FAQs about Soapbox Science

How is the venue arranged?
The Soapbox Arena will be in front of the University Library Carolina Rediviva. We’ll have three one-hour sessions, with four speakers per session. The Soapboxes will be arranged in a semi-circle, facing slightly inwards, so you can all keep an eye on each other and the crowds can also move easily from speaker to speaker. There is no technical support or sound amplification, just simple and engaging props.

How long will people listen for?
Whilst some audience members will stick around for the full three hours, most of your audience will be mostly quite fluid: people tend to stay for 5–10 minutes and then move on to another speaker, or leave. So, be prepared to repeat some of your key messages during your slot! You may need to start at the basics when you get a new crowd. But at the same time, you might need to add new stuff in to retain any long-lasting listeners! Some may engage you in deep conversation and dominate you. Our volunteers will be looking out for these people, and try to divert them so you don’t get into a 1-to-1.

Will the audience ask questions?
Yes! That’s the whole point! But it often takes a bit of time to get going. Once it starts though, you often can’t shut them up! It’s quite a good idea to have one or two of your lab members, friends or colleagues there as plants to help get things going. Our volunteers will also contribute, but as they are wearing Soapbox Science shirts, they may seem a bit intimidating!

What should I prepare?
We recommend you prepare around about 10–15 minutes worth of material. We suggest you start by outlining your “Big Question(s)” and explaining why it is important – link with everyday life if/when you can as it aids understanding. Lead into how you are trying to answer this question – give some practical details: do you work in a lab, the field, on a computer? Have your message house clear in your head: what are the three top fact/ideas/concepts you want the audience to go away with?

Keep it simple – remember your audience may not know anything about science. Keep it fresh, and include with new stuff – don’t recite undergraduate text books!

What format works best?
You will be perceived as a kind of street theatre, albeit different from anything that most people will have seen before! No need for tap dances (unless you want to!), but you do have to engage and entertain as well as educate. Of course, there will be no powerpoint, overheads or slides. Instead, think of yourself as a self-contained Royal Society Exhibitor without any mod cons! Previous speakers have been amazed at how invigorating it is to be free of the usual communication props. Let your imagination run wild. There is no set format; there are no rules.

What props can I bring?
The answer is anything you can carry. But there will be no power… Props are not essential, but they do help, especially at first. You might have to fight a bit for your audience when you first step up onto the Box. So anything visual or audible to grab attention is a good thing! Last year one speaker had bat detectors and echolocating headgear for people to try on; another had a model of a breast; another had a potted plant; another started an experience using her audience to engage people on IQ and assessing intelligence. Go on – be daring!

How long will I be on the box for?
You each have an hour slot. Some Speakers have to be dragged off their box after a full hour, they and the public are having so much fun!

What do I wear?
Just wear something comfortable, that you feel at ease in. And anyway, we’ll be giving you a special soapbox science lab coat to wear, to make you stand out. You will be standing for a bit, so sensible shoes are best. Having said that, last year we did have some fabulous heels on one speaker….