There’s a great scene in the first volume of the 1998 documentary “From the Earth to the Moon” where Astronaut Roger Chaffee is giving a slide presentation during a pancake breakfast and he’s trying explain the how and why of what they are doing to a group of people. He puts on some technical slides and in just a few minutes, he realizes he’s loosing the audience.
He stops his boring talk and puts on a cartoon produced by NASA for kids starring Woody Woodpecker who can “explain all of this better” than he can.
The cartoon is a mixture of Woody’s crazy antics and explanations on why NASA needs to do some of the things they are doing to get to the moon. Upon arrival to the moon, Woody exclaims:
I forgot! I’m allergic to cheese!
The crowd of adults laughs hysterically through the whole thing, cheering and clapping.
In a rare NASA moment, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and it worked.
The key to winning the audience over was the story told through a cartoon woodpecker. Roger recognized that it was the story that mattered, not the technical details of how.
One of the key concepts in Randy Olsen’s excellent book “Don’t be such a scientist” is:
Motivate then Educate
Randy says in his book:
… science, in itself, ain’t real interesting to the broad audience. It simply isn’t enough for the general public — it’s too cold, too complex, too informal. It needs to be partnered with a more humanized element. This is why scientists need artists.
We need to replace the stiff public image of space exploration with stories told by characters we love. Great stories are always about characters and adventure. Give these things to people and they will literally follow you to the moon and back.