Darcy J. Gentleman
Principal Consultant, DJG Communications LLC
I was born/grew up in: I was born in London, Ontario, Canada; grew up in nearby Strathroy, Ontario
I now live in: Washington, DC, USA
I completed my training/education at: Hon. B.Sc. in Planetary Science and also Chemistry, University of Toronto; M.S. and Ph.D. in analytical Chemistry, Arizona State University. All of my communications expertise is based on applying skills I've developed over 15 years of various jobs and reading about both business and science communications. You can learn a lot by doing.
Describe what you do at work.
I work with anyone who wants to give better presentations. I work with my clients to help them put the audience first so their ideas and messages are memorable and potentially influential. On any day my primary goal is to work 1-on-1 with speakers and run workshops on communications. My secondary goal is to write about how to deliver quality presentations, in any subject, although I sometimes specify science communications.
Running my own business, I do a lot in a given day, to provide time and opportunity for work that pays. Tasks beyond training speakers and writing about communications include marketing, social media posts, planning, scheduling, accounting, and constantly contacting and meeting people both new to me and those I work with. Without these business tasks I would never be able to accomplish my primary and secondary goals.
Since I have and do work with many speakers from STEM fields, my own background in both teaching and research science helps a lot: Clients who work in STEM are often more comfortable working with someone who understands their world. However, I do not need to be a topic expert. I keep more up to date on what is happening in science than the average person, but telling a good story is based on how stories are put together and what emotions they raise in the audience. Therefore equally important to my job is studying and experimenting with story structures. When I watch film or TV, or read novels, I am constantly analyzing how the story is told. Later I think about how to use those ideas in presentations. Yes, you read that right, part of my job is watching and reading fiction to deliver and coach superior non-fiction presentations. Pixar helps me more than any text book.
When I was a student I enjoyed:
How does your job affect peoples lives?
Everyone who is interested should have the opportunity to discuss goals, hopes, and options for a better society. Since I studied for many years in how to do science but decided that its daily practice was not for me, I help scientists communicate better with non-scientists. Also I help society consider science in making decisions. I help start and continue conversations between presenters and audiences, so society can improve.
What motivates you in your career?
It gives me great joy to help speakers deliver a presentation they really feel good about and start conversations with people they would not otherwise meet. When I work with scientists and engineers I find people who are excited about their work and want others to know. I help researchers and inventors share their hard work in a way that audiences remember, so their ideas have a better chance of getting beyond the lab and improving lives. Equally I help scientists and engineers remember to respect those in other fields and understandings: society decided to support research and development and only society can turn discovery into advancement in ways that no one can achieve on their own. But part of what motivates me is simply to write and coach better stories. Sometimes when I see a talk or a film its story structure grates at me - lists of forgettable information or characters that I just don't care about. Audiences deserve quality stories and I'm working both on my own and with others to captivate and inspire.
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
Describe your career path to this career.
When I was 15 years old, I saw "Cosmos" rerun on TV and was inspired to study planetary science. Then I found that I was good at analytical chemistry, so I investigated ocean water sensors in graduate school. Later I felt that I would not enjoy doing research forever. This was scary given all my studies, so I thought back to how I got there. Remembering “Cosmos," I realized that I was most interested in science storytelling. So I chose jobs that stretched me from science to communications: teaching chemistry, writing and editing environmental studies, presenting science policy, coaching "TED"-style talks, and contributing to YouTube science videos. I started my own science communications business. In some eyes I "failed" to become a scientist despite my studies. For myself, I succeed in helping more science get done by those who love research as much as I love stories.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
Weekly I run 10-40k and get to yoga class 1-3 times. My wife and I enjoy good food and like to travel. I read and watch a lot of fiction, but if you've read this far you know that's also part of my work!
What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?
Read a lot and write a lot. Pursue things you truly enjoy, not just what you are good at. Work at listening more than you speak. If you get more than one degree, study at more than one school. Develop your own brand and stay true to it.