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Communication Tactics

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Lesson time 16:45 min

Knowing what drives your audience can set you up for communication success. Neil reviews some of the key “tool belt items” he uses when speaking to groups.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication
Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson teaches you how to find objective truths and shares his tools for communicating what you discover.


- Quick joke. I got this from a friend of mine. In fact, he's called "The Science Comedian." It has to do with the Higgs boson. It's a science joke. Very important particle. The field that it creates endows particles that move through it with mass. It hands out mass to other-- that's a badass particle. Here's the joke. Higgs boson walks into a church, and the priest says, sorry, we don't allow Higgs bosons in church. And the Higgs boson says, but without me, you can't have mass. That's good. [MUSIC PLAYING] Humor matters. I think people like smiling. They like laughing even more. If you can get them to do that while they're learning, you've got it. You can feed them everything. You can use that as an excuse to communicate something that's harder than what you would otherwise attempt, because they're right there with 100% of their attention span. And that's why humor is a fundamental part of how I communicate. I will throw in a joke. I'll just throw in something that's a humorous observation of the world. And I know it's funny because it's battle-tested, right? If people don't laugh, or if their laughing is low, I'm saying, ooh, I don't have them. I say, OK, I have to wrap this up. And I'll put a little more energy in the presentation. For me, the more potent humor, the more useful humor, is the humorous observations of things we all know but never thought about it in quite that way. By the way, any great artist does this. They take something you're familiar with and remind you of how special it actually is. That is an artist at their best, showing us the world that we've forgotten to notice, having us become aware of things that are hidden in plain sight. What I want someone at the end of a presentation that I give-- even if it's just in an audience, a small audience at a cocktail party-- you want them at the end to say, I enjoy learning from you. Not, well, you had some interesting things to say, and those jokes were funny. No. I'd take that over nothing, but I'd rather they were blended together. [MUSIC PLAYING] I was once invited to give a commencement speech-- college commencement. And it's the most dreaded part of the ceremony. And usually, the speaker drones on. And so I walk into that already with the deck stacked against me. But I remember a conversation I had with the commencement organizer. And I said, how much time have you allocated for the commencement speech? And they said, 10 minutes, tops. And I said, why 10 minutes, tops? Is it because the schedule is tight and you can't fit everything in? Oh, no, no, they're not gonna listen to you beyond 10 minutes. So when she said "tops," she's saying, oh, you're just gonna give another one of these boring commencement speeches, and I don't want you to embarrass yourself or those attending. And I thought to myself, is-- I don't know how long my commencement speech will last, because I have to put it together. But if it goes beyond 10 mi...

About the Instructor

With a hit talk show and bestselling books, Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the most popular figures in modern science. Now the influential astrophysicist teaches you how his mind works and how he connects with audiences. Learn to think like a skeptic, open your own mind through scientific literacy, distill data, and navigate bias to discover objective truths—and deliver your ideas in ways that engage, excite, and inspire.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Outstanding! It is critical to be able to truly think. This is a great class to refresh your thinking skills or for anyone wants to learn how.

Intensely insightful and deliciously thought provoking to the extent where I feel like a more enriched person of society and the universe as a whole.

I so enjoyed Neil's delivery as well as the main message of objective truth. Unfortunately, it is such a timely message today March 2020. I wish more could watch Neil and learn from him. Perhaps he could give a class at the White House? or better yet, run for President? Thank you.

Left me with a desire to become more aware of my biases and assumptions and start facing life asking more (right) questions. I want to improve myself


Evan S.

This was one of the best lessons in this class! I liked the idea of going back and assessing your communication. Most people don't take the time to do that, so there is no way to improve communication if you don't take a step back to see how you did.

Martin Y.

Did I what! Neil is blowing my mind. I was having an argument about climate change over a business lunch and armed with this new knowledge (don't argue - just ask questions) I wish I could go back in time and do it again. :)

John W.

Two things: I've always heard that preparation is 90% of whatever it is one may be doing, writing, speaking, preparing a presentation, etc. Something Neil also said in this lesson but he added the bit about how much preparation he goes through for a talk, a class, an interview, etc. Working scenarios, possible questions, myriads of answers, and so forth. I'd always enjoyed hearing Neil on TV, he was always spot on, personable, knowledgeable, etc. And I became impressed especially with how he could come up with answers to questions seemingly on the fly. I figured, well he knows the subject, he's a PhD after all; but now having a more concrete idea of how much preparation would/could be necessary to sound learned and literate is a real eye-opener. Very good lesson.

A fellow student

One of the best examples of learning with humor is the book, “There are no Electrons,” by Kenn Amdahl. It’s an older book, but still a great example of how to engage an audience and educate them by making them laugh.

Bernardo F.

Great tactics, I never heard of sound bite, but it's a really interesting one. Since I've been teaching I've told to myself that the first thing I've got to do with a new group is to know them, so I can then prepare my classes according to the group, it would be stupid if I simply had a plan for every time I face the same lesson. I would have liked a lesson of this MasterClass on how to improvise. I mean, there are times that even if you're overprepared, ther comes a person who is too, and asks you a question or makes a comment that you weren't expecting or that you didn't even think about. What to do on those situations? I imagine that the best way to answer is to say "I'm unnaware of that, but I will check it". Sure, that's the logical answer, you're not gonna lie, are you? But if you must keep your role as a communicator, how to not look defeated, or surpased? Not that other people can't know, but that others could think that you're not good enough, that you're a swindler?


In reference to 8.12, The Doppler Shift isn't mentioned in the Workbook. Nevertheless, invaluable learning from this masterclass!


Really enjoyed his masterclass. Know who your audience is, before you deliver the message... :)

Anthony P.

Thank you - for this lesson. I'm practising, practising and practising my talks!!!

Yves C.

Love this lesson. About preparation for an argument his points are great . Along those line one tool that can be useful is to actually prepare defending the point you are against. If you want to convince peoples that the global warming is real and cause by humans. Prepare as if you were of the opposite opinion. Research the arguments against it . Find the studies that support normal warming cooling cycles etc.. In doing so you understand better where they come from and you are more able to bring arguments , studies , explanations that will convince.


That Higgs-Boson joke is funny but I heard that some people even refer to it as the "God particle". Don't know how valid that is but theists try to explain how that particle further proves the existence of a deity. What do ya'll think?