I’m a compulsive communicator, I can’t help it.  Having suffered from almost paralysing stage fright in my school days, I now jump at any opportunity to stand in front of a public audience and talk about science.  So when an email appeared recently asking for volunteers to speak at SciBArs (science, in the pub, for interested non-experts), I offered straight away.  I contacted Lorelly Wilson of the North-West branch of the British Science Association, describing my current public talk on my research looking at colliding galaxies, and she passed on the details.  I virtually had my hand bitten off, with three bookings within the space of a few hours!

So it was that on Monday September 1st, just three days after my initial email, I found myself at the Knutsford SciBAr presenting my talk “When Galaxies Collide!” to a diverse audience of interested people.  The evening went rather well, with lots of intelligent questions asked by the audience.  Judging from the feedback I received afterwards, the audience thoroughly enjoyed my performance.  Rather unexpectedly, one of the attendees turned out to be a physics professor from Manchester University who taught me back in my undergraduate days!

This week I travelled in the opposite direction and on September 9th I gave the same presentation to the Congleton SciBAr at the Young Pretender Beer Parlour.  Another great audience, with good food and a rather nice selection of beers, resulted in another very enjoyable evening.  As well as taking questions during the performance, I ended up talking to many members of the audience afterwards on topics ranging from black holes, aliens, the fate of the universe, how radio interferometers work, giving advice to an undergraduate physics student, talking about the history of the Observatory, and tree surgery.  Luckily there were plenty of white-backed beer mats to hand, so by the end of the evening the table was covered in science-y scribbles.

It has taken years and a lot of practise, but I’ve found ways of dealing with that stage fright.  It still amazes me when people talk to me afterwards and comment on my confident presentation style, but it shows how far I’ve developed, and public events like these have played a huge part in that process.

If you fancy hearing about what happens when galaxies collide, and seeing how this affects our own future, I’ll be giving the same talk next month at the Didsbury SciBAr, and then Macclesfield SciBAr early next year.

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