British Science Festival ‘how to’ guides

Guide 3: Preparing your proposal
Anyone can organise an event at the British Science Festival. If you would like to organise an event as part of the Festival, then you need to complete the proposal form by the October the year prior to the Festival in question. We include a whole range of events in the Festival including debates, workshops, plays, films and talks for everyone; schools groups, families, people with an interest in science, scientists and professionals. Depending on the type of event you would like to hold, it could be included events on the university campus, in venues around the city or in the school programme. For more information about the kind of events that we look for, which part of the programme they may fit in to and inspiration for events that you might like to organise please see our info sheet: ‘What kind of events are we looking for?’. All proposals need to be made on the appropriate proposal form, which can be found on our website or requested from the Festival team. The deadline is in October prior to the Festival. The specific date is advertised on the website.

Things you need to think about for your event and proposal
1) Choosing your audience Firstly you need to decide if the event you are proposing is for the main programme (events for the general public, such as families, people with a general interest, those with a specific interest etc) or for the schools programme (workshops and hands-on activities specifically for school groups only). ‘Guide 2: What kind of events are we looking for?’ may help when choosing your audience. This will help to choose which form to fill in. 2) Choosing the content The content of the event needs to be expressed on the proposal form clearly, in language understandable to a wide audience, and its relevance, novelty and points of topical interest made clear. Events should be comprehensible and interesting to a wide audience – this is not ‘dumbing down’; it is skilled communication. The Festival is all about science-related issues that are important or potentially important to people. This is regarded by the British Science Association as of the utmost importance. The distinctive feature of the Festival is that it explores the social, political or ethical implications of scientific progress, as well as presenting and discussing new areas of scientific research. These concepts can be explored in any kind of event.

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Discussion about areas of uncertainty is encouraged both between scientists and others. In all events it is expected that the issue and discussion will be addressed in a reputable manner and with due respect for the audience and participants. There are some further comments about content in ‘Guide 2: What kind of events are we looking for?’. Organisers should note that the media makes up a very important part of the Festival audience. The media are looking for new material, an interesting angle, or something ‘sexy’ which will capture the attention and imagination of their readers, viewers or listeners. For events that present new research, particularly those that the media are interested in, organisers should not use the Festival to re-run events. 3) Choosing the participants: the Chair or Facilitator Many events have a chair or facilitator where appropriate (for example in at talk, but not at a play), so this is something you need to think about. As well as possessing appropriate skills for facilitation, a chair or facilitator needs to be able to keep speakers to time effectively, to stop one panel or audience member taking control of the discussion, to provide clear summaries of the issues and to be able to lead the occasion without dominating it. A good chair will be able to involve the audience in the discussion and avoid the event turning into a question and answer session with ‘the experts’ answering questions put by the audience rather than stimulating debate. Whilst those in the audience may not be the leading scientific experts on the topic, they will bring their own expertise from other areas. Asking the chair to summarise the discussion from time to time enables people to reflect on where the event is going and allows latecomers to catch up. It is important to brief your chair as well as the presenters and encourage them to speak to each other beforehand. 4) Choosing the participants: the Presenters Presenters should also be people whom the organisers know to be effective communicators as well as top class researchers or practitioners. They also should be briefed in advance not only about the audience who will be present, but about their responsibility to be available for contact with the media if appropriate. Please read Guide 6: The media for further information. Making presenters aware of their specific audience, and their level of expectation, is vital. This is not like talking to undergraduates or colleagues. Some concepts may be complex but simplicity of language and the total absence of jargon will carry the audience with you. Despite targeted marketing of an event, there will be a mixture of people present who have come for all sorts of reasons. It is not unusual to get a Fellow of the Royal Society, a seventeen year old schoolgirl and someone in their eighties all attended the same event and contributing in the discussion. None of these

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may be expert in the field under discussion and may have no or little knowledge of the topic. It is up to the organiser of the event to establish and maintain the quality of their presentations. Before inviting a presenter, check if they have presented to a general audience before and, if you can, find out what the audience reaction was. Even the most exciting scientific breakthrough can fail to make an impact if the presentation is too technical, unstructured or because the presenter is simply not engaging the audience. Presenters should be encouraged to think carefully about their presentations when preparing for their session. PowerPoint presentations and slides should be used to illustrate what the speaker is saying, not echo their words verbatim. As a rough guide, in a 20 minute presentation, only six slides should be used. It is highly unlikely that slides prepared for another audience ‘will do’ without modification. Events where a presenter just talks and has the same information on the slide behind them often prove the unsuccessful and the least rewarding for the audience. Research shows that if an audience just listens to a presentation they only remember 5% of what has been said. This rises to 15% if the presenter uses slides, but by using a demonstration, the figure increases to 25%. By becoming involved in the discussion or interacting with a demonstration, this figure rises to 65% (Source: National Training Laboratory, Maine). 5) Choosing the format More information about this can be found in the ‘Guide 2: What kind of events are we looking for?’. But for some ideas, here are some things to think about: Interactive voting Although high tech systems do exist, often a show of hands or raising different coloured cards can be as effective. People can vote on the issues raised throughout the event, at the beginning and/or the end to indicate their preference for one point of view over another. Make sure that the questions are clear and that the audience knows beforehand what will be required of them. If you are interested in hiring in an electronic voting system, please let us know well in advance. It is possible that other organisers might have the same idea and will be able to share the cost. Breakout groups These can work either as ice breakers, encouraging the audience to interact with each other and express their thoughts on the subject or can be more in depth discussions about a certain aspect of the subject. Good facilitators are essential for this, and they should be clear about the aims of the breakout groups. Focus groups If your organisation is trying to find a way of monitoring public responses to your new products, research area or service, you could have a focus group

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type event at the Festival. Make sure you are clear about what you want to find out, and that you invite appropriate people. New technology demonstrations Within your event you could incorporate an opportunity for the audience to see technology at work. The logistics of this may require planning so please let us know as soon as possible so that we can allocate you a suitable space. You could use willing members of the audience in your demonstrations. Audience participation Some things to think about: o o o o o o plan it well in advance, making sure that you are clear what you want the audience to do where appropriate, prepare printed material beforehand if it is a formal debate make sure that you have a structured, clear title have people planted within the audience who can ‘set the ball rolling’ consider a ‘Question Time’ style event, allowing people to submit questions beforehand make sure that your presenters are well briefed about the make up of the audience and the level of knowledge they can be expected to have timing – make sure there is time in the event to included everything planned


6) Where will your event be held? Many events are held on the host university’s campus. Events are also held in institutions and venues across the host town or city. Often, events that are more accessible for a general audience, such as families are held in the city rather than on the campus. If you would rather your event be held in the city or on campus, or you have a venue in mind already (that you can organise yourself) please specify this on your proposal. If you have no preference, please leave this blank and the Festival team will allocate a venue to you that they feel is most appropriate.

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