Talking to a general audience about research in any field is a difficult task. The extent to which you explain the depths of your project is a very arbitrary decision (and one that always leads to a mental impasse for me!). Field-specific jargon, which you may not even perceive as veiled language to the average person, hinders understanding. However, there are tactics I use to make it easier.
A mindset I carry when communicating research (to anyone) is ‘these people do not care at all about what I am presenting,’ though it is not because of narcissism or some misanthropic ideology. I think that because it is my goal to inspire and interest people about my work; thus, in presenting under the pretense the audience has no regard for me, I try my hardest to captivate them.
For a general audience, this works best by talking about the big picture. Instead of talking about smaller, current milestones in my work, I emphasize the implications of the project’s end results. So while I may be only fitting data distributions as of now, I would tell an audience of how discovering the particle decay chain I am searching for would help to explain why there is a matter-antimatter asymmetry in our universe. Simply put, it is just more interesting to hear about the conclusions. Talking about the bigger picture also helps in avoiding all the technical speech involved in methodology for my project. Elon Musk uses this tactic very well, which helps to excite people about his companies; regardless of being more than a decade away from getting people to Mars, the prospect of such (as opposed to convoluted updates on new rocket technology) makes SpaceX’s mission fascinating and easily comprehensible.
Another useful method is using similes/metaphors, as we discussed in the seminar last Tuesday. Particle physics along with most scientific fields are very foreign to the layperson, so drawing comparisons to average life make explanations easier. My favorite is likening my search for a particle oscillation to picking up the pieces of a broken Lego tower, trying to put it back together, and checking to see if any of the bricks changed color (i.e. oscillated).
In the near future, committees which review applications (such as for the Goldwater, NSF REU’s, graduate schools, etc.) are ‘audiences’ outside of my field with whom I will interact. As these programs/applications are interested in my capabilities as a researcher, I need to explain my work well to people not specifically in the field.