Science events are like science communication: we often aim to target a general audience but end up talking exclusively to our colleagues. So, a question arises: how can we reach the people that are not already primed into coming to our events? Moreover, in a city like Zurich, where a large part of the population is foreigners, we always ask ourselves: should the event be held in the local language?
I have been involved in organising several types of science-based events, from career fairs, career chats to science film festivals and pint of science and I still don’t have answers for the questions above.
The language topic is quite complicated: in Switzerland there are four official languages and even more dialects. To target a wider geographical region, dialects shouldn’t be used, which can exclude some immigrants who have only learned this aspect of the language. However, most teams I am aware of are volunteer based and composed mostly by foreigner students, who also do not master the official languages. This creates the added issue of either restricting the staff to people who are fluent in several languages, or creating the basis of the event in a language and running it in another. Of course there’s a third and more popular option: just stick to English. When it comes to science communication, helding events in English automatically excludes the population that has the most time and possibly the most interest in STEM topics: children, young adults and pensioners.
So, if we are already targeting a very small part of the population, how can we make sure that at least our audience is aware of our events? Advertisement is very important, for long enough, repetitively but not boringly. Over the years, we found that word-of-mouth is the most effective way, targeting our friends and colleagues. To get out of this bubble, social media can be of advantage by the use (and abuse) of hashtags. However, this should not create a false sense of message spreading, as social media can as well reach someone on the other side of the world as completely miss the person next door. Therefore, a wide range of advertisement options, from billboards to press releases should be considered. On this note, these days I tend to get most of my information on “science-related” events through instagram stories.