Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science Workshop

The goal of this two-day workshop is to help participants learn to communicate more effectively about science with people outside their field. Through discussion and practice, the workshop focuses on fundamental skills – knowing your audience, connecting with your audience, and speaking clearly and conversationally about your work and why it matters.

The Alda Center workshops are open to only 32 accepted applicants, and applications are now closed. Be sure to check out the Washington University Sessions to browse and register for additional science communication presentations and workshops.


Date/Time Session Title
September 27 The Fundamentals
8:30 – 9:30 a.m. Interactive Opening Plenary
9:30 – 12:30 p.m. Improvisation for Scientists
12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Lunch
1:30 – 2:30 p.m. Introduction to Distilling Your Message
2:30 – 4:30 p.m. Distilling Your Message breakout sessions
September 28 Applying Skills
9:30 – 10:00 a.m. Warm-up, using improvisation skills
10:00 – 1:00 p.m. First workshop session
Media Interview Skills – Group A
Improvisation II – Group B
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Lunch
2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Second workshop session
(same workshops as in the morning; groups switch)
5:00 – 5:30 p.m. Reflecting on Our Experiences & Workshop Evaluation

The Fundamentals

Interactive Opening Plenary

General principles in how to craft short, clear, conversational statements, intelligible to non-scientists, about what you do and why it matters. Session consists of an interactive presentation and discussion on interpreting technical material using examples and analogies to illuminate unfamiliar concepts to your audience. The plenary will address problems and solutions in public interactions as well as peer-to peer communication. Participants will practice clarity in speaking to non-scientists about their work and may be actively engaged in improvisation exercises or explaining scientific material to lay people.

Improvisation for Scientists

Improvisation for Scientists is a workshop pioneered by science advocate, Alan Alda. Participants will take part in improvisational theater exercises aimed at helping them connect more directly and spontaneously with different audiences. This is not about turning scientists into actors or comedians, but about helping the participant recognize and engage with the audience on a level where the message of the scientist can land effectively with the listener. These games require participants to pay close, dynamic attention to others and emphasize the two-way nature of communication: What is received counts more than what is said. Through the course of training, participants will investigate body language, listen with more awareness, and respond with greater sensitivity.

Distilling Your Message

The combination of an interactive plenary and small group breakout sessions helps participants learn to speak clearly and vividly about their work and why it matters, in terms non-scientists can understand. Participants will practice finding common ground, speaking at different levels of complexity for different audiences, storytelling, and answering questions about their work. The plenary will address problems and solutions in public interactions as well as peer-to-peer communication.

Applying Skills

On Day 1, we worked on connecting with audiences and distilling messages. On Day 2, we will apply the lessons of Improvisation and Distilling in more challenging settings. After a warm-up, half the group will participate in Media Interview Skills, while the other half will participate in Improvisation II. After lunch, the groups will switch, so each participant will take both workshop sessions.

Media Interview Skills

We’ll practice doing a television interview, including using Improvisation skills to prepare and answering questions clearly, crisply, and very briefly. This is a challenging form of Distilling Your Message. The interviews will be recorded on video and participants will be able to download their interview later and use it as they wish.

Improvisation II – Engaging Varied Audiences

Participants will develop further skills of connection, empathy and relationship introduced in Improvisation and Distilling Your Message. The session will include games, exercises and role-playing scenarios with difficult audiences.