Media consultant Andrew Gilman once coached a NASA engineer who was part of the effort to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Preparing him for a television interview, Gilman winced at the engineer’s description of the evening’s mission: “At 23:50, we’ll effect an EVA and recalibrate the module.”
Did that mean, Gilman asked, that an astronaut would take a space walk at 10 minutes to midnight and adjust the telescope by a few millimeters?
“Yes,” the engineer said.
“Jheesh,” replied Gilman. “No wonder you can’t get money from Congress!”
Speaking at psychiatry grand rounds in October, Gilman advised faculty members who speak to the press to keep their messages simple and focused. Three points repeated three times during an interview communicate more than nine points made once, he said. It also pays to find out a little about the reporter and the story angle before launching into an interview, and to keep the school’s media relations staff in the loop.
Gilman also dismissed the notion that science is too complex to be conveyed to the public. Citing the example of the NASA engineer, he urged his audience to use plain English. “It’s not dumbing down,” he said. “It’s speaking the appropriate language.”