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For the past two days I have been attending New Zealand’s first Science Media SAVVY workshop. Developed by the Science Media Centre with contributions by Michael Brown, a media skills trainer with Skillset and Dr Mark Quigley, who also contributed to the funding of the workshop using part of his Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize.* It was quite an experience – sometimes fun, sometimes challenging, but always informative.

The first day involved filmed interviews, allowing us to see what we looked like on camera, and through constructive feedback learning how we could perform better. The facilitator’s Michael Brown and Peter Griffin were able to show us how we are all capable of giving a good interview by moving into “the flow” of the interview, and gave us techniques on how to get into the flow quickly and confidently. Michael also gave us some tools for dealing with aggressive questioning, although I’m not sure if I’m ready to forgive him for trying this out on me first, without warning :-).

While half of us were getting used to seeing what we looked like of film, Dacia Herbulock from the Science Media Centre, was teaching us how to construct media pitches that were engaging, concise and as jargon free as possible. This included brainstorming alternatives for words such as frequency and molecule, as well as discussing the finer points of blood splatter research and the internal structure of stars.

Day two saw us visiting the Christchurch Press to get a better understanding of how a newspaper runs. Getting some idea of the deadlines and constraints reporters have was extremely useful, as well as making personal contact with Paul Gorman who looks after science related stories at The Press. Peter Griffin also gave us an outline of how the media environment is changing and how we might use this to our advantage in better communicating science. The afternoon then finished with a media panel, who after giving us their background and then listened to our pitches. Business cards and contact details were then exchanged, and then it was off to the pub for a beer.

As well as the training we received, another benefit of the workshop was sharing the experience with other scientists, from a variety of organisations and disciplines. It was fascinating to hear about the work of scientists doing research on Antarctic fishes, soil science, environment toxins, stroke rehabilitation, blood splatter forensics and volcanology (I was a little suspicious of a volcanologist doing media training but he reassured me there wasn’t any immediate volcanic hazards in Christchurch).

My general impression is that everyone involved with the SAVVY workshop found it extremely beneficial, which bodes well for future workshops taking place in other centres around New Zealand. If you get the chance to attend one – go for it.

*The winner of the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize receives $100,000; $50,000 to spend on her/his development of media communication skills with the other $50,000 to spend on whatever he/she wants. It was extremely generous of Mark to spend some of his prize on helping other scientists develop their media skills.