Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease official in the United States, provided some excellent communication advice during a recent Zoom interview for Cornell University alumni and students. In response to a question about communicating scientific information, Fauci shared three tips all professionals should follow.
Know Your Goal
Fauci, who is a physician and immunologist, emphasized the importance of understanding why you are communicating. Dr. Fauci says, “The goal in communicating is not to show everybody how smart you are. The goal in communicating is to have people understand what you are talking about.” The lesson here is that communication is only successful if people understand you.
Know Your Audience and Your Message
Serving as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, Fauci has communicated important messages to many different audiences. He says, “You’ve got to know who your audience is and decide what your message is.” Fauci added, you can’t succeed if you have the right message and the wrong audience or if you have the right audience and the wrong message.
As someone who has advised six U.S. Presidents on global health issues, Fauci suggested humility is a key to effective communication. He says, “Realize and be humble enough that you don’t know everything and do not be afraid to say you do not know.” Fauci shared how to respond when someone asks for your opinion. If you have data, say, “based on the data this is what we think should be done.” If you don’t have the data, say, “We don’t have the solid data, but based on the experience we’ve had thus far, this is what I think we should do.”
In short, stop trying to sound smart, tailor your message to your audience, and if you don’t have the facts, be willing to say so. These communication fundamentals are easy to understand, but not always easy to follow.