Finding great presenters who can make their research topic relevant and exciting to teens can be challenging. Here are some ways we have found them.
Ask your connections for help
- When asking for recommendations first explain what a teen science café is and what it is not! It is a short, informal presentation designed to make the listener curious and to stimulate deep thoughts and lots of questions. It is not a lecture.
- Describe the characteristics of the type of presenter you wish to recruit—someone who is funny, relaxed, flexible (e.g. able to adjust to the uniqueness of a teen program), can explain the research in plain language, and knows what is really important about the research and why it matters.
- Ask the best of your past presenters for names of colleagues that would perform well in the teen café. Always get multiple independent recommendations for a potential presenter, unless you can observe the presenter in action first hand.
- Look to see if there have been any TED presentations in your area and view the videos of interesting topics. Follow up with those most intriguing presenters.
- Attend local adult cafés, and lectures at colleges, universities, and museums to observe potential presenters first hand.
- Ask the Public Relations / Government Relations / Communications Office of local STEM organizations about STEM experts who have given particularly good interviews on their research.
- Read the publications of local STEM organizations to learn more about the different kinds of research they do. Then, ask around in the organization about who has strong presentation skills of those who seem to be doing interesting work. Sometimes the department administrative person can be a really good judge of presentation skills based on how they communicate their work to the office staff.
- Call the science editor of your local or regional newspaper or TV station and ask them for recommendations of STEM professionals that have given great interviews on current topics.
- STEM Outreach Centers at the local university often organize local STEM events for students of all ages and may have recommendations of great presenters. Ask them to recommend STEM experts who are frequently asked to make return visits to a classroom.
- Ask your U.S. Representative or Senator’s office about names of scientists they use to help them keep abreast of current STEM research. Most of our elected officials in the U.S. Congress have only the STEM knowledge they gained in high school. So, STEM experts who know how to communicate to elected officials about current STEM issues are often quite skilled at simplifying their language and strengthening the connection between their basic research activities and discoveries and the interests of teens.
Continue to vet them…
Once you have found some strong potential candidates, do more work to find other people who can recommend them based on their speaking skills. When you feel confident you have a strong candidate, contact them to see if they can meet with you to explore the possibility of presenting at your teen café. The in-person invitation is critical to ensuring the presenter understands what you are seeking to ensure a great experience for everyone at the teen science café.
One of the key elements of recruiting a presenter is helping them understand what is in it for them. Why should they do this when their calendar is already overflowing with demands? Maybe they teach all day at the university and see this as just another lecture. Maybe they are afraid of committing because they know nothing about teens. Maybe they are not sure they can do a good job presenting to teens.
Your pitch needs to include how you will help them better understand and prepare for this audience. Our research shows that presenters gain valuable skills in presenting their work to this audience that carries over to how they present their work to other non-technical audiences such as funding managers, the press, peers outside their narrow area of research and even family members. So they have much to gain from this experience, if they give it a try!