Secrets for successful science communication: Story-selling, sciencetelling, your passionate self

Want to get the secret sauce for effective communication of science? Three of National Geographic’s most famous explorers shared their advice and experience at the National Geographic Explorers Festival in Washington, D.C. today.

Story-selling, in three acts

Photograph of Enric Sala by Randall Scott/NGS.

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is founder and leader of Pristine Seas, a National Geographic project launched in 2008 to explore and help save the last wild places in the ocean. Pristine Seas has helped create 13 marine reserves covering some 4.4 million square kilometers. Here’s his magic formula:

We have a very clear goal, which is to convince country leaders to protect very wonderful places in large marine reserves — areas without fishing, drilling, mining — places we set aside for nature. Convincing that person takes a rational side, science and economics, and it also takes an emotional side, which is we have to make that person fall in love with a place.

What we have developed over the years — and I have to admit that we did not start with this sophisticated process, we had to learn along the way, which took us years — we are not telling stories, we are selling a story.

You know, you have three acts in a classic story, and that’s the way we approach it. We have this wonderful place we go to, we do our research, we do our film. And then I want to persuade that country’s President to protect the place. We show her that this place is wonderful, so unique, and nobody in the world has something like this, but…the place is endangered. And the threat is imminent. And we need to do something about it urgently.

What we sell to the leader is, we want the leader to be the third act, the leader to decide, “I just discovered this place, it’s wonderful, we’re going lose it, I want to save it.” This is how we have changed storytelling to story-selling. And so far it’s worked well. We leave the story unfinished, for that person to want to be the hero that brings the story to a conclusion.

Being Your Passionate Self

Photograph of Sarah Parcak by Randall Scott/NGS.

National Geographic Fellow Sarah Parcak, an Egyptologist pioneering the field of satellite archaeology, using futuristic tools to unlock secrets from the past and transform the way discoveries are made, believes in being your passionate self.

For me the most has been keeping to who I am, being very passionate and authentic. I would say to everyone in the audience, when you have the cameras in your a face or microphone it’s so easy to lose that. Take a deep breath, all of you are the most authentic, passionate explorers in the world. That’s why you’re here. Just being yourself…it’s the one thing the world needs right now, in spite of all of this fake news we’re getting. You need to be your passionate self, show the world that there are people who really care about this planet and where we’re going.


Photograph of Lee Berger by Randall Scott/NGS.

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger, discoverer of a new human ancestor, Homo naledi, that changed our understanding of humanity’s history, named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015 and 2016’s Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year, doesn’t care too much for the over-used term “storytelling.”

We so often use this word storytelling. I like the term sciencetelling a lot better. It more reflects what we’re really doing as passionate explorers, scientists, academics, people trying to make change in this world. Getting down to it, why do we do sciencetelling, what is important about it? First, it’s not easy. It’s like anything, you know “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”

But secondly, it’s about the obligation to the people of the world, the people who support us, taxpayers, people in this room, the staff of this organization who let us be out there doing these adventures. Because we’re doing it for you, you are the reason why, you’re the ones who are going to ultimately make the change for the people of this planet.


Watch a recording of the discussions at the Explorers Festival (June 15)

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn