One of the first and most annoying comments I get when I say that I am into helping non-academics understand research is this one:
“So, you’re into dumbing down.”
Truthfully, I have to hold back on the urge to get into snarkiness and sarcasm when I hear that. For me, that sentence says far more about the person saying it than it does about research or even the public. Let me start this project with my “nice” response to that sentence:
Connecting with people outside your field or your profession is not dumbing down; it’s common courtesy.
For researchers, the logic is simple. The public pay you with tax money so you owe them the time and effort to reassure them that somehow they, or society at large, is benefitting from that investment. If you are in business, you cannot sell anything unless people know what you are selling. If you are a preacher or a public speaker, no one will ever invite you back, if they have no idea what you are on about.
Connecting is all about making sure that others not only understand you but want to hear more. This puts it in-between two opposite and equally awful ways of communicating. Let me illustrate the two with a story.
At the moment, my wife is reading two books on the same subject. Both are written by experts in their field. Both are incredibly frustrating. On the one hand, there is the book that cites evidence only to go off on stories and rambles that seem unconnected to anything in particular. On the other, there is the book that has a very tight and logical structure but lapses into prose that drowns the reader in unnecessary technical terminology.
Both writers, it would seem, might have missed a trick. Both writers are renowned speakers and I am sure that both would blow you away if you heard them in person. Sadly, on the page, the story is different.
People who connect with others learn (sometimes the hard way) how to communicate in the middle of these two extremes. They don’t overload people with technical prose but neither do they go off on rambling stories or forget that structure is a help, not a hindrance.
Connecting then has absolutely nothing to do with dumbing down but everything to do with making information available to as wide an audience as possible, in a language and in a medium that people can engage with. As I will write next week, connecting takes the spotlight off the speaker or the writer and onto the audience: thinking about how they will engage, what they will be attracted to.
Whenever we communicate we either include people or exclude people. The choice is always yours.