Science Comedian Brian Malow Shares Communication Tips

By CCS student intern Nicole Elbin

“When you’re communicating, be human, be yourself, be passionate, be present, and be prepared,” says science comedian and communicator Brian Malow. These five points are central to what he does—and he emphasizes preparedness.    

            Hearing science comedian Brian Malow start off his Virginia Tech science communication talk February 26, one would never guess the energetic stand-up comic used to be a shy kid.

            “I was nervous and shy when I was younger,” Malow remarked. “When I went up to present in front of people my voice shook.”

            Despite his early shyness, Malow has made a name for himself as "Earth's Premier Science Comedian,” blending humor and science in performances that help to educate and entertain the general public.

            Knowing your stuff while also being yourself is how any scientist can create a convincing presentation, Malow says. And throwing in a few jokes never hurts.

            “I’m not a scientist but I love science,” he says. “My jokes are for everyone, but they’re specifically made for geeks.”

            His passion for science started at an early age, but communicating that same passion in the form of humor didn’t come naturally or easily. Trial and error—and most importantly time—helped give him the necessary learning experiences to get his point and his humor across. He hopes to engage other scientists in that same form of communication.             

            “What’s good for humor is basically good for communication,” Malow states. “Think of your research and relate it like you would any story. Story-telling can really be effective to explain your ideas.”

            Being well prepared is what allows a presenter to be relaxed and fully present on stage, Malow explains. Knowing your audience and what they know also is essential for both science communicators and comedians, he says.

            Malow warns that every presenter should be prepared for the inevitable technological glitch that prevents the use of a PowerPoint presentation. He emphasizes that scientists must not use slides as a crutch. To be good at communicating to an audience, the presenter should always be the focal point, with slides providing visuals that enhance the talk.

            “Always remember that you are the presentation,” Malow says. “If you aren’t confident you can give your talk without the PowerPoint, then the rest of the picture won’t add up.”

            That confidence comes with practice and time, he says, and introverts as well as extroverts can learn to communicate their science effectively.

            Hosted by the Center for Communicating Science, Malow also moderated a panel discussion and performed a comedy routine at the Moss Arts Center while on campus in February.