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Seventeen Minutes of Science: Turning Technical Talk into Compelling Communication

Tune in weekly to our virtual series "Seventeen Minutes of Science" every Tuesday at 11am PST / 2pm ET where we go live on Facebook with a new guest each week to talk about how science and biotechnology is woven into their lives for (you guessed it) 17 minutes!

Join us for episode 29 of 17 Minutes of Science for a discussion with Lauren Perna of Lauren Perna Communications!
Lauren Perna worked for MassBio for nearly nine years before taking a leap of faith and founding Lauren Perna Communications with the mission to help life science companies navigate the digital world to enhance their brand and raise their visibility.
Tune in for an insightful 17 Minutes with Lauren as we discuss more about her work marketing for life science companies, what she loves about the biotech industry, and how she helps turn the technical details into compelling marketing communications to help her clients see success.

Transcript:

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:00:01] Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week's episode of Seventeen Minutes of Science. Thank you again for joining us. And for those of you tuning in for the first time. My name is Anna Malinkevich and I am a technical solutions and application scientist with InVivo Biosystems. Joining me this week is Lauren Perna, digital communicator extraordinaire. Lauren is the owner and principal of Lauren Perna Communications, which offers scientists and technical experts from all fields the know-how to navigate the digital space to achieve the biggest impact for their work. So her prior life shows the value of a member of the MassBio team and had spent a significant amount of time in the life science space, so she is truly in a unique position to discuss with us today the importance of digital communication in the sciences. So, without further ado, I'll hand it over to Lauren to give a brief introduction and then we'll dive into some questions and of course, with our handy dandy 17 minute timer at the ready.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:01:05] Perfect. Thank you guys so much for having me. I feel great to be on a show about science, and I'm not even a scientist, so I feel honored. Yeah, as you said Anna I spent nine years at MassBio and my little joke is that it was so long ago that I found the job on Craigslist. Now, no one's ever even heard of finding a job on Craigslist! And truthfully, I didn't even know what biotech was when I first joined. And then a decade later, here I am, a connector, and I really dug deep into the life science industry. So just proves that you don't have to be a scientist to be in this field. After my nine years at MassBio, I decided to jump out and do my own thing and I took a leap of faith and I had just been freelancing ever since. And this summer I made things official and created Lauren Perna communications. Not too much of a difference, but just wanted some formality and centrality so that that's me. That's where I am today!

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:02:21] Well, thank you. I'm going to start my timer. And kind of the first question basically harps back to to your introduction directly. You mentioned having started at MassBio in a position you really enjoyed and I understand had the opportunity to move up very quickly in the company and then took this kind of, to me, very agile, giant and potentially scary leap to move on and move on on your own specifically, can you tell us a little more about that and the decision behind it?

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:02:51] Yeah, honestly, and I loved working there so much, though it was definitely a giant leap of faith, but at the end of the day, I knew that I could really just grow my professional career and provide even more value outside of the MassBio world if I could be on my own. I have really kind of hit the ceiling there, to be honest. And after that, I felt like it was a great opportunity to just kind of take this leap and try it on my own. And it's been pretty great ever since!

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:03:34] That's fantastic. It's definitely requires some guts for sure.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:03:40] Yeah but I can't say enough nice things about them and their support for this crazy leap of faith. It's been nice to keep in touch and still be a part of the life science community in general.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:03:56] So what kind of has your focus on digital communications specifically? And is this primarily with smaller companies or larger companies? And kind of why might they seek you out?

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:04:07] Yeah, so I think for right now, I'm more focusing on small and midsize companies, and those are companies that just don't have the bandwidth or the resources to bring on a full time person for marketing communications. A lot of times with the larger companies, they have a whole team in-house, and that's by design, theres a lot of proprietary information and know how. But with the smaller companies, there's a little bit more flexibility to bring someone on as needed. And that way they can really design what they need, they're not locked into one skill set. Eventually as I grow business and I can get more people on my team, perhaps I can grow to that level where I'm an agency that's providing services to larger biotech or pharma. But right now, where I'm just a one man shop, I'm doing things like social media maintenance, copywriting writing, blog posts and articles. That's really kind of my role is to help tell the story on digital platforms.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:05:20] Do you have a favorite, I guess a favorite thing about working with life science companies specifically? I mean, I realize that's your background and but I can't imagine that's the only kind of clientele that you have.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:05:34] I think the cool thing is that I've been able to kind of make this leap of faith and expand a little bit outside of the life sciences industry. So it's been interesting trying out other industries that I maybe like dabbled in with my old job, but really didn't know too much about, like legal firms, accounting firms and that type of stuff. But I love working with science because I think, you know, it's a way to feel good. It's a good message and it doesn't have to be the very traditional sense of what people think of mission driven work. I think a lot of times they think of non-profit and soup kitchens, which are amazing, but I think the life science industry is one more way to feel like you're giving back and part of a good mission that people don't always think of. You know, I think they just kind of bucket it as "science" and that's, you know, something kind of almost untouchable. But when you're working with life science companies, you're working with people that genuinely want to fix problems in the world. And that's what I relate to so much.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:06:54] Yeah, you bring up a good point. And we touched on it briefly when we spoke earlier. But this idea of being part of mission driven work. So I know this was kind of, I don't want to say challenging for me, but this is something that I've talked about with with other people before and can relate is kind of sometimes having that feeling that if you're not directly the one doing the pipetting or if you're not, you know, elbow deep in one arm lysate, that somehow you're not furthering the mission. But that's entirely untrue. So no matter where you feed into a particular pharma company or academic setting or what have you, you're definitely very directly furthering kind of that mission of finding a cure for a potential disease or developing a vaccine or anything like that.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:07:45] Yeah I totally agree, and that's honestly, that's what, when I worked at MassBio, I always felt that like so connected, even though we were even further removed than most people, I never felt like I don't really get it, I don't feel connected. That's why I just dug so deep into the industry and worked there for so long. I always felt like, oh, I have this little piece of this, even though I don't know anything about science.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:08:18] Well, you can't say you know nothing!

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:08:21] Well, you know, I'm not going to be in the lab or anything like that but I can talk the talk at this point, but yeah.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:08:29] Yeah, I guess in terms of your clients and talking the talk and working with scientists and technical experts, I know they again, you have clients from many different fields, but science-wise when clients come to you what's the biggest challenge that they face generally or is there one challenge that seems to be kind of pervasive among among us scientists as a group when it comes to communicating or developing a digital presence?

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:09:01] Well, I think anybody, no matter what industry can relate to standing out, it's a very crowded world, especially with COVID people are leaping even further into digital platforms. So I think no matter who you are, what you do. The biggest challenge is standing out, finding your voice, making your story memorable. But for scientists, I think one of the biggest challenges is, first of all, finding the right audience, because not every one of my clients has the same client target. Some of them it's investors. Some of them it is patients. So it all depends. I think it's finding out where your audience lives – is it Twitter, is it LinkedIn, is it Facebook? So really doing that research to figure out where to find these people and then just how to turn that scientific, technical talk into something that people find interesting and relatable and digestible, because as we know, most science papers are hundreds of pages. So how do you turn that into two hundred sixty characters? It can be a challenge.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:10:26] So absolutely taking something that is that is very dense and technically heavy into something digestible and something that I guess the layperson would would want to talk about and share with their community, because it kind of goes back to "knowledge is power" also, right?

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:10:45] Yeah!

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:10:45] But to that point, I guess, what are some some key factors that you use or that you can recommend for scientists to communicate effectively? Both, you know, among themselves and across fields, but definitely to their audience of choice.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:11:04] Yeah.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:11:04] I think one thing that I always try to do with anything, but definitely when I have a lifetime client is step back and take a look at the whole picture and the story, because I think a lot of times they'll just get really stuck in, like the nitty gritty, like this is the work that we're doing. These are the results that we're getting. But I think that if you just take a step back and think about what's the story, how does this apply to our team, our audience, the media, how can I make this relatable? Before you start writing the articles or the tweets, you really just step back and think about the bigger story and how would your audience relate to that? And then just with scientists communicating with each other and what platforms? I think the biggest thing that I know from working in life sciences, there are so many networking events and opportunities to collaborate. So I think now the challenge is going to be finding those online and making those work for you. I already have two planned this week alone. So they're definitely happening, but just making sure that you're finding the right people to connect with and using their time wisely and telling your story in a way that the other person is like, oh, cool, let's connect. I know somebody that can help you. Or in this industry, everybody's always switching jobs, so you never know who you could meet that could help you down the line or vice versa.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:12:53] You bring up a good point about the utility of quick and compelling communication, especially now in this kind of networking space, very, very digitally heavy networking that everyone finds themselves in.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:13:10] Really insert yourself! You can't attack someone on the shoulder anymore and think, oh, would you want to chat over here? You've got to speak up and you've got to be memorable. That's what I always say. Just be memorable!

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:13:24] And memorable in a good way!

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:13:25] I know, I should clarify. Yeah, I think so, because in my last job, a lot of what I did was networking and creating networking events. People would always ask me "what should do? I don't really like networking" because networking does not come naturally to a lot of scientists. You know, a lot of scientists are not super external people. So I would always say, you know, make it brief, but be memorable. Tell them your story! And just be you, be likeable, but yeah definitely don't be memorable in a bad way.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:14:09] So kind of I guess it in a related vein and something you touched on a little bit, but just the idea of taking really technical subjects and turning them into compelling content, I think is something that a lot of scientists, again, especially now in this very, very digital age, can definitely benefit from. So do you have any best practices, if you can share any of that? And I don't think I've already asked this question, you just touched on it a little bit. But how do you condense something that one person is clearly excited about, because it might be a huge portion of their life's work or something like that, but condense it without losing its punch, right?

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:14:49] Yeah, yeah. No. And it's interesting in that you bring up a good point that I always try to remember. This is someone's life work. This is something somebody is so passionate about. So even though I don't fully understand it, or the end user or the reporter or the investor may not care about the nitty gritty details, how can we still incorporate that? So the scientist feels like we have told their story in a way that feels authentic to them, but someone else is going to want to read it. And that's true not just for scientists, that is true for a lot of my clients. I deal with a lot of people that are in these very technical, highly regulated fields. So I think, you know, the first thing is thinking about the audience and who are you talking to? What of this huge technical story or article would they care about in trying to almost create like an outline of what are the main points, what is the important part? And then thinking about key words and what type of words could you replace them with or what words can you leave out? Does it really matter what the long form of the experiment is called? Or can you leave that out and just talk about what the experiment is doing? Because that might be much more applicable to somebody writing an article or, you know, if they're quickly scanning Twitter and looking for things, what are the words that are going to jump out at them and make them go "Oh, let me just stop and read this!" But if you have a long string of highly scientific words, I always try to find a different way to say that. Or if it's not relevant to anything but the deep scientific text, then it's really OK to leave that out, that comes next. That's what you do in the article and you're sending them the lengthy article or whatnot.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:17:08] First of all, thank you for that for that explanation, because it's one of those things that, in hearing you explain it that way, I'm like, "well, yeah, obviously. OK, duh!" But That's totally not how I could envision myself doing it.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:17:23] I think when you're caught up in the moment, you know, you're like, oh, but that's the name of this thing and that thing and it it's so important. But, you know, especially if you're writing a social media tidbit, you absolutely need to find the quickest way to get that information across. If you are writing more of a long form article and if you were writing a long form article that is for a scientific magazine, by all means, go crazy. But if you're writing a blog that's going to go on your website, that is to the general public, you may want to use those words, but explain. I mean, even in bold font like this is what this means, here's a definition. But again, it all depends on your audience. If your audience is only scientists, then don't listen to anything I'm saying now.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:18:21] And that's a good take home for sure, is to definitely know your audience.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:18:25] Yeah.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:18:26] We've got less than a minute left, so to our last point and in deference to our audience, I guess it's a two part question. On the one hand, what would you say or recommend to someone that maybe has a science background and is interested in kind of following in your footsteps a little bit in the communications field? And then kind of a flip to that is if someone really is enjoying kind of diving into science a little bit more but comes from a communications background and how to, again, be part of that mission driven feeling.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:19:05] Yeah, I know that obviously the latter question I can absolutely relate to, and that is like the hill I want to die on here – you don't have to be a scientist to work in life science! And we need more people in the industry that are writers and storytellers. So I think it's interesting to you, go for it, explore it, reach out to me there! And there's so many agencies that specifically work in life science, especially here in Boston. And then on the flip side, for the scientists, there are a lot of courses and classes that can help you take your scientific writing and turn it into more digestible content. So that's something to consider. And also, a lot of times we had people come through at MassBio that kind of teetered different jobs at small to mid-sized companies, they were in the lab and they did the social media or something. So don't be afraid to do that, especially if you're a small company, they probably want your help! Don't be afraid to transcend multiple functions. I heard the little buzzer go off, I was trying to talk fast.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:20:30] That's OK. I was trying to catch it before it did. And then I was just like, oh, but I want to hear this. So, yeah, that was awesome and just a great conversation. So thank you. Thank you for taking the time to join us. And I do want to mention, Lauren Perna Communications, your website, laurenperna.com. So anybody who wants to go check that out. And I imagine your contact info is on there as well. Learn more about science communication, learn more about Lauren, learn more about getting your message across.

Lauren Perna (Guest): [00:21:09] Exactly! You know, at the end of the day, I'm just here to tell someone's story and whether it's incredibly technical or telling a person's story like me, that's all that matters. I just want to help people raise their visibility online.

Anna Malinkevich (Host): [00:21:26] Awesome. Well, thank you again. So we'll see you guys next time on 17 minutes of the science. Bye!

 

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