Visiting professor Graham Chedd speaks at a workshop hosted by...

Visiting professor Graham Chedd speaks at a workshop hosted by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Stony Brook. Credit: Heather Walsh

Executives from more than a dozen tech startups gathered at Stony Brook University on Wednesday to learn how to talk in plain English about what they do.

They were attending the first seminar aimed at teaching tech companies how to effectively communicate their technology to nonscientists offered by the university’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and the Center for Corporate Education.

Founded in 2009, the Alda Center, part of the university’s journalism school, has focused on educating researchers and professors on how to distill difficult concepts into plain language. The one-day workshop, held at Stony Brook’s Long Island High Technology Incubator and hosted by the Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, which helps early-stage energy startups, served as a pilot program for the center’s planned outreach to the business community.

“We hope this better prepares people to convey vividly why science and technology matter,” said Laura Lindenfeld, director of the Alda Center.

The seminar included improvisation exercises, discussions on tailoring information to your audience, and mock media interviews.

“It’s a three-legged stool, with the improv being by far the most important and the thing which is unique,” said Graham Chedd, visiting professor at the center and a founding member of the science documentary series, “NOVA.” “It’s an integrated package.”

Many of the seminar’s attendees, representing a collection of Stony Brook startups and incubator tenants, shared concerns over communicating effectively and simply to potential customers, government officials, media outlets and investors.

Communication skills are key even in the patenting process, said Sharon Barkume, a patent attorney and chief executive of QB Sonic Inc., a Stony Brook-based tech startup that has developed an ultrasound stimulator to treat osteoporosis.

Barkume, who has worked with many startup stage companies, said that if an idea isn’t communicated correctly and in detail, especially when entrepreneurs are filing a patent, they “can spend all this money, all this time developing this product, and at the end of the day, it’s not protected by the patent because you haven’t described it well enough.”

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