The Web boasts a wealth of good sites for training in communication skills—from writing, to creating PowerPoint presentations, to making videos. And for most of them, the price is right: free!
Here are some of my favorite sites for online tips and training, and you can find links to many more communication-related Web sites in the references and resources section on the Explaining Research site.
Of course, online training can’t place of an astute editor or a formal course, but they are an excellent way to introduce yourself to new skills and to brush up on existing ones.
Writing and editing
The World Federation of Science Journalists offers an online course in science journalism that gives a good grounding in the basics of the craft, including finding and judging science stories, interviewing, writing the story and reporting on controversies. And remarkably, the course is offered not only in English, but in Arabic, French, Portugese, Turkish, Spanish, and Chinese.
To train scientists to write more clearly, NIH has developed its Plain Language Training course. Although aimed primarily at NIH employees enrolled for credit, the site also allows outsiders to explore the course.
Also aimed at scientists is Bob Grant’s article in The Scientist, “Right Your Writing: How to Sharpen Your Writing and Make Your Manuscripts More Engaging.” It’s not a training course, but constitutes a good collections of savvy writing tips.
Explaining statistics in a meaningful way is one of the thorniest problems faced by scientists, journalists, and public information officers. Fortunately, the UN Economic Commission for Europe has produced an excellent set of Making Data Meaningful guides. The guides, in English, Croatian, Spanish, and Japanese are
- A guide to writing stories about numbers
- A guide to presenting statistics in the forms of tables, charts, and maps
- A guide for statisticians to communicating with the media
Although MIT researcher Patrick Winston’s series of “How to Speak” videos is aimed primarily at teachers, any public speaker will benefit from his wisdom. Here’s the intro video, which leads you through the series:
Also, the Wired How-To Wiki “Deliver the Perfect Presentation” is a handy introduction to good speaking practices. Follow its advice, and your talks will be immediately better. For more extensive speaking tips and techniques, explore the public speaking blogs
- Six Minutes Speaking and Presentation Skills blog
- Speaking about Presenting blog, by Olivia Mitchell
Just about every speaker on science depends heavily on PowerPoint for visuals, and here are my favorite sites for learning both the basics and some of the program’s neat tricks:
- Microsoft’s online training course for PowerPoint
- MovieMaker: An easy way to put titles on your video backgrounds inside of PowerPoint
- “Pimp your PowerPoint,” by Bob Grant in The Scientist, March 1, 2010
- PowerPoint FAQ
- Wired How-To Wiki “Become a PowerPoint Power User“
You can find scads of other PowerPoint tips, templates, backgrounds, and videos in the Explaining Research references and resources for the chapter on giving talks.
Beyond PowerPoint, there are also new Web sites that offer presentation capabilities well worth exploring. For example the presentation program Prezi enables speakers to create large “pages” containing their presentation, which the presenter can maneuver around during the talk.
Other new sites enable not only production of shareable Web-based presentations, but also foster online collaboration. These include Zoho, 280Slides, Google Presentations, and Google Wave. The last enables groups to share pictures, slides, graphs, and other interactive elements in one long chatlike discussion thread.
If you’re planning to create your own videos—or you just want to better understand what the pros you hire are doing—here are some good sites:
- How to become a YouTube Star, by Eric Griffith, PC Magazine, January 1, 2008
- iMovie for Mac (Click on Resources for commercial training sites)
- IzzyVideo training videos (Modest membership fee)
- MediaCollege.com video tutorials
- UC Berkeley Knght Digital Media Center video tutorials
- USC Annenberg School of Communication Online Journalism Review tips for shooting better video online
- Videomaker Video Tips & Techniques
- VideoUniversity.com articles on video production
- Windows MovieMaker: Getting Started