Yes, the headline has two possible meanings, and both fit. Texas Tech Professor of Atmospheric Science Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian,* and within that community she is evangelical about spreading the word about climate change . Dr. Hayhoe authored a handy guide, A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, with her husband, an evangelical pastor.
But for communicators, the point of this post is simply this: “be likeable.” How? By being open, honest and sharing a revealing passion. After you watch the four 2-minute clips on Katharine’s page in NOVA’s “Secret Lives of Scientists & Engineers,” you’ll feel like you know her and undoubtedly like her. Hey, two viewers wrote afterwards that they want to marry her! (Sorry guys, you’re too late.)
This little clip shows the importance of demystifying not just science, but scientists themselves. Research has become so cloistered that the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot name even one living scientist. So our images of scientists are dominated by stereotypes or old photos of Albert Einstein with that crazy hair. Is it any wonder that when scientists try to speak to ordinary people about climate, it’s as if an alien has landed, speaking a strange tongue?
Take away for communicators: Let your hair down and let your audience get to know something about you as a person, before you start rattling off climate facts. If you want to get your message across, being likeable is half the battle. That’s why marine-biologist-turned-filmaker Randy Olson devotes an entire chapter to likeability in Don’t be Such a Scientist, his provocative handbook on effective storytelling.
Being likeable means letting your audience see you as a whole human being — passionate, flawed and striving — with whom they can identify. That’s the genius of the NOVA “Secret Lives,” in which scientists describe their work in 3 minutes, then share their enthusiasm for some quirky hobby or pastime.
Which brings to mind a related take-home point: Find common ground with your audience. Audiences trust speakers more who share their values, outlook or experiences. If not religion, it could be hunting or fishing, something in the news, your favorite hobby, the town where you live, concern for your kids, respect for the military, or a story about about your grandparents. Our alternative climate narratives may spark some ideas for where to find common ground.
Finding common ground and being likeable will “give the facts a fighting chance.”
More from Dr. Hayhoe:
- On a webcast for “Republicans for Environmental Protection” last year, Dr. Hayhoe delivered a one of the best slideshows for any general audiences we’ve seen, with crystal clear slides and charts that strip away the clutter to reveal key points. You can view the slideshow and hear her narration via our climate Home Runs! collection.
- Here is the quick and funny 10-question Q&A session — in “secret message format” — that followed the video above:
- More about Dr. Hayhoe, including a web chat session, can be found at her page on PBS.
* As Katharine mentions in the clip, she is not the only evangelical climate scientist. See Stories/”Creation Care & Other Religious Approaches” to climate change.