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Here's to the BioToasters

It may be one of the most dreaded parts of some scientists' portfolios, but every now and then everyone, even those who are happiest cloistered in the lab, has to talk to the public, their peers, or prospective employers about their work.

Yet many researchers either find it hard to chat about their work, are reticent for fear of being boring, or simply have a difficult time communicating with the general public. A small group has formed in San Diego to tackle this specific problem, National Public Radio affiliate KPBS reports.

To help scientists spice up or smooth out their gab gifts, a group of scientists seeking to improve their speaking skills have launched a science-focused chapter of the Toastmasters, an organization that aims to improve public speaking skills.

The group, called BioToasters, aims to help scientists come out of their shells and get comfortable chatting about their work, or about whatever comes up, in groups or in front of an audience.

"For a typical scientist, they will spend a lot of time at the bench, so they're doing a lot of maybe calculations or lab work where they're not interacting directly from person to person," says BioToasters President Zackary Prag, who notes that it is most important to learn to speak clearly and to make small talk.

"Part of the way you make a reputation within the field is by giving talks at meetings, and then people see you give the talk and say, 'Oh, that person gave a really good talk. They must be really smart,'" adds Chad Orzel, a physics professor at Union College.

Orzel also notes that in the academic world it is important for scientists to be able to speak clearly in groups because they are likely to be expected to teach classes on top of their research loads.