Jul 4th 2021 | E059 How To Build a Connection With Your Audience and Effectively Communicate Your Research
Mark Bayer helps scientists, engineers, and organizations get funding, gain influence and build relationships with their most important stakeholders, including Members of Congress, investors, and the public, with custom-crafted, true-to-life communication training and government relations services.
Tailoring his unique, 360-degree approach to the specific needs of his clients, he creates and implements high-impact solutions. His methodology is shaped by two decades of work across the government, corporate, and non-profit sectors: as Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, management consultant for Price Waterhouse Coopers, and co-founder and Board Chairman of a non-profit organization.
The episode was recorded on July 2nd, 2021. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the views of their current or former employer(s).
Mark’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markdanielbayer/
Mark’s online courses and other services + free resources:
Natalia 00:10 Hello, everyone. This is yet another episode of career talks by Welcome Solutions. And in these meetings, we talk with professionals who have fascinating career paths and who are willing to share their life hacks with us.
And today, I have the great pleasure to introduce Mark Bayer who helps scientists, engineers, and organizations get funding to grow, influence, and build relationships with their most important stakeholders, including members of Congress, investors, and the public. He has custom-crafted through two life communication, training, and government relations services, tailoring his unique 360-degree approach to the specific needs of his clients he creates and implements high-impact solutions.
His methodology is shaped by two decades of work across the government, corporate and nonprofit sectors, as chief of staff in the US Senate and House of Representatives, a management consultant for Waterhouse, Coopers, and the co-founder and board chairman of a nonprofit organization. Thank you so much, Mark, for joining us today. Great to have you.
Mark Bayer 01:19 Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Natalia 01:22 And I would like to listen to your story more from your own perspective since it sounds so fascinating, especially the party related to the Congress and the House of Representatives. How did it happen that you went this way? And can you tell us a bit more about everything that is behind your impressive LinkedIn profile?
Mark Bayer 01:47 Thanks for that. I appreciate your kind comments about it. I had always been interested in government and politics growing up at home and the news was a topic that we discussed current events and all that stuff. And when I was in school, I studied government and French, I lived in Paris for a while. And I was just always interested in how big change happens in our world and how to motivate people and persuade them.
And so I had an opportunity after I graduated college, to start working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in the US House of Representatives and I was fortunate to be working for a member of Congress who’s now a US senator. He was a US Representative when I started working for him. And I also worked for him as a US senator but I had a chance to have sort of, I guess you could call it like an all-access pass to how policy and big decisions get made and working closely with leaders to see how this happens.
It combines a lot of the skills and interests that I have persuasion, a lot of verbal, you know, opportunities to speak in public, clear writing, and then just sort of trying to figure out how do you move from point A to point B when you’re thinking about changing the way a major policy happens and I can give some examples of projects I worked on a little bit later. And I left after about four years. And I went to the Kennedy School of Government, which is at Harvard University for my master’s and spent two years there.
My Courses focused on negotiation and persuasion. There were economics and statistics as well as some management courses. And then when I graduated, I decided, you know, I had worked in government on Capitol Hill and in Washington. I majored in government. I had gone to the Kennedy School of Government and I decided that I want to understand the corporate sector and see how these types of elements, these skills, and others are applied.
And so that’s when I went to work for Price Waterhouse Coopers which is a management consulting company in the US and abroad and had a chance to work inside a larger company on some topics and I enjoyed that. I liked the team aspect of it, our small team working in government, a lot of Government agencies trying to make them more efficient. And all the issues that organizations encounter with culture, performance, and all that kind of thing.
And then I was recruited to go to a startup and now is moving further away from government because our clients were big financial firms, and some telecom firms, media firms, and so forth. And I enjoy that too. Most of my colleagues were either MBAs or computer scientists. I enjoyed getting a window into that culture and exercising and learning some skills that I hadn’t really in the past. After the September 11 attacks happened, you know, of course, there was the bombing, the suicide bombing at the Pentagon, which was very close to where I was working, actually just over the river.
I got a callback. The two of those planes have taken off from Boston’s Logan Airport, which is my hometown where I grew up I was born in Boston, and I grew up about 20 miles west of Boston, Massachusetts. And so I got a call from my old office at the marquee at that time representing an area north and west of Boston asking me if I’d be interested in returning to the office in a different role. And so I accepted, I was really after the 9 11 attacks, looking to get back into government, I felt like this was a critical moment. And that I was sort of on the sidelines and ready to get back into the action, so to speak.
I went back. And I spent the next five years or so working on aviation security, airline security to try to prevent another breach like the one that resulted in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. One of my big focuses at that point was changing the US policy to require that all of the air cargo that is stored on passenger planes is subjected to the same screening as passengers checked bags. And so it might have been sort of counterintuitive to think that wasn’t already being done there about 6 billion pounds of air cargo every year that goes on US air.
That was becoming a bigger issue. Because after 9/11, fewer people were flying because they were afraid. The airlines to make up revenue started carrying more of this commercial cargo in the belly of the plane right next to where your check bags. And none of that was being physically screened for explosives or bombs. They call security the upside of the top side of the airport with the metal detectors and all these new types of security measures to detect explosives, while underneath for the air cargo operation, none of that cargo was being screened physically.
It was subjected to a paperwork check, sort of like you going to the airport and just showing your ID and then walking around the metal detector and not going through. We thought that was a huge loophole. And I was really at the front of working with my boss on that to try to change that policy. And it was five years of all these different efforts when I say blood, sweat, and tears. We worked with the flight attendants. We worked with families of the September 11 victims.
We worked with some unions and we had a lot of opposition from the airlines and from the administration from the White House at that time. But nonetheless, we prevailed and it got signed into law as part of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which was set up to prevent another 9/11 attacks. After that, I became the deputy chief of staff and Legislative Director in the Office than the chief of staff in the office.
And then representatives decided to run for the US Senate because they were from Massachusetts. After all, there was an open seat once John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State by President Obama. He left his Senate seat in Massachusetts leaving this opening. I worked closely with him as part of that two campaigns, both successful, and then became chief of staff of the Office in the US Senate. And at that point, I thought about 20 years into success in Separate tours of duty, I wanted to do something else. And that sort of brings us to what I do now. It’s something different but related in many ways.
Natalia 10:13 It’s an amazing story. I will read more about these reasons for leaving, because American politics, I mean, at least for us, Europeans, always seems fascinating. We follow closely. And my first question will be, weren’t you tempted to get to the heel as an active politician yourself, like when you were observing all these people getting into power and getting the other initiatives in or pursuing their initiatives in the Congress? Did you ever feel tempted to do the same?
Mark Bayer 10:57 No, and it’s funny because it’s a good question. And it’s not uncommon. And there are many examples of this, of a chief of staff, in particular, running for the boss’s seat when the boss either retires or gets elected, you know, to another office. But for me, I felt like I was as close to that experience as I wanted to be. I saw the good parts and the bad parts. If you want to do the job well, I would have to throw myself into it completely. There’s not a firewall between your personal life and your professional life, as far as you’re kind of always on call.
You have to sort of abandon things that you would normally do in your personal life because you don’t have time for them or they’re interrupted by work on the weekends constantly. And I just felt like, that wasn’t the lifestyle that I wanted. I felt like there wasn’t a lot more for me to achieve at that point. I wasn’t tempted. I know a lot of people might find that funny or strange. But, you know, I was hungry to do something different and apply my skills differently.
Natalia 12:33 I went my own way. I can imagine that at some point you feel that call to do the same. I wanted to ask you a little bit more about why you chose this particular path. Why did you choose to help researchers in the community in crafting better communication skills? What do you do now? How do you use all your experience from your previous career to the services that you’re offering today?
Mark Bayer 13:17 When I left the Hill, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly. And I got calls from people who were interested in having me do different types of projects that were very much related to the typical trajectory for someone like me which would be to lobby full time and go back to Capitol Hill, but now represent specific interests. There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, there are all sorts of different interests that people can petition their government. In the Constitution, it’s the environment or education, every possible issue that you could deal with in the public arena.
You know, there’s a constituency. Some people care about it and they’re able to go to Congress and try to advance their priorities. I was in so many of those meetings on the other side during those two decades on Capitol Hill. But as I was sort of thinking about what I wanted to do, the election in the US happened in 2016, which was a huge surprise for I think the entire world, probably for both candidates as well. But after the election, I was struck initially by all of the lies and deceptions and all of the misleading information that started coming out from the White House.
I mean, it started really on the day of the inauguration, which was January 20, 2017, with a claim about how many people attended the inauguration and how that compared to President Obama’s inauguration. And, you know, there was a string of claims coming from the podium. There were more people at the Trump inauguration and I just thought that was bizarre. And then the National Park Service had actual pictures that showed that wasn’t the case. But then those pictures were taken down and people were reprimanded.
And so after that, on that Sunday, there was an interview on Meet the Press, where the senior counselor to Trump said something about this. And when confronted, she said, Well, the press secretary gave alternative facts to that. And I thought like this is bizarre land. This’s like held territory. And when I worked on Capitol Hill, you know, everything that we did all the policy work, all were grounded in facts and evidence and data and things that were real to the best of our ability to interpret them. And then from there, of course, we had to advocate and persuade and figure out a strategy for advancing the policy but the policies were all rooted in truth to the greatest extent that we could divine it.
And so when I heard her essentially lying and backing it up, I was sort of professionally offended by that. This is not the way policy is made or should be made in the US. But I kind of quickly turned to something that kind of reflects my overall approach, professionally, and probably personally which is, well, what are we going to do about it? Is there anything we can do about it?
And so I geeked out on this idea of how do you distribute this abuse or debunk these types of lies that people really started latching on to and believing and, of course, that was only the beginning of a long string that stretched throughout the four years. At that time, the media was focused on how many of these lies were coming out of these misleading statements, right? And I was focused on, how are we going to do something about it and set the record straight. And, you know, I come from a little bit of a classics background, meaning Greek Roman.
I took three years of Latin, you know, so rhetoric, and language. You know, the roots of words and where they come from are something that I just have studied and I really enjoy. And so I really just geeked out on this idea of, well, are there things that we can do to persuade what’s helpful, what’s not helpful? And then I ended up writing a bit about that. And then in 2018, I went to the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAA s. I decided and I had the opportunity to speak on a topic which I called alternative facts and fake news, how to stand up for science when data isn’t enough.
You know, what do you do when the facts don’t persuade people that they’re holding on to a false position. And it was an interactive discussion. I really enjoyed it. And it was packed. There were more and more people who kept coming into the room and they were bringing chairs in. And then people were sitting on the floor. It was really interesting to lead that it wasn’t a lecture. It was really me talking about some of my ideas and hearing from the group that Science Magazine wrote an article about my talk because there was a reporter or a journalist from science magazine in the room.
And he told me before I started that he was going to write an article about it. And so there’s an article in science. As I started, you know, researching and speaking about it, I found it was a lot of interest. And then I, of course, realize that scientists care the most about trying to base information or conclusions on data and real information. I felt that when I was at the conference, I was sitting next to someone from Capitol Hill, who was the head of research communications and she asked me when I told her what I was working on and what I spoke about.
She asked me if I’d be a keynote speaker for a symposium that they were having that June. And so I did that. And then I began talking more and more to scientists about how they could communicate their research and their information in a way that a non-expert could understand. Then it sort of just grew from that.
Natalia 20:11 That was cool. I can relate because the story of my company started very much the same way. In the June of 2019, I went to a conference in Rome, Italy, and I gave a workshop. It was just a 20-minute talk as a part of an hour-long workshop on post-academic career tracks. And this was the last day of the conference. And it was a hot day, lunchtime. You know, the academic community from all around the world came to discuss cognitive neuroscience-related topics.
The room was full and people were standing in the corridor, people were standing sitting on the floor, and standing outside the room, even though they couldn’t see the slides, they were just standing and listening. And I was like, why? You know, and then that was when it hit me how much of a problem this really is and how many people and that was kind of ironic because all these researchers paid for their travel across the sea, sometimes, to present the research yet, instead of going to a poster session or discussing the research in the corridor, they came here to listen to our workshop.
And the workshop was about how to leave academia successfully. And that’s when I realized how much of a problem this was. And the first thing I did after coming back to the Netherlands was march straight to the Chamber of Commerce to set up the company. And then that’s how it all started. The only difference is that science didn’t care about my talk because there was no follow-up article. Anyways, I can relate, I think this is usually the case that to make a change in your career, you need some impulse, you need some stimulus, there must be something and I see this pattern happening.
In many people’s careers, you need some stimulus that will show you Hi, this is like a light in the tunnel. This is the direction and this is a sign right off. I should be doing this so well. In your case, I think it was very clear. Science is a prime channel of information in academia. It’s the best place to go. I’m curious about what you do today. What is the scope of your activities? And since I never attended your workshop, I’m curious how your workshops look? What can researchers learn from you? And how does the interaction look? Tell us everything.
Mark Bayer 23:10 Glad to do it. Thanks for the question. And thanks for sharing your story. I can give you specific examples, because I’m doing a workshop right now on one topic that I teach, and I just finished another online class teaching a related subject. I’ll start with the online class. And it’s called how to effectively communicate your science to any audience. And it’s four live webinars, so one hour, four times once a week for four weeks. And it’s very practical, in this sense. I start by teaching.
And in this latest round, I partnered with the New York Academy of Sciences and I had people from all over the world from Spain, Israel, the UAE, Mexico, and other parts of the world. And I start by teaching this methodology that I developed primarily during the time that I was on Capitol Hill but also it brings together learnings from my time in the corporate world.
I teach this methodology in the first webinar and then I give students this framework and then they actually practice through two rounds of self-recording which we get, which they complete and then submit, and they get personalized feedback on and the self-recording is having the students talk about the importance of their research, in clear, exciting, engaging terms, that even someone like me who’s anonymous scientist can understand.
We do two rounds of that, getting personalized feedback, and then trying it again and doing a version 2.0. And there’s always a big improvement between the first and second versions. And so by the end of the course, the students have a tangible 60 to 92nd video clip of them talking clearly and in a memorable way about their work using this methodology that I came up with. That’s how to effectively communicate your science to any audience for webinar series. I just finished teaching that. I also limit each cohort to 30 students, because I want to be able to provide really specific feedback to everyone who participates.
I’m teaching right now workshop that I’ve taught for many years now, which really focuses on policymakers. A lot of scientists are interested in talking about advocating for their own research, and also for other public policies that they care about whether it’s climate change, or the environment more generally. They wonder how they can get involved in policymaking. And I love teaching this course as well. And it has this hands-on component. And its focus is the audience for the second workshop. As far as the communications and persuasion and the advocacy tools are there, that audience is a policymaker.
How do you talk specifically? It could be a member of the US House of Representatives, it could be a staff member, it could be someone in Parliament somewhere. I’ve done that too for people in the Middle East and the Gulf states too. And it’s really how you figure out the best way to present your case. And it brings together strands, not just of things like, what are the rhetorical devices to use similes or metaphors or storytelling that you hear about. But it also brings in something that I really believe that’s fundamental, and always an often left out of these types of discussions, which is the foundation before you even communicate.
The way I phrase it is that you need to connect before you communicate. You need to establish an understanding and a demonstration that you understand the audience, that you may have shared interests, shared values, with the audience, and some similarities with the audience, which even though they may seem trivial, like from the same hometown, or went to the same university, or had the same PhD advisor and these types of things. These are real examples. This need for connection is something that I feel gets underplayed when talking about communication.
And I think COVID struck many people. Having this human-to-human connection is important to us. And I think we’re wired that way as non-neuroscientist. But I think that this need to feel connected to our fellow humans is something that began at the start. We needed to stick together for going to survive. And I feel like that instinct is still very much with us today. I start with this explanation of connection and what it means and how to connect and then that information that you uncover, actually can help fuel or inform your communication, what you say and how you say it.
I do the workshop, which is called Demystifying Washington, DC, but it applies to any kind of policy environment, even if it’s local or in another country, and then how to effectively communicate your science to any audience. I also do one-on-one coaching which sometimes happens after a student will take the class or do the workshop and it’s very applicable. The principles that I’m teaching are also really applicable to a job interview. I had a student, you know, University of Chicago, PhD, she had just gotten her PhD.
She was looking at machine learning and the detection of cancers. And then she decided that she wanted to leave academia and interview for a consulting job. But she was having difficulty translating what she had been doing with her life, you know, academically for several years into how that was going to be valuable to a management consulting firm. And so we talked about that.
And she got a broader view of how to do it. And, you know, she ended up acing the interview and getting the job. She was very happy. And I don’t take credit for that. But I think she feels like our time together helped her refine and focus on what she was going to say during the interview.
Natalia 30:37 I’m sure it helped. I’m curious. You’re talking about communication among researchers and communication problems that researchers often experience. Is there any list of the biggest sense that you see, researchers often commit? Or maybe the other way around, like 10 simple rules for success. What are the possible pitfalls that we should avoid?
Mark Bayer 31:14 Sure, I’ll start with the pitfalls. And some of those will be evident to sort of what to do instead. I think one of the number one things that happen is the process steps in your description. We are generally logical people in explaining and scientists in particular and so there’s a tendency that starts at the beginning. And then so I did this, and then I did that. And then we tried that and it didn’t work. We went in this other. Your listener is most interested in the results and how you affect them or the people they care about.
And so sometimes, I say you need to start at the finish line. You want to begin with this very relatable and relevant piece of information. I’m working to make sure that no one suffers from lung cancer again. And so that’s going to grab my attention because I know what cancer is. I’ve heard of lung cancer. I know it’s a very serious thing. I’m staying and I’m locked on with you. And then you can tell me a little bit about your research, for example, but not before you then quickly kind of switch to what I’m doing is sort of like something else that you might have heard of.
These are the techniques we use. I mean, I don’t know how you want to do it. But you want to always tie what you’re saying to something relatable to the audience. That’s a big pitfall people want to start at the beginning. But the problem is that we don’t stick around for all of those. And so by the time you get to sort of telling the punch line of the joke, we’ve completely kind of lost along the way. Think about that. Try to trim or eliminate process steps and think about what I call the three R’s, which are the relevancy, the real-world applicability, and the results that you achieve.
Those are the things you want to lead with always because it kind of gets into the second principle that I talked about which is the principle of primacy and recency, which many of our viewers have probably heard of before. But essentially, it just means that people remember the first thing and the last thing that you say, for the most part. If I’m telling a story, the first thing that I tell you, if it’s relatable, and you understand it, you’re going to remember and then in the middle, it can be kind of squishy, like I may dip in and out, have to pay close attention.
But at the end, I sort of tune back in if you haven’t completely lost me. And so what I say to folks is after that first, real engaging beginning, you tie it up at the end with almost a restatement of what you said at the beginning. And you’re reinforcing it and then the person is likely to leave that conversation with a better understanding of what you’re doing and what your main point is. And so think about that kind of tying things together. Those are sort of a couple of examples of things that people can do right away to improve their communication.
The other thing that I found surprised me and I’ve done now, you know, I have a podcast called when science speaks. And so I’ve interviewed a lot of people now probably coming up to 200. And, you know, one thing that I found is that the scientists and the researchers who are the best at communicating what they do, often are the first generation in their family to graduate from college and consequently to get a PhD. And I thought, like, you know, why is that?
And what I concluded so far is that when you’re in that situation, it doesn’t take very long within your family before you have gone beyond what your parents experienced as part of their own academic time. And so you’re now working on topics, maybe as a middle school student, you know, 7, 8,12, 13, or 14 years old, that your parents just really don’t have any frame of reference. As parents, they’re probably going to ask you, what did you do today in school and you have to try to explain to them what it is in a way that’s number one clear to somebody who’s not familiar with the topic.
But number two is not condescending in any way. And that is respectful because they are your parents and a big authority figure in your life. And so the more that happens over and over again, the better you get at doing your explanations. And you know, that goes all the way through your college or your grad school years. I think my dog right now is at my office door. I’m gonna let her in for a quick second. You can go ahead and ask me a question.
Natalia 36:42 Sweet dog.
Mark Bayer 36:44 She’s a great one. We’ve had her since she was a tiny little pup.
Natalia 36:49 That’s sweet. I put a dog on the cover of my second book because they are just cute. The meaning of what you’ve said is that the earlier you start, the better communicator you are, right? Those researchers who kind of were in conditions where they had to learn early on how to communicate, then became the best communicators now. I think the majority of PhD students also have relatives with higher education at least some of them have higher education. How can we, in these conditions learn how to work and communicate?
Mark Bayer 37:48 I would say that it’s not so much that they’ve started early as they’ve got a lot of practice doing it. And so that practice can begin at any point in your career, you know, once you learn what I would say, learn these sort of principles and approaches, and get some training, the more you practice, at whatever stage you’re at, the better and better you’re going to get. I mean, during my course, when the students would record the first round and then they record the second round, the second round is just a week later. And it’s so much better than the first round when they had just started learning it. The more you do it, the better and better you’re going to get at it.
Look for opportunities that are all around us. You have friends who don’t know what you do very well, and even other scientists who aren’t in your area of specialty don’t know that much about how you do your research. There are opportunities all over the place for people to practice this. That’s what I would say, once you get the training, just keep practicing. And what’s going to happen is, you’re going to start to get good at this and you’re gonna start getting compliments from people.
One of the students even the day after I did a quick fix Facebook Live, you know, like three years ago, and it was a computational neuroscientist, posted the next day and he said already today, I had a chance to try this out because my friends came to the lab and I usually get compliments. And, and so you know, this. So once you get compliments on something, usually it’s a signal like, oh, maybe I should do some more of this or that. I probably should. You know, I like to feel good. Maybe I’ll look for other opportunities to talk to grow. It creates this virtuous cycle.
Because the more you do it, the better you get, the more compliments you get, the more you want to do it, the better you get. I’m really hopeful and optimistic about this. You don’t have to be a first-generation. I guess the last thing I’d say is the importance of this. I kind of see the importance in several different ways. Certainly, if you’re in a job interview, and you’re talking to someone unfamiliar, I mean, that’s a pretty high-stakes conversation if you want the job.
The other is if you are working in a corporate environment, and you’re talking to management or executives, and they’re trying to make business decisions and you need to use your expertise to help answer the question without telling them in detail about the science.
And that’s something that happened to somebody who was a PhD in organic chemistry. And he told me this story about it until he finally sort of got to the point which was, you know, answering the business question, or you’re starting a company. You’re talking to all sorts of people, investors, and you’re marketing it and all these types of things. These are high-stakes situations, particularly as you know, because so many PhDs don’t stay in academia.
They need to get the training to be able to do the translation of their work. I don’t mean like translational science, but you know, how to explain the value and importance of their work now to people, you know, a whole universe of people that they didn’t interact with, in the past.
Natalia 41:48 I have to say that here in the Netherlands, it’s often the case that during our education process from undergrad studies to the end of graduate studies, we don’t really have that. I mean, we have a lot of focus put on our scientific presentation, but with the assumption that we talk to our environment. It’s often the case that the first actual occasion you have and when you actually have to explain what you’ve done in your PhD, is when you are giving your final presentation during the public defense.
In the Netherlands, a PhD defense lasts for exactly one hour, which contains a 10-minute presentation and 15 minutes of questioning from the committee. And this 10 minutes is a lot of sweat for lots of PhD candidates including me. I graduated more or less a year ago. And I was shocked with how much time it took me to try to explain because this talk is meant to be understandable to your grandma, so you have exactly everything you’ve done in four years or more.
And you know, what you’re proud of, but squeezes then in a 10-minute presentation in a way that your grandma would understand. For me, it was I have to say a challenge. And it took me many attempts to complete this task and I am still not sure if I reached the standards that were expected. I made the most colorful presentation that I possibly could think of. I’m not sure if that was necessarily the most understandable one. But I understand the pain.
I mean, I think what you do is great. And I think there should be more focus put on this side of communication in our education process. For all of you guys who watch this episode and who are now in grad school, or soon after, you should take a look up this side of your expertise because sooner or later you will need it. As we mentioned before, the sooner you start and the more practice you get, the better you become. It’s highly recommended to check out Mark’s courses and coaching. I will link it below here in the description.
You can find it easily. And if you have any questions for Mark, then please contact him through LinkedIn. There will also be a link below, so you find him easily. Maybe we could also share a piece of advice. How to start if you have a mental blockade from talking to an external audience, people without an education in the same direction? How can you start if you’ve never done this before? Talking to the mirror first is the first thing to do if you had never had that type of experience before.
Mark Bayer 45:35 Sure, it’s a good question. And I also want to say, look, this is not easy. When I was teaching my class yesterday, I have a time in the course where there are breakout rooms. And we’ve been doing this virtually now, so can do it on Zoom. And when we came out of the breakout rooms, one of the participants said, it was a lot harder than I thought to talk about my research in a way that was clear to others who didn’t have my academic specialty.
I want people to be kind to themselves, first of all, not expect perfection. At the beginning or even at the end, it’s an iterative process, you know, you do this more and more and you refine it. If you’re starting, I think the number one thing is just to start, you know, just recognize, like you were saying the tie that this’s important. And then you say, Well, okay, what do I do about it? And so it’s very easy to say to a family member, or a friend, or a colleague that you trust. Hey, you know, I want to start focusing on this a little bit more, can I just describe to you what I do?
And I’m going to try to make this appropriate for someone who’s not familiar with all the details of the research? And just tell me what you think. Did you understand everything? And what didn’t you understand? Or I’m gonna try to use some metaphors and describe what I do by comparing it to other things that you might be familiar with? Was that helpful? Did that work? You know, and then as you do this, you will start to get a signal sort of, like we were talking about before your signals from your listeners.
That was really interesting, tell me more. I would encourage people. The number one thing is to get started and start with people that you trust. And just ask them for frank feedback on what you’re saying, and how could it be better? And does this makes sense? Or did that make sense where there’d be a better way to phrase something? I also want to say sort of a high-level approach, or theme to keep in mind is you are showing someone the trailer of the movie, you’re not showing them the movie, right?
When you have these interactions, think about like, I’m just going to tell them the preview, I’m not going to go through the entire plot of the movie. Think of yourself as a director of a two-hour movie, right? Many different things going on and characters and different actions that happen and mystery and things that you didn’t expect and all of that. And so now you as the director have to put together the trailer for that movie and it’s going to be 30 seconds. It can only be 30 seconds. It’s going to be up on YouTube all around, you know, streaming. It’s a new Amazon original series. You need to put together the trailer.
You can see what do I include? What do I not mention? How do I explain the things that I am including? And so you’ll see it’s not an easy task. But remember, when you’re doing these descriptions, the idea isn’t to try to cram all of this information, just into a short timeframe, like 30 seconds or a minute. The idea is to try to be more strategic in deciding what should be included and what doesn’t need to be and one of the things in that regard is the details and process steps are usually things that can be left on the cutting room floor, while you focus on the results. The real-world application is relevant to regular people, that’s what you want to do but you’re just showing the trailer. You’re not showing the whole movie.
Natalia 49:41 From what you’ve said before, I would call it an anti trailer because you have to start from the ending, right? It’s one major spoiler.
Mark Bayer 49:52 It’s funny. If next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the movie now. I’m talking about the trailer unnecessarily but how long does it take after the credits are over for something, a big action to occur like that rivets usually someone gets killed, or there’s a crash, or there’s some action that happens. That’s pretty dramatic at the beginning not long after the movie starts. For these big, like Hollywood movies, that’s often what happens. And they’re doing it for that reason that we sort of talked about. They need to hook your attention right away.
And so, you know, it’s fine. That’s just something just to think about next time you’re watching a movie to see how long does it take from the movie’s beginning to have a major action occur? Because I want you to explain your research to start like you’re saying with this is a big thing? Why are we doing this? And I’m picking a reason and explanation that you understand and could relate to from your real life.
Natalia 51:06 That’s the Hitchcock style. Start from the earthquake, and then takes off. It’s very good advice. I’ve seen some, you know, talking about movies, and the timing in movies. I’ve seen some comparisons between different MCU, like superhero movies, and scene after scene, the timing of different crucial events including the deaths, bombings, some action scenes, and then romantic scenes, and then thrillers between them.
It’s all like almost the same, like, when you look at those movies, the topic is different, the characters are different. But the timing is almost like a melody. It’s a melody. And it’s the same melody in every single movie when you would put them next to each other, you can see, it’s like just kind of one screenplay with just different details.
Mark Bayer 52:10 That’s so interesting It’s almost like plug-and-play. We know that at five minutes 23 seconds, we should have a train derailment because it’s been one minute and 13 seconds since something big happened. There’s a formula to it. And it’s a formula that’s been around since the very beginning. I mean, I keep Aristotle’s book, Aristotle’s writings on rhetoric, you know, on my bookshelf. I look at it.
The things that he talks about are things that we would recognize in our daily interactions when we’re watching TV or we’re listening to something and someone’s trying to make a point or advance or shape the way we think these are rhetorical devices and techniques that have been around since the beginning of public speaking, and they still work because 2000 years from an evolutionary standpoint is not even a blink of an eye probably. We’re still wired to respond to that kind of stimuli and that kind of structure.
Natalia 53:27 One thing I’d like to add to this conversation is that the ability to present and to give a layman talk about what you do is one of the most transferable skills there are. For me now, it’s also I also have to explain the rationale of what I do when I build a company. And when I build projects within a company, I was just thinking about where else could you apply the same skills.
I was thinking pretty much everywhere, wherever you go, in the job markets, you start working in a corporation or you start your own business, the ability to pitch is the ability to give a pitch and it will be useful everywhere. This is one of these skills that also leadership, you know, there should be a number of skills that are a bit like an air bug.
Mark Bayer 54:33 It’s sort of like your safety net or your security blanket or something like that. But you know, it’s funny to even I was thinking like when you’re calling customer service because there’s something wrong, you know, your refrigerator or whatever it is, you want to make it quick and concise to write, so you can even think about, well, it’s broken and then talks a little bit like, Okay, well, a little bit of background on that, rather than going into all these little data.
I came down this morning and I happened to look at, you know, I didn’t hear the noise and you can use that sort of discipline, so to speak that structure in every interaction that you have. One of my students said, you know, she was talking to friends from home and she wants to make her research, she’s passionate about research, she wants to make it interesting and accessible to those people. And so she uses these kinds of techniques as well in talking, just, you know, just talking to friends.
Natalia 55:41 Now, I’m working on this. I’m thinking of creating a list of the top 10 transferable skills that are useful everywhere. Like, I think that the number one is still kindness. This’s useful in absolutely every job, every profession everywhere. But pitching would be very high on this list as well. I think we often as researchers focus on these hard skills, like specialistic skills way too much. We treat these soft skills as something that’s not necessarily as important to learn for us because it’s so nonspecific everyone has the skill.
This doesn’t make anyone unique, you know, but I’m one of these 10 people in the world who can solve this type of equation and this makes me special. We don’t realize that without these simple human skills that everyone has, it will stop us in our careers anyway. These are the obligatory things we should know. This’s level number one. You have the ability to communicate what you do and it matters what you want to do.
Mark Bayer 57:11 It’s so true. I looked into this question of why is it called soft skills because I think sometimes what is taken as being derogatory is not as important as the hard skills, right. And I had an opportunity to interview a woman who is in the life sciences industry in Boston, and she and her colleagues wrote an article in Scientific American where they talked about the types of skills employers want in the biotech space. And as part of that research, they came across the idea of soft skills versus hard skills.
They looked at why did that even begin and so the origin of this dichotomy are descriptions of hard versus soft. It really started in the US Army, you know, back 50, 60, or 70 years ago, and there was no derogatory or there was no disparaging or negative sentiment associated with it. If you have a hard skill, that means you’re working on a machine that’s made out of metal, that’s hard. If you don’t do any kind of work around machines made out of metal, then you don’t have hard skills. It’s the opposite of soft skills.
That’s it. There’s nothing derogatory about these soft skills but I think it has taken on a negative connotation as being fluff or not as important. I guess the one thing I would say, and you’ve alluded to this when it comes to this kind of thinking, is that an idea that you have as a researcher, so there’s an expression, you know, an idea, without action is just a dream, right? One of the reasons I got into this is because I wanted to empower scientists to get their ideas and discoveries out into the world more broadly and acted upon. That’s only going to happen if you can talk to the rest of the world about what you do.
And it’s not an innate skill that you might be born with to be able to do that. Some people may be better than others but pretty comfortable people really need to learn more about how to do it systematically. It’s not easy. It’s something that you need to learn and practice just like any other skill, maybe in the lab or in your work as a researcher specifically.
Natalia 1:00:04 That’s interesting. I have to say that Americans are always responsible. Here like being in Europe, we joke sometimes that Americans have bigger trees and bigger scars because everything is bigger there.
Mark Bayer 1:00:29 You’re right.
Natalia 1:00:31 I like my suspicion. I thought about it once. And I suspected that hard skills are measurable skills. That was my guess. I didn’t know about that story. But I thought, you know, the skills such as the ability to do good quality writing or ability to solve some type of equations or a program in a certain language are the abilities you can grade, somehow you can design a task to test them, but like soft skills are more the ability to communicate. It’s hard to come up with categories for how to measure this type of skill. That was my guess.
Mark Bayer 1:01:21 And one way that I’ll I could sort of add to that a little bit, maybe, as far as measurability, which is such an important point because usually what’s measured gets done, you know, if we can measure something, then we know we’re making progress. I encourage people to think about output versus outcome. An outcome will start with output. I can measure how many experiments did I run this week and all those sorts of things. Those are quantitative, right? That’s output but the outcome is the consequences.
What occurred in the real world as a result of that and it can’t be measured, it can be understood, you know, we changed the law, or now there’s a new way of getting your insulin that doesn’t require needles because of this science or now more people don’t have COVID because we came up with this vaccine, and all these people are vaccinated and the economy is starting to turn.
But in any case, if you think about output versus outcome, I would say, I almost view the output as almost like an interim step, you know, if we had this idea that we should require all cargo to be screened. And we wrote all these letters and we could measure how many letters we sent, but to change the policy and require cargo to be screened. It did well in our case but we had to work to make that happen and apply a lot of these types of persuasion and advocacy and negotiation, and communication skills to make that happen.
Natalia 1:03:10 Fantastic. I think we have to slowly come to the end of this episode. Let me ask you a nasty corporate question which is how do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
Mark Bayer 1:03:32 I would like to be continuing to reach more people with the teaching I do in addition to the workshop and the course. And the one-on-one coaching, I do keynote talks, I did one for the National Organization for research development professionals, so people in universities who are pulling faculty together to go after really large grants, so they have a national organization. I did one. I did a keynote talk for about 700 people there.
The keynote talks are something that I’d like to continue to do because I feel like they can reach a lot of folks. I enjoy and love what I get to do every day. I enjoy working with scientists, researchers, social scientists, and natural scientists. I also work with engineers, as well. And I would just like to kind of continue doing what I’m doing. I don’t have any aspirations to take over the world with this, so to speak, to continue to reach more people.
Natalia 1:04:47 Thank you so much, Mark, for all your great insights. I’m convinced. I think I’m starting to polish my communication skills, starting today.
Mark Bayer 1:05:05 You have a big head start because you already do it well.
Natalia 1:05:09 You convinced me. I wish I should definitely look into this. And you guys, if you’re curious, please check out Mark’s website and his workshops. And thank you so much, Mark, for your visit today and for all the knowledge you shared with us. And for all you guys who would like to get more of this type of content, please subscribe to the channel.
Mark Bayer 1:05:47 I would say I have a free resource as well. You’ll find it on my website. The website is you know, Bayer strategic.com. It would be in the notes for the episode. But I have what I put together. It’s an infographic. It’s 11 keys to communicating complexity or 11 keys for translating complexity. I think what it’s officially called. It’s free. If you go to Bayer strategic.com, you can put your email in and you can get your very own 11 keys to translating complexity.
Natalia 1:06:23 I will do that in a second. Thank you so much.
Mark Bayer 1:06:30 Thank you. I enjoyed it.