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Learning the Art of Research Communication #ev4gh16!

By Shakira Choonara
on November 13, 2016

October 2016 marks exactly two years since I was selected onto the exciting Emerging Voices (EV) for Global Health Programme. Ever since, it has been a phenomenal experience which has provided a much needed space for younger researchers and to propel their voices in the field of health systems and policy research. Through the venture, extensive networking has allowed for collaborative opportunities, but also to engage with peers around challenges, particularly power dynamics and structural constraints we may face in our respective environments (although that’s a blog for another day, perhaps even a best-selling book on the injustices younger researchers face)! Just this afternoon a fellow EV Alumni (Jean Paul Dossou) and I discussed the rise of poor leadership based on populism, how did the world enter this downward spiral – a shift from the profound Mandela generation to aka ‘orange man’ rule and its impact on communities including its healthcare implications. Younger researchers also face challenges which extend beyond solving world issues and politics to fighting mother nature, particularly at  our organised session “From Emerged Voices to Emerging Voices” at #HSR2016 next week which has at least sent me into a tail spin! Thanks to another EV2014 Alumni (Erlyn Macarayn) for revealing the true definition of “emerged leaders” –  equals “matured”, resulting in participating EVs (Dorcus Kiwanuka, Nasreen Jessani, Prashanth NS, Asmat Malik, Kerry Scott and up to 7 EV2016s – TBC) frantically searching for a Canadian Vitamin A Regime to curb further ageing and to look as rock star-ish as Justin Trudeau!

 

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That aside, the greatest success of the EV programme is that it is now being run by alumni, this year (#ev4gh16) was largely coordinated and spearheaded by EVs based at the Institute of Public Health, Bangaluru. EV alumni are also roped into all phases of the programme to provide mentorship, be facilitators and essentially assist with sustaining the initiative. As a “well- matured” facilitator, I joined the face-to-face action on Friday 10 November – a rehearsal day for EVs to finalise their presentations both for the signature EV pre-conference and for the Global Symposia!  A recurrent theme throughout many conferences or in our workplaces is what TEDx speaker David DJ Phillips has dubbed ‘Death by PowerPoint’- which many of us (if we’re honest) can also identify with – dazed, tortured, vengeful presentations! Thank goodness for the EV programme which attempts at training and equipping researchers with communication skills (oral or poster presentations and debates)! In 2014, I recall being trained on the Petcha Kutcha presentation style i.e. an approach which advocates for the use of minimal text and extensive use of images coupled with powerful messages and points. The Petcha Kutcha approach taught at the EV programme is aligned to one of DJ Phillips key messages of having the audience ‘actually listen to you’ instead of reading your slides. There are many different ranges of attention span which have been researched, although it seems as if it is all about the number seven, which we have to get right! Research indicates that if individuals in the audience are uninterested it takes just seven seconds (yes read that again, just seven seconds) for these individuals to stop listening, and if you are able to hold their attention you have just seven minutes to do so!

This year EVs were grouped into six thematic areas, namely; equity, health systems strengthening, implementation research, resilience and responsiveness, power and policy.  At the EV rehearsals, I sat through a wide range of topics, including malaria, health financing, Community Health Workers (CHWs) and even the Women in Global Health Initiative. Usually and unless I am watching the latest season of Suites or Zoo on Netflix, the seven second rule around attention-span would apply to me. However, I was once again reminded of the value of the EV face-to-face training, in refining presentations in terms of its necessary content which should be placed on a slide and the importance of powerful deliveries or narratives of research rather than the conventional – introduction, literature, findings. I recall all other communications/ oral skills building training I received over the years with often conflicting advice e.g. add more text people won’t follow what you are saying versus another workshop where advised, don’t add text, pictures are better! Oh the dilemmas of complexity and just around PowerPoint presentations, which despite attending various trainings we still tend to deliver Death by PowerPoints! Personally, the turning point in presentation skills and training was attending the EV face-to-face training in 2014, which encouraged researchers to be reflective of current academic practice and its associated communication as well as be innovative! This was evident at the EV rehearsal today and which we need to build on.

 

 

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EV2016 Faraz Khalid – Powerful Slide Depicting Persistent Challenges of Provincial Autonomy in the Pakistani Health System

The EV programme is different in that besides offering mentorship and guidance it also allows for a strong component of peer learning, review and support. Each EV provided critical input and advice to their peers during their presentation rehearsals. The rehearsals today had the added advantage of being facilitated by two communication experts, Sophie Marsden and Vivienne Benson from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), who offered some food for thought as we reflect on the type of presentations we deliver and useful tips for those still preparing or refining their presentations for HSR2016!

Tip 1 – You have to immediately capture your audience’s attention!

Tip 2 – The audience must know upfront what your topic/ focus is and keep it simple.

Tip 3 – What do you want people to remember from your presentation i.e. what are the messages you want to convey?

Tip 4 – Images from your research/ visualisations tell a story and bring the presentation to life, where possible try to insert them.

In summary, the presentation should have a punchy beginning; catchy titles and images are welcome, not forgetting powerful take home messages! Perhaps we will even move towards a stage of transcending disciplinary boundaries by inviting the likes of Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan for tips, because it really is about lights, camera, action and holding the audience’s attention while you truly communicate your research i.e. allowing for further listening and engagement or even the ultimate and most important aim – implementation! For now, while Hollywood lessons around narrative training or presenting your research in a riveting way for seven minutes remains far-off, you can instead attend #HSR2016 Satellite Session, 14th November (09:00-12:00), Room 2, ‘out of the library and into the world: communications for research’ or simply apply for the next EV venture and its invaluable training, #EV2018!

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