Communicating with non-specialist audiences

A Letter to Sheffield exhibitionThis toolkit is for University staff and students looking for guidance on communicating with the general public.

The page covers:

• Questions to consider before organising your event
• Things to consider while planning your event
• Making your event engaging


Before organising your event

Before you start planning your public engagement activity, there are a few factors to consider:

  • What is the purpose of the activity? Why and what do you want to communicate?
  • Who are you trying to communicate with? Think about the background, values and needs of your audience.
  • How are you going to communicate? What type of engagement activity are you planning? Is the format appropriate for the subject / purpose / audience?

Things to consider

  • Be aware of different learning styles
  • Try out different techniques with your friends or colleagues
  • If you know anyone who fits your target audience – pilot your activity with them and ask for feedback
  • Avoid jargon and use clear and concise language
  • If you have to use any specialist language, make sure to explain and define it
  • Be aware that the audience will have a different outlook to you and respect their views
  • Be prepared to explain your research in different ways

Making your event engaging

  • Create a ‘hook’ to draw in the audience
  • Contextualise your research – talk about the applications and implications to society
  • Talk about your research in a way that makes it relevant to your audience
  • Avoid lecturing - try to be objective and show an awareness of the differing values and expertise of the audience
  • Start the activity with some audience interaction
  • Ask the audience what they already know
  • Allow for discussion, debate and questions
  • Use personal stories and anecdotes if appropriate
  • Use visual and physical aides where possible
  • Develop interesting anecdotes
  • Consider using the medium of storytelling to communicate your research - for more information see this video about our recent 'Tales from the Ivory Tower' project

Advice from NCCPE on creating an engaging presentation:

'An engaging presentation will involve the audience as much as possible, through creating space for questions and answers and the sharing of opinions. Audience voting mechanisms, getting the audience to move around and allowing volunteers to assist in demonstrations will maintain interest and keep the audience’s energy levels up. You might wish to prepare visual aids and demonstrations to make the talk more engaging and interesting. Try a mix of approaches to cater for the potential learning styles of different members of the audience.'