Can science be communicated through a creative, fun, and effective medium?
The answer is yes!
The expressive languages of theater, storytelling, and other art forms can generate an empathetic and inspiring communication of science, as well as new opportunities for science outreach and education.
We had the chance to expand this perspective during a session within IFERA 2023 Doctoral Consortium dedicated to the art of scientific storytelling taught by Andrea Brunello, scholar, actor, and director of the Arditodesio theater company. The aim of the session about scientific storytelling was to explain to junior scholars how to narrate to an audience the deep motivations behind research and emblematic episodes that marked a path as scientists amid passion, sacrifice, uncertainties, and failures.
A conversation has followed up the inspiring session with Andrea Brunello, which we now want to share with our community!
What is the main takeaway from your session?
Perhaps the most important thing I hope I have left behind is the desire to explore why we say and do certain things. Dialogues and conversations should not be about searching for the right words to use but rather the desire to make connections through which we elaborate new ideas. When I tell a story or present a paper, when I speak in front of a committee or an audience, what I always ask myself is what am I trying to learn in turn. This also allows me to overcome tension and performance anxiety. Also, when you tell stories you gain awareness about what you are saying, because you think about it, reflect on it, and understand the importance of the words used and the effect they have on the listeners.
What are the main reasons why you started the scientific storytelling project?
The idea that inspires my artistic direction starts from the assumption that science dominates our existence today, but in spite of the role it plays on a social and individual level, it is often relegated to specialized lectures and is generally not considered as a source of artistic and theatrical topics. Instead, we believe that speaking competently and, above all, engagingly about science allows us not only to understand our times but also to broaden the philosophical and existential horizons of those willing to listen. Society is facing immense challenges whose complex and multifaceted solutions require radical and disruptive innovation in all human systems. This innovation will depend in large part on science and its acceptance within society. It is therefore essential that science be connected in a deep and competent way with a non-technical audience. Theater, storytelling, and other forms of art are powerful tools, universal languages useful for eliciting engaging and incisive emotional reactions.
What are the key techniques used in your science storytelling course?
During the course, each participant is asked to identify a scientific subject to focus on. A scientific “narrative” is developed on that subject, starting with a simple dramaturgical construction that is identified and developed in the first part of the course until each participant arrives at a short story of scientific content on the style of storytelling.
The second part of the course is devoted to analyzing how to apply the proposed techniques to teaching practice: both how to prepare students to become communicators themselves but also how to use the course content in the construction of the lectures.
During the course, I constantly push my students to challenge themselves, for instance by trying to summarize a 10-minute presentation on a topic they are not interested in, with the goal of finding an interesting angle even on the most boring topics. Another example of an exercise that stimulates alternative ways to present research is the idea of narrating a fairy tale that everyone knows (Cappuccetto Rosso for instance) and substituting the main storytelling elements with milestones from students’ research area. This exercise is extremely useful as it uses an existing dramaturgical structure taken from the fairy tale to unfold a scientific narration. All these exercises help the students realize the power of storytelling.
In family businesses, the coexistence of family and business systems adds a personal and emotional side to every business dynamic. What is your view on our field of research?
I would like to make two orders of consideration of the topic. The first concerns the discipline from a scientific point of view. If we compare family business to disciplines such as chemistry or physics, we realize how integral storytelling is to your field of research. The most fascinating aspect of family businesses is indeed the idea that stories are embedded elements of this form of organization. Therefore, being a good storyteller is a necessary skill for researchers in this field.
The second reflection is instead devoted to the companies themselves and the family members working within them. The presence of an emotional component in storytelling is shown to help generate a sense of confidence, awareness, and curiosity in the listener but also in the storyteller. These key mechanisms may also help family business members to develop a strong sense of attachment to their business history, values, and identity.
For this reason, my suggestion for members of family businesses is to familiarize themselves with the history of their family and business, understand the salient elements, retrace the artifacts, and thoroughly understand their own role within this history.