Using Improv-Based Methods to Improve Scientists' Communication: The Influence on Audience and Self-Perceptions

Heather A Marshall, University of Pennsylvania


Advancements in science and technology are occurring at a rapid pace. As members of society, one way we learn about this innovation is through science communication, which is delivered by many sources including scientists themselves. Scientists are often faced with the challenge of communicating their knowledge and research findings in order to receive funding, build partnerships, inform decisions and educate society at large. It is widely recognized that many scientists fall short in this endeavor and organizations invest significantly in training them to be more effective communicators. This mixed-methods study examined how training scientists in improv influenced both public and expert audience perceptions of their subsequent presentations. Additionally, scientists’ self-perceptions were garnered. This exploratory study used a single group pre/post-test design that employed a Likert-scaled questionnaire to gather quantitative audience perceptions. Interviews, expert observations and feedback questionnaires provided qualitative data. There were 24 scientists who participated in the improv workshop, eight of whom were randomly selected to present before training to public Audience A, comprised of 12 individuals, and after training to public Audience B, comprised of 33 individuals. An expert audience comprised of three science communications professionals observed the scientists at both events and 12 randomly sampled audience members from both public audiences were interviewed. The study resulted in four findings. First, scientists who participated in improv training perceived improvement in their ability to communicate with public audiences. Second, scientists who participated in improv training reported increased empathy for their audiences. Third, an expert audience perceived scientists as warmer and more competent after training in improv. Fourth, improv training significantly increased scientists’ use of story and humor while presenting science, both of which correlated with higher expert audience perceptions of warmth.

Subject Area

Communication|Social psychology|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Marshall, Heather A, "Using Improv-Based Methods to Improve Scientists' Communication: The Influence on Audience and Self-Perceptions" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI27833710.