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I really enjoyed my research but it happens that whenever I tell somebody about it, I have the impression I'm making it sound boring, unimportant and not exciting. Americans have a way of telling a story, I know this kind of "performance" does not suit my habit. I'm more the continental European type of guy, bit reserved, a bit technical. Not everything I did immediately is about curing cancer, I admit it.

I started by adapting a kind of top-down approach, first I say "Simulations", usually people feel they can relate to that. And if they wish to know more, then I can start going into some details.

I think this approach makes sense, but still, I find others can induce interest by the other person immediately from the start of their explanations.

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Make your research sound interesting to whom? People in your immediate field (say, quantum physics)? People in the same broad field (say, other physicists)? Other academics in general? Members of the public? –  David Richerby Jul 4 at 22:11
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I think that you're missing the point if you're trying to make your research sound exciting. If your research is exciting, you should be able to convey what it is that excites you to the people who matter. –  Ari Trachtenberg Jul 4 at 22:39
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@AriTrachtenberg: Maybe I am misinterpreting "people who matter", but I think it would be quite sad if only people mattered to me who were equally excited about, as hypothetical example, new algorithms for formal grammar-based syntax transformations as myself. –  O. R. Mapper Jul 5 at 10:24
    
People who matter are the people you'd want to read and understand the work (as opposed to, say, your dentist:-) ) –  Ari Trachtenberg Jul 6 at 3:02

3 Answers 3

Try lots of different things. You've tried one thing, and it hasn't worked.

Treat it like any other kind of experimental research. Try new things, monitor the results, adjust your approach accordingly.

Some things that can work:

  • use specific examples: identify a very specific problem that they can understand, and show how you're trying to address that problem
  • use analogy and metaphor: find out something about what interests them, and draw parallels between that and what you're doing
  • be passionate: talk about the aspects of your work that you really care about, and why you are passionate about them; even if they don't understand the words, they'll understand your emotions.
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"draw parallels between that and what you're doing", or speak about the intersection. Possibly your research could (at least remotely) be applied to some problem they may have now or in a plausible future. I mean, put an example from the start and choose an example that worries them (I'm not saying it is easy). –  Trylks Jul 4 at 17:57

Perhaps the real problem is that you're not describing your research clearly, and at the appropriate level for the person you're talking to. This is a skill that definitely takes practice to get good at. You'll know you're doing it right when the other person asks good questions; that's proof that they are engaged. So I suspect if you focus on being clear and getting the level of explanation right, you'll end up making the research sound more interesting without even trying!

I take advantage of every opportunity I can to explain it to adults and children, academics and non-academics, and so on. I've definitely improved with this practice. The number one mistake I (and probably most people) tend to make is to explain at too high a level. I always have this fear that I'm going to insult the other person's intelligence by explaining things too simply. But that doesn't happen. If the other person does want more detail, they'll ask.

Another possibility is that you're trying to sound professional when you explain your research, and that's inhibiting your natural style. But it's perfectly OK to sound like an excited kid in this situation, if that's how you feel. A lot of well-respected academics sound like kids when they start talking about something they're interested in, because they do feel passionate about it, and that makes the audience more interested too.

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Switch focus from the hows and whats to the whys and do a top-down break-down from there. Your peers will be able to follow your break-down for longer than laymen, but all will be more interested in what you do.

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