Tuesday, 13 November 2012

When science and stories collide

The Story Collider

I'm back in the office today after a wonderfully intense couple of days at SpotOn London 2012 - which I'll be blogging more about in another post. 

But first, I want to talk about the Story Collider - the fringe event which kicked off the whole conference for me, which was held on the Saturday night in the upstairs room of a pub in Camden (not the usual location for scientific shennanigans, to be fair!)

I'm still not entirely sure how I wound up there, hiding at the back of the room, frantically reading and re-reading my notes. Well, yes, I do know how I wound up there. When the email came around to the registered conference attendees asking for storytellers, I took a look at it and thought "that could be interesting - I wonder if my story is appropriate?" And it went from there. The organsisers liked the sound of my story outline, and that was it. I was on the list to tell my tale.

(I was, of course, blithely ignoring the fact that I was due to vanish into the wilds of West Wales the weekend before the show. Oh, and the fact that my voice was somewhat on the croaky side, and not showing any signs of coming back...)

Anyway, the Story Collider is part stand-up comedy, part confessional, and aims to bring together people to listen to and to tell stories about science in their lives. Its format is simple, a half dozen storytellers, talking for about ten minutes each, standing alone on a stage in front of a microphone.

I think I can safely say it was one of the scariest experiences I've had in a long time. I'm no stranger to the stage, but there's a big difference between presenting research (where you can hide behind powerpoint slides and acronyms), or singing songs (where the words are already written and you know them by heart), to standing in front of strangers, telling them about something that actually, really happened to you, and how it made you feel. (The feelings part was the hardest!)

Be that as it may - I did it. I was shaking like a leaf when I got off that stage, but I did it! 

The audience was lovely - only a science crowd would have given me a cheer when I told them how I was finally going to get my dataset published. And I got a lot of laughs, and a lot of really nice comments afterwards too - the ones that stuck in my mind were the ones that said how nice it was to hear a story about the actual trials and tribulations of doing science.

The whole event was recorded, so I'm hoping there'll be podcasts of the show coming out in the not-too-distant future. I'd really like to listen to the other stories that were told that night again, as being second last in the running order meant that I was too distracted by being nervous to give them my full attention!

Many thanks to all the Story Collider organisers for giving me the chance to tell my story, and my fellow story-tellers and the audience for being so supportive, and for laughing and cheering! If you get the chance to go to a Story Collider event, or even talk at one, go for it!

One theme that kept coming back in the discussions at SpotOn London was how much we scientists need to get better at telling stories and talking to people. The Story Collider provides an excellent way of doing just that.

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