A few weeks ago I was part of a crack team of science presenters (James Piercy, Debbie Syrop and Matt Pritchard) presenting a session at the Science Communication Conference, How not to present science. It consisted of our favourite pet hates, brought to life, and a number of people have asked for notes on the session. I thought I’d provide my ‘script’ on one section, titled The World Cringing Championships.
The premise had my co-presenters on a sofa with ‘buzzers’ commenting on my cringeworthy performance, whilst I attempted to break every ‘rule’ in the science communicators’ handbook. This was very peculiar to put together, as I was deliberately trying to insert comments and foibles that I’ve spent over a decade deliberately minimising, or intentionally inserting comments that don’t come naturally. It was joyfully liberating, however, to know that whatever went wrong on stage I could assert was my intention all along.
Hover over the link text for a note on the ‘mistake’.
Enters stage slowly. Looks around sheepishly. Look back to door, continue to centre stage.
In a statistical survey, 73% of Daily Mail readers, said the most important dinosaur was the Tyrannosaurus rex, but I don’t want to talk to you about the T. rex I want to talk about my favourite dinosaur which is the Parasaurolophus.
How did the dinosaur stay dry in the rain? He used a parasololophus.
Do you get it? Parasololophus!
At this point I saw a colleague who is knowledgeable about dinosaurs in the audience, so I asked him. He said Cretaceous.
I was right and you were wrong. indicating to audience member.
The Parasaurolophus was a herbivore, so it was just like a cow.
Oh no. I forgot something. OK, just ignore that and I’ll come back to it in a bit What I wanted to say was that the Parasaurolophus was a special dinosaur because they had these special long crests on the back of their special heads.
Anyway, Dinosaur scientists worked with other special scientists who did CT scans of the skulls and found that inside there were tubes and passages and hollows. Other scientists thought that maybe these passages were used like a nose trumpet to make noises.
Struggle to pick up, then wear a large ‘parasaurolophus’ skull.
Play badly through trombone mouthpiece.
Jesus Christ. This is harder than it looks.
Do we have any trombonists in the audience who don’t mind sharing my spit?
I think I’m over the worst of my cold last week, I’m probably not contagious anymore, anyhow.
Nobody? I’ll give it another go myself, then.
So, Parasaurolophus was a herbivore, as I mentioned earlier. Just like a cow. And we all know that cows produce a lot of methane gas. Well, imagine if, instead of coming out one way, the gas came out the other. Now, imagine that the crest is full of methane gas. That could be really dangerous if there was a lightning strike nearby.
I have taken all the necessary precautions. Does anyone know where the fire extinguishers are?
I burned the risk assessment when I did this last. The venue didn’t ask for one anyway. Some people take this Health and Safety malarkey all too seriously.
Anyway. Who’d like to be my volunteer?
Indicate volunteer from audience, Jamie Gallagher volunteered, as he was half way to the stage:
No, not you. I need someone a bit more normal looking.
Jamie then went to sit back down. Unsurprisingly nobody else volunteered. I searched the first few rows for people I recognised that I could pick on. There was nobody, so I called Jamie up after all.
Took volunteer name. Stood inappropriately close. Put arm around them. Called him love/darling.
Right, Tristan, I want you to hold this tube.
Placed tube for maximum opportunity for inappropriate banter. Began to blow bubbles into glass. Continued slowly for maximum comedy value. Took a handful of bubbles.
OK, so now I need to light it.
Take lighter from co-presenter.
By now the bubbles have all burst..
Go back to refill. Smile inappropriately at volunteer. Indicate to gas bladder:
Have you got any more in there?
Attempts to light fail.
Yup. So this never works. But you can all imagine a big flame in my hand, right?
And there’s so much more I could tell you about the Parasaurolophus, but we’re out of time, so I’ll just remind you that dinosaurs are really really cool, right. And they might have made noises like those funny bagpipe things the Scots like to play when they are not too busy stuffing their pasty faces full of deep fried Mars bars.
Turn to judges:
Jamie, a Scot, still standing on stage starts to shake his head.
She had a thing about deep fried mars bars.
Look around the stage. As if lost.
OK, That’s me done.
Walk off stage leaving volunteer floundering.
Of course, we’ve all been guilty of one or another of these no-nos, sometimes they have even turned out to be the funniest bits. But we should also hold ourselves to higher standards. Consideration and preparation are key in maintaining high production values, which is what science communicators should strive towards, isn’t it?
Clearly, there are very many comments of significant cringeworthiness in this post, so many that I lost patience in highlighting them all. How many did you find?