studio. There will also be a producer, who is focused on making the broadcast sound good, and it may well be the producer who welcomes you, off air, to the show.
There will be a big microphone, and there will be a chance to test it, so they can get the sound levels right. Once you’ve got into a comfortable position, where you can be heard, you’ll need to remain there, avoiding moving closer to or further from the mic, or to its side, as this can make you inaudible.
Find out what they want from you. Are they inviting you on because of some particular piece of work? Or to provide an expert perspective on something in the news? It’s unlikely that they want an overview of your entire career. Depending on the purpose of the interview, the interviewer might be happy for you to see their questions in advance, or at least have information on their general line of questioning. Note down any key points you want to make, using simple language that the general public will understand.
Once on air, you want to have an engaged tone of voice, excited, passionate, or concerned, as appropriate. People can’t see you, so this is how you can keep their attention. Practice with a colleague or, better still, someone with no knowledge of your subject area. Can they understand everything you are saying?
Presenting on television or a video
You might well be given some guidelines on what to wear, but they will want you to avoid any very detailed patterns, which can strobe on camera, and also anything with a logo on. Beyond that, find something suitable for your role and which you would consider fairly smart but you can still be comfortable in. If you normally wear glasses or contacts, keep them on, otherwise you will be squinting on camera.
Once you’re in the studio, find out where you will be sitting and check out where the cameras are. Unless you’re going to be presenting something yourself, you won’t be directly addressing the audience, so make sure that when you’re on air, you address your answers to the presenter, not the camera. To come over well, you’ll want to talk without notes, as looking down at them will distract the audience, as will fidgeting in your chair.
Just like being on radio, you want to engage people with your voice, but you can also reinforce your points with your body language. You probably already do lots of this in lectures, but again, this is something you can practice beforehand. You’ll also need to think about key points you want to make, and check any details or figures which you might want to use.
Finally, if you can, try to relax. It’s tough when you’re new to broadcasting, but the more you do, the easier it becomes, and it helps you come over as confident and trustworthy.
You might be there as the expert, but you don’t have every piece of information immediately to hand. The presenter might ask you to speculate about something outside your area of expertise. While you don’t have to answer anything you don’t feel able to, it will make for a better broadcast if you’re willing to generalise, and to speculate on areas which aren’t your real specialism. Just be clear that you are speculating, and that as this isn’t your area, or you don’t have the facts to hand, your information shouldn’t be depended on.
If you make a mistake, give some incorrect information, or stumble over your words, just like in a lecture or conference presentation, people are pretty forgiving. Just correct yourself and move on. If you’re doing a pre-recorded interview, you can simply ask to retake that particular line, but don’t do this constantly, or it will ruin the flow of the interview.
For the most part, the public will have either basic or no knowledge of your field, so you’ll need to do a lot of explaining. You’ll probably have to make some generalisations, avoid technical language and acronyms, and use metaphors to help people understand roughly what you’re talking about. Keep it as simple as possible. Don’t worry overly about these kind of generalisations, even if they aren’t technically entirely accurate. The purpose is to get over the sense of the topic, and its impact, rather than trying to make the public experts in every last detail of it.
Making your own podcast or video
If you really enjoy broadcasting, there’s always the possibility of putting together your own podcast or video, or perhaps even a show on a community radio or television station. These are a lot of work, not only to put together, but also to build and retain an audience. If that hasn’t put you off, the LSE has a useful series of articles about how to put together an academic podcast, while YouTube has some useful tips on getting started with videos.
Broadcasts can be a fantastic way to get your research across to a wider audience, contribute to public discourse in your field, and demonstrate the impact that you are making. While they may seem daunting, starting small and building up can enable you to rapidly increase your confidence, develop your broadcasting skills, and get invited back time and again.
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