Popular Science talking

Somehow, I agreed to participate in a 'popular science talk' competition that gave a nice finishing touch to a five-day conference that I had registered for here in Stellenbosch university. I won the competition and I will gloat about that on another day. Today, let me explain what is a popular science talk, seeing as I could be an expert.

First, I will start by contrasting a 'popular science talk' with a 'normal academic presentation'. I want you to look back on that horrid time you spent listening to some academician deliver an excruciatingly boring or painfully difficult talk, using grinding words like intervention, framework, hegemony, systemic change, participatory-action-research among others.

Initially, you were mildly interested in the title, which read like: Towards social change for the sustainable provision of technical assistance to newly forming under-served rural ethnic communities in an increasingly urban*....something something...

You wondered to yourself thus: "How in hell is someone going to make sense out of such gibberish?" You therefore listened carefully for the first few minutes as the poorly-dressed, overconfident academician introduced themselves and their research interests that spun a range of fields. He/she used words like 'interdisciplinarity' to justify a mishmash of activities around the world that they had taken part in.

In no less than ten minutes you had lost complete interest in the talk and in the academician, whose repeated use of the word 'nuanced' was now rather irritating. You looked at your phone several times, hoping to magically move the time faster towards the break. Unfortunately, time seemed to actually slow down so you decided to like your friends' pictures on Facebook. Now, that is what a 'normal academic presentation' is supposed to make you do.

Well, a 'popular science talk' on the other hand, is the complete opposite! In my popular science talk, I was very well dressed, I spoke for only 6 minutes, I smiled, I joked and my audience fell in love with me. To get to this point, I had to choose only one riveting aspect of my research, drop all the big words and relay the message to the audience in the most interesiting way possible.

Earlier in the week, I did do the 'normal academic presentation', where, except for my good dressing and not using the word 'nuanced', I stuck to the style of the archetypal academician I described formerly in this article. In this academic presentation, I even threw in words like 'structuration and agentic theories' just to show off my vast reading. I dared not use these same words in the popular science talk, just two days later.

These two talks: popular science and academic presentation, that I did in the same week of the SSD conference**, were very different. I had to prepare for them separately even though they were both about my research and both very important; The popular science talk would be a great way to share research findings with a lay audience and the academic presentation is me speaking to fellow academics who can critique my research.

You must now be wanting to get back to your work. I will finish by thanking the SSD conference organisers for a wonderful week of academic and social activities, where I met even more wonderful people from Holland, Phillipines, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Namibia, Mozambique, Thailand, Indonesia and Portugal.

(* Disclaimer: Any resemblance of this made-up title to an existing title is highly regretted because that title sucks!)

(** SSD could mean Super Super Duper conference or just Social Science for Development conference held in Stellenbosch University starting the week of the 28th of October till 1st of November, with special guests from International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague)

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