Sharing Presentations on the Web

6 05 2011

So, you give that brilliant slide presentation, and there’s thundering applause, and the enthralled audience asks if they can get your slides. You can do much more than that. You can actually give them the whole presentation as an online, narrated presentation . . . and for free!

I’ve long been an advocate of using online services to post narrated “slidecasts” of presentations, because the result can be an enormous increase in the audiences for your presentations. For example, when I gave a talk at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the attending audiences was about 200. But when I posted that presentation on SlideShare, the online audience grew to about 3,500.

The value of online posting was emphasized for me when I gave a talk at the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Symposium. By posting the narrated slide show on Slideboom, I was able to offer AAAS a much more effective “handout” that if I’d given them text or my PowerPoint slides. And it’s easy for people to pass the presentation URL along to others.

The references and resources section of Explaining Research lists many sites for sharing not only slide presentations but other content. The sites include Slideboom, Slideserve, Slideshare, and myBrainshark.

Even though Slideshare is the largest such service, I’ve settled on Slideboom because it has a much easier uploading and audio synchronizing capability than Slideshare, which I used previously.  With Slideshare, you upload your slides and audio separately, and then go through a laborious process of synching your audio with your slides. In contrast, with Slideboom, you use the audio recording feature of PowerPoint to record your narration right in the slide show. So, when you upload the presentation, it’s set to go.

Also, Slideboom enables you to embed video and PowerPoint animations in your show, which Slideshare does not—although Slideshare does enable you to embed YouTube videos. To include video in a Slideboom presentation, you use the free add-on, iSpring, which converts your presentation to Flash—including narration and videos—and uploads it to Slideboom.The result is a much smaller file size. For example, my AAAS slideboom presentation was 240 megabytes.

However, if you don’t need Slideboom’s video embedding capabilities, one advantage of Slideshare, is that you can embed links in your presentations, so users can explore other Web sites that you reference.

I have by no means explored all the presentation-sharing sites, and all the features of Slideshare and Slideboom, so there may be features I’ve missed. But I’ll keep exploring. For example, the services enable you to embed presentations in your WordPress blog, but I’ve not figured out how to install the plugin yet.

Nifty Web Sites Offer Online Communication Training

29 01 2011

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, World Federation of Science Journalists online courseincluding 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

Public speaking

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


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:

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.

ZohoOther 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:

Finally, two other communication training sites well worth exploring are the Adobe tutorials on creating multimedia projects and Nikon’s MicroscopyU tutorials on creating dramatic microscopy images.

Cool Tools for Communication

8 09 2010

The Web is bringing a constant cascade of tools for communicating. Here’s a roundup of new—or at least new to me—tools for designing  and sharing PowerPoint presentations, making snazzy charts and videos, collaborating over the Web, and creating interactive Web pages.

Links to these sites and many more are also listed in the Explaining Research References & Resources for the chapter on presentations.

In creating PowerPoint presentations, you can escape the stodgy world of standard templates by downloading more dynamic video backgrounds and animated and 3D templates from sites like a Luna Blue, 123PPT.comAnimation Factory, CrystalGraphics, and PoweredTemplates. While most of these wouldn’t be appropriate for professional or technical presentations, they could be very effective for grabbing lay audiences.

For sharing narrated “slidecasts” of PowerPoint presentations, I’ve previously been a fan of Slideshare. However, I’ve since switched to Slideboom because of its greater flexibility and capability. The problem in creating a slidecast with Slideshare is that it requires you to upload a separate audio file and go through a laborious synchronization process. In contrast, Slideboom uses PowerPoint’s built-in capability of adding narration to each slide. Thus, you can tweak your narration of each slide, without having to read through an entire script at once. And synchronization of audio and slides is automatic. Slideboom also allows integration of video and animation into slidecasts. Here’s an example of a Slideboom slidecast I produced that includes video and animation.

Another intriguing presentation tool is 280Slides, which enables creation and sharing of presentations online. Presentations can also be downloaded to PowerPoint to be delivered live.

For creating videos,the flashy music videos that the Animoto service can generate might not be appropriate for a scientific symposium. But they could prove compelling for exhibit displays and for lay audiences ranging from school groups to donors. Using one of Animoto’s many themes, you can create videos automatically from your photos, video clips, and music. Check out the Animoto showcase of education videos for examples.

Lovely Charts could prove a godsend for those who struggle with creating charts and diagrams. The Web-based application uses a simple drag-and-drop drawing mechanism to design and organize flowcharts, sitemaps, organization charts, wireframes, and other such visuals. Check out the Lovely Charts gallery for ideas.

I’ve long been a fan of Snagit for capturing and editing Web pages, images, and video. Now, Snagit has a new version that I also recommend. My favorite feature is the updated magnifier that makes captures more precise, but there are many other new features.

For sharing files across the Web, many people are fans of Google Docs, but it has limitations. For one thing, you’re limited to Google’s software. A more convenient file-sharing service is DropBox, which creates DropBox logovirtual folders on your computer that you can access anywhere and share with anyone you designate. These folders can hold any kind of file, and folders on each computer are automatically synched with one another. You can store 2 gigabytes of files for free, and pay a modest monthly fee for larger capacities.

For capturing, organizing, and sharing Web sites, video, audio, images, and documents, I have found Evernote to be a highly useful system. Such materials can be loaded onto Evernote, tagged with custom labels, and shared with others on the Web. Here’s a video demo of the system.

I’ve saved the most important new communication tool—the new hypertext markup language HTML5—for last. It’s a major revision of HTML, enabling creation of interactive Web pages that will offer important new communication capabilities. One simple example is this interactive YouTube advertisement for Tipp-Ex text eraser (warning: some rough language). It lets the viewer enter instructions for what a comical hunter does to a marauding bear. A more mind-blowing demonstration is this interactive film The Wilderness Downtown. To start the film, the viewer first enters his/her childhood address, and HTML5 enables the film to create a custom video showing Google Street View images from the neighborhood. The video creates a variety of popups during its run, and the viewer is even asked to write a letter to his/her childhood self. While HTML5 is certainly not amenable to programming by the novice, it’s interactive capabilities offer a powerful new Web communication tool.

Researchers, Do You Need Communication Training? Some Answers:

16 03 2010

In Explaining Research, I strongly recommend that scientists and engineers consider communication training. To give a better idea of the nature and benefits of such training, I asked an expert—Carol Schadelbauer, Vice President, Health & Science Advocacy at Burness Communications—to address questions researchers typically ask about the process. Carol is director of the Burness Health & Science Advocacy Institute, which has successfully enhanced the communication skills of  many hundreds of scientists and health professionals. I think you’ll find her answers a terrific guide:

I give seminars all the time, and I teach undergraduate classes. Why would I need communication training?

Experience teaching or giving seminars is both a blessing and a curse. It means you’re probably comfortable speaking to others (including large groups), which is a hurdle that many have to overcome.  The curse comes from the fact that you are used to a “captive” audience that is already interested in your work—in great detail!  The structure of classroom teaching lends itself to “lectures” not to “the bottom line.”  Opportunities to speak with media or decision makers almost never last as long as you’d like and rarely follow the path you expect.

Excellent communications training should refine the all-too-rare skill of describing your work and its importance in a concise, effective and memorable way. You’ll learn that audience matters and must be identified before you prepare messages. But how do your messages stand out above the noise of the barrage of news, advertising and requests? Your job is to make your work and your message rise above this cacophony and motivate people with power, resources and a platform to act. Training enables you to do this and helps you be prepared for the unexpected.

I don’t talk to the media very much. Would training still help me?

Whether you’re talking with reporters, policymakers, funders, stakeholders, the public or your grandmother or brother, this type of experience is not to be missed. Learning to be memorable with impact is a valuable life lesson that can have a powerful effect on so many people. Adding clarity and a sense of urgency to your work will engage a whole new cadre of supporters, allies and even champions.  Perhaps more importantly, communications skills can also teach you how to proactively engage with media. After all, if you aren’t out there communicating the importance of your work, who will be? And more importantly, will they be doing so accurately?

What do training sessions typically consist of?

Trainings teach what to say and how to say it. They teach how to stay in control and not let the interviewer or questioner take over. Most importantly, they teach you how to be impactful, and if necessary, persuasive in any important situation.

Trainings through the Burness Health & Science Advocacy Institute range from a few hours to four days to a several-week course and are designed for health professionals, researchers, scientists, students and a host of other types of advocates.  They are designed to be as engaging and practical as possible. Our whole goal is to equip you to be as memorable as possible. We work with large and small groups and individuals. We often use cameras to focus on delivery skills and hone in on messages. We role play with one-on-one interviews, talk shows, remote interviews, policymaker meetings, testifying before legislative committees, and even mock cocktail parties.

What are some of the main communication problems or misconceptions you see in people you’re training?

What we love about researchers is that they have a passion for their work that is infectious. However, one of the biggest challenges is that more often than not, we see incredibly passionate and articulate researchers assume the role of a serious and often detached academic when they meet with reporters, policymakers and other stakeholders.  They are compelled to be boring because of fear. Fear of saying the wrong thing; fear that their peers will think less of them; fear that the reporter will take things out of context. The best way to avoid this is to ask these questions in preparation for an interview:  Why did I go into this field of work?  Why am I driven toward this scientific discovery? Humanizing you and your science by opening your audience up to your passions is a highly effective tool that results in immediate engagement with your audience, and instant credibility. Be yourself and have fun.

One other area stands out among researchers and health experts: They love process. But the media does not. It takes “process” to do science—from hypothesis, to methodology, to results to conclusion. Reporters, policymakers and most everyone really just want the bottom line. What happened?  What were your results?  And also, what does this mean to me? Why should I care about this right now? We tell folks to obsess about accuracy (always be honest!), but let go of precision. Forget the details in between. And please leave your jargon at the door! Use simple, vivid words!

How do I know when I’m “trained?”

The most common feedback we get at the end of a training session is this: “I wish I had this training years ago.”  Or, “Graduates students need this. Early-career professionals need this. Senior researchers need this!” Like any skill, there is no point at which you’re “done” learning. And this stuff takes practice and lots of it. But you’ll know when you’re ready for an interview or important meeting or presentation if you’ve adequately prepared messages, and drilled yourself (or asked someone to drill you) on the toughest questions you imagine you’d ever get. As one broadcast journalist has said, if an intelligent 12-year-old could understand what you’ve said, then you’re ready!

How have others found the training useful?

We’re lucky to have a chance to track some of those we’ve trained by coaching them after their trainings. We can put their training skills into practice. Some have increased confidence in their abilities to do media interviews and have done so. Others have advocated for increased funding with state and federal policymakers with success. Some have convinced a donor to provide the seed money for a new project. Some found their voice by using persuasive skills and memorable words to move their field’s leadership in a new direction—one that may impact and benefit patients and their families. One doctor told us that the training “set me on a path I couldn’t have imagined.  [He] will use these skills forever.”

What resources do you recommend to help me learn more about communications?

There are a lot of great books on message, communications skills and more, including Explaining Research by Dennis. Another that comes to mind is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, which gives great real-life examples and tips for communicating clear ideas that are memorable!

But the most important thing to do is be a student of the media and of messages. What quotes and messages worked and didn’t work on television, in print and on radio? Why? What would you have done differently? This is a great daily exercise to develop your communications skills. Occasionally you may want to take the “bar stool test,” once described to us by one of our trainees. Sit down next to someone on a swiveling stool, and if they swivel their stool away from you after you start talking about your work, you’ll need some more practice!

Our Burness Institute blog, “Above the Noise”, attempts regularly to “be a student” of the good and bad of communications we read, hear and see every day.  Check it out.

Play “Bad Presentation Bingo”: Losers are Winners!

26 02 2010

So, you’re sitting in a boring talk and suddenly somebody yells “Bingo!” QuiteBad Presentation Bingo likely audience members have been playing “Bad Presentation Bingo,” the brilliant brainchild of Monica Metzler and the Illinois Science Council. It’s the niftiest way I’ve seen to vividly impress on speakers the aggravations of bad presentation skills and the benefits of good ones. Like any Bingo game, you win by completing a straight line, but in Bad Presentation Bingo the squares contain not numbers but bad presentation practices like “Text-heavy slides,””Monotone voice,” and “Use of jargon.”

For your own self-protection, if you plan to give a presentation I highly recommend that you download the Bingo card, which Monica was kind enough to allow me to post here. Read it carefully and avoid its array of bad practices at all costs. That way, you won’t hear the embarrassing shout of “Bingo!” during your talk.

And if you’re planning a symposium, distribute the card and accompanying  presentation tips to all your speakers. Believe me, it will put them on notice that they can’t get away with the same mind-numbing speaking techniques they may have been used to.

And if you encounter Monica Metzler, thank her profusely!

AAAS Slidecast: Using Multimedia to Advance Your Research

21 02 2010

Here’s the narrated slidecast of my presentation “Using Multimedia to Advance Your Research,” given at the 2010 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Besides the slidecast itself, I offer tips I learned to producing better slidecasts from your PowerPoint presentations.

Using Multimedia to Advance Your Research

In creating the slidecast from my PowerPoint slides, I realized that I couldn’t just record the live session and use that as the audio narration. Live sessions include noise, interruptions, audience questions and other extraneous audio that reduce the effectiveness of the slidecast.

So, I had to do a special narration in a quiet room, using a standard digital recorder. Then I could upload that as an mp3 file and synch it to the slides. However, I also discovered that I coudn’t just exemporize my narration. Such an off-the-cuff narration — complete with pauses, stammers, and uhs — comes across as less than professional. So, I had to write out a formal script and recite it as the narration. Scripting actually helped my live presentation, because it crystallized my phrases and made the presentation smoother.

Also, unlike the live presentation, SlideShare presentations do not allow embedded video. So, for the slidecast I substituted still images of the videos with links to the video on YouTube or other sites. Which brings up an advantage of doing a Slideshare slidecast: that you can embed both text and image links in the slidecast, so users can explore the sites you discuss.

If you do a lot of slidecasts, you might also take advantage of Slideshare’s new branded channel feature, which enables you to produce branded channels.

I should emphasize that Slideshare is by no means the only game in town. There are also myBrainShark, Slideboom, and authorStream. In fact, according to this review of slide-sharing sites, they are superior to Slideshare. For example, myBrainshark enables uploading of narrations via telephone. And, you can add images, video, and quiz questions. So, I will likely be migrating my slidecasts to myBrainshark in the future. See the reference section of Explaining Research for a full list of such sites and resources.

Finally, here’s a whitepaper that covers the use of lecture capture technology in academe, which concludes that that

Lecture capture now falls into the “need-to-have” category. The relatively new breed of lecture capture solutions, which refers to any technology that allows instructors or presenters to record what happens in their lecture hall and make it available digitally, is changing how higher education thinks about technology while also changing the competitive landscape.

Although  the whitepaper covers much broader issues than just slidecasting your own PowerPoint presentations, it does show that you’ll likely be doing yourself a favor by learning to use slidecasting technology.

Tips on Teaching Tykes (and Grownups, Too)

13 02 2010

My daughter, Dr. Wendy Hunter, a pediatrician, gave a talk at my granddaughter’s elementary school this week, and

Dr. Wendy Hunter

Dr. Wendy tells a second grade class fascinating tales of bones

the presentation reminded me of some good principles for giving successful presentations for kids. In fact, since adults are just grown-up kids, these principles could also make your talks at the local civic club or college class more successful:

  • Bring your energy. Enthusiasm is contagious, and if you show your own enthusiasm for your subject, the audience will catch it. You might be used to low-keying your scientific talks, but being restrained for a public talk lowers audience interest. Dr. Wendy’s animation and energy helped grab and hold the kids’ interest.
  • Bring interesting props. Dr. Wendy found an accurate model skeleton at Carolina Biological Supply that was the perfect demonstration for bones, how they fit together, and how they can break.
  • Give the audience a job. She passed out plastic skeleton kits for the students to assemble as she talked about the various bones and how they fit together. Doing while they were hearing helped the kids remember the lessons.
  • Bring “real” things. Dr. Wendy showed cross-sectioned cow bones to give the kids a chance to see and touch real bone marrow, memorably showing them where blood cells are made.
  • Personalize your presentation. For example, using a volunteer, Dr. Wendy showed how the kneecap “floats.” She also explained how it can be knocked out of joint, and how it can be repositioned.
  • Give useful tips. She explained how people fracture their forearms by “foosh”– falling on outstretched hand–and how people can avoid that fate by bending their arms to catch themselves if they should fall forward.
  • Give the audience a mystery to solve. She passed out x-rays of various bone breaks and dislocations and challenged the kids to identify the part of the skeleton shown and the abnormality.
  • Learning can be loud. The sound of learning in kids can be cacophonous. It’s hard for presenters used to respectftul silence in their adult audiences to remember that fact. Dr. Wendy’s class reverberated with excited chatter as the kids assembled their skeletons, crawled around looking for a lost (model) foot, and poked around on themselves looking for various bones.

So, heed these tips for both your young and adult audiences, and they will, indeed, feel your presentation in their bones.

Funny Engineering Conversions!

1 02 2010

Yes, Virginia, engineering conversions can be funny! A friend sent me this collection from A few of my favorites:

  • Ratio of an igloo’s circumference to its diameter? Eskimo Pi
  • 2,000 pounds of Chinese soup? Won Ton
  • Half of a large intestine? 1 semicolon
  • 2,000 mockingbirds? 2 kilomockingbirds
  • 10 cards? 1 decacards
  • 1 kilogram of falling figs? 1 Fig Newton
  • 1 millionth of a fish? 1 microfiche

Slip a couple of these into your next talk and give your audience a giggle.

Snagit: a Great Tool for Screen Captures

30 01 2010

If you’ve done screen captures like I’ve done in the past, you probably just hit the “Print Screen” button (PrtScrn) to copy the whole screen to your clipboard, then inserted it into your presentation or document. Or, maybe you used the simple snipping tool in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

But now that I’ve discovered Snagit that’s all changed. It’s an incredibly useful piece of software for selectively lifting  all or part of a Web page or other screen segment and sending it to Excel, Word, PowerPoint, e-mail, or just about any other program. You  can capture images, text, screen video and even a Web page, complete with active links. In fact, I usedSnagit home page graphic Snagit to capture the image of the Snagit home page graphic on this post. You can even record animated sequences of interactions with a Web page, showing cursor movement and the effects of clicking on links.

When I created a recent PowerPoint presentation, I used Snagit to record such an interaction, as well as capturing and editing logos, selective chunks of Web page and other visuals to make my PowerPoint presentation look much more professional. You can also add arrows, speech bubbles, labels and other explanatory elements to the captured images. And if you want to emphasize a particular section of a Web page, you can even blur out the whole Web page except for that section.

Try the free 30-day trial. I can just about guarantee you’ll end up buying it. At $49.95, it’s a bargain. I should add that there are other screen capture programs out there, including  CaptureXT, CaptureWizProFastStone, and !Quick Screen Capture. They may work well, too, but I chose Snagit because it received the best reviews.

Disney Can Teach Lessons in Communicating Science

3 05 2009

You might think of Disney World as merely a vacation destination, with or without the requisite kids. But I’ve found that Disney really has much to teach researchers about communicating science and technology. And I don’t just mean tricks to hold the attention of squirmy school kids during a school science talk.

Disney World offers lessons about communication research that can make your seminars, Web content, and articles more engaging and thus effective. I really didn’t come to appreciate what Disney World can teach about explaining research until my latest trip. So, I dedicated the visit to exploring science communication Disney-style and how it offers take-home lessons that researchers might find useful.

Disney communicates science so effectively because its “imagineers” understand that just providing information is not enough. In creating Disney World, they understood that audiences need more than just information; they also need motivation to take in that information. And wherever possible, the imagineers offer audiences an involving experience that makes the information memorable. Researchers attempting to explain their research usually miss out on the benefits of motivation and experience because they neglect them in their communications.

For example, you likely see your departmental seminar as purely an informational event meant to convey as clearly as possible your latest experimental results. But because your audience comprises real people, reaching them most effectively also means motivating them and giving them an engaging experience.

To show what I’m talking about, here are examples from my Disney World visit, along with ideas on how you might apply them to make your research communications more effective. First, how Disney uses motivation:

As you might expect, Disney effectively motivates by injecting whimsy and humor into its science communication, especially using its cartoon characters, For example, in EPCOT’s The Land pavilion, for example, the “Circle of Life” movie uses characters from The Lion King to engagingly convey the need for environmental preservation. And in “The Seas with Nemo and Friends” pavilion, the entry ride superimposes cartoon characters over the real-life aquarium in the facility. (By the way, Disney offers useful Web pages giving an overview of its “Environmentality”  and Education programs.

In motivating visitors, Disney also knows how to take advantage of teachable moments to explain science. For example, bathrooms in the Animal Kingdom’s Conservation Station have “Whiz Quiz” plaques posted over the urinals and on the stall doors. The Whiz Quiz over the men’s room urinals asked “How much do elephants pee?” (20 gallons), and How far can rhinos and tapirs pee? (15 feet).

Waiting for Animal Kingdom’s Dino-Land Dinosaur thrill ride, visitors hear a concise explanation of the meteorite impact believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. The ride itself is introduced by scientists including a black woman. And during the ride, the narrator calls out the species names of the animatronic dinosaurs as they menace the riders. The Dino-Institute also displays the science-friendly slogan “Exploration, Excavation, Exultation.” (Unfortunately, there was a mildly anti-science sign in the Dino-Land Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama carnival rides. The sign showed a cartoon dinosaur ejecting a white-coated scientist, with the caption “Scientific? Nope. Terrific!”)

In Downtown Disney, the T-Rex Café offers another good example Disney’s grasp of the motivating teachable moment. Diners are surrounded by a collection of animatronic dinosaurs that periodically erupt with roars and movement, giving them a feel for what real dinosaurs must have been like. The cafe also offers the educational “Paleo-Zone,” which includes an archeological dig and educational video games.

Certainly, in your communications you can’t summon animatronic dinosaurs to create teachable moments. Nor would you probably want to post your research abstracts on bathroom stalls. But you can create other teachable moments to offer audiences information about your work. You could post articles or displays in the waiting rooms, hallways, and cafeterias of your building–and not just leftover posters from meetings, but displays tailored for important visitors, from students to donors.

You could add to your Web site a category of links to interesting background articles, FAQs, Q&As, videos, and other content. This material could come from your professional association or funding agency. The Explaining Research Web site has a list of such sources.

Also, consider creating a Facebook page or blog on which you record interesting news about your work, as covered in Explaining Research.

In looking for places to create teachable moments, think like Disney. Ask yourself what venues your audiences frequent, and what kind of information might be appropriate to for those venues? Now, on to examples of how Disney uses experience to communicate:

For many visitors to EPCOT, their first experience is the Spaceship Earth ride inside the giant geodesic dome. This “dark ride” takes visitors past animated tableaus depicting the history of communication – for example an animatronic man pounding papyrus into a flat sheet and printers using the first printing press. However, the most involving experience, comes near the end of the ride. Visitors see on the computer screen in their ride pod an image of their face inserted into a scenario of life in the future. When the ride ends, they then emerge into an “interactive playground,” in which, for example, they can assemble a human body in 3D.

The Animal Kingdom also includes a multitude of science-related experiences. Besides such rides as the Kilamanjaro Safari through the park, visitors walking the pathways might encounter an explainer carrying an animal–we saw a caged spider–who can answer questions about its biology and behavior.

Visitors can also see how the park’s animals are cared for. They can peer through a window into the veterinary center in The Animal Kingdom’s Conservation Station in the Rafiki Planet Watch to watch animals get checkups and medical procedures.

Disney also makes its experiences multisensory, for example effectively using sound. “The Song of the Rainforest” comprises a set of dimly lit booths in which visitors don headphones to hear ultra-realistic rainforest sounds of animals, insects, chainsaws, and falling trees. The Planet Watch also offers information on projects visitors can do to create their own backyard animal habitats.

While you can’t bring such elaborate experiences to your audiences, you can come surprisingly close. When you give a seminar or talk, bring along an organism, mineral sample, instrument, or other object your audience can see, or even handle. If your work involves an interesting sound, include it in your presentation. Perform an engaging demonstration; or if there is some relevant, experiment your audience can do on their own, offer a handout or Web URL describing the experiment. Show a video of an experimental procedure. Even if that procedure is relatively mundane, the show-and-tell will make your talk more memorable. Direct your audience to an interesting place in the area where they can encounter an aspect of your work, for example a rock outcropping in a park or a museum exhibit. Ask for a volunteer from the audience, and use them in a demonstration, preferably a non-destructive one.

Also, think about ways to make your laboratory building experiential. You might install display cases with examples of your work. Or, if there is a public window into your laboratory, you might post information on the instruments and procedures that take place there. This assumes that your lab techs don’t mind having people peering at them.

It has always surprised and disappointed me how bereft laboratory buildings are of information and exhibits on the work going on there. This educational sterility has its consequences in making for an unfriendly atmosphere for audiences who might be interested in the work. Creating a version of a motivational, experiential “Disney World” in your laboratory has definite value in advancing your work. You never know when it might attract a passing student, colleague, administrator, or donor to become involved in your research.

In stressing Disney World’s use of motivation and experience, I don’t mean to imply that it fails to provide information. For most visitors, that information is packaged as modest nuggets embedded craftily in the fun experience. However, for those who want in-depth information, Disney does offer more extensive encounters. For example, most visitors in the Land pavilion are content with the short boat ride through the greenhouses, sliding quickly past displays of farming techniques such as aquaculture, hydroponics, and aeroponics. But visitors who want more can take the in-depth Behind the Seeds tour to learn about those techniques in more detail.

We took the Behind the Seeds tour, and besides learning more about the farming methods used, our enthusiastic, articulate agronomist guide showed us techniques of integrated pest management and tissue culture. We also tasted hydroponically grown cucumbers, and smelled samples of coffee, vanilla, pepper, and other crops grown in the giant greenhouses.

Disney certainly has far more resources than you do at their disposal to motivate visitors and give them memorable experiences. But with even a modest effort, you can make your talks, Web sites, articles, and videos more than just a Mickey Mouse production.