One of Britain’s most high-profile scientists during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic spoke about the importance of being “authentic” while in the public eye at an event hosted by East Midlands Chamber.
Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, who became a regular fixture at televised press conferences as deputy chief medical officer for England, was the keynote speaker at the chamber of commerce’s Annual Dinner.
More than 400 business leaders from across Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire attended the black-tie gala dinner, which was held at Heathland Grove, in Derbyshire, on Thursday (30 June).
Sir Jonathan, who is now pro vice-chancellor for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham since leaving the public servant position in March this year, reflected on his direct communication style at the podium of No 10 Downing Street – which often included using football analogies to describe the developing Covid-19 situation.
Describing his approach to public communication, he said: “Always be authentic – just be yourself. It never pays to be anything you’re not.
“Remember that behind every journalist’s question is a member of the public who doesn’t understand the subject area as well as you do. So it deserves an honest answer and an answer that’s framed in a way for ‘Mr Average’, if you like, to take back into their lives and use it to do something useful.
“Too many scientists believe it’s their job to be erudite and scientific in terms of their communication. I see it the other way – success is in not talking science and actually turning it into a lived experience for the person who needs the information.”
Lincolnshire-born Sir Jonathan, who played a key role in the acquisition and rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and antiviral drugs, also gave insights into how data was used to make decisions on the UK’s response to coronavirus, the absence of key information during the early period of the pandemic and the learning curve taken by the UK.
East Midlands Chamber president on the importance of celebrating success
The Annual Dinner raised funds for three charities nominated by East Midlands Chamber president Lindsey Williams for 2022 – Focus, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and Treetops Hospice.
Lindsey, who is chief executive of Futures Housing Group, spoke about how the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee had reminded her about the importance of celebrating when times are tough.
“Life is easy when things are going well,” she said. “It’s how we react and respond to the kinds of pressures we’re facing now that really counts. And businesses have demonstrated true resilience in recent years.
“Because of this diversity and strength, I’m confident we can rise to any challenge. And I’m excited about what we can achieve together.
“This region continues to be the beating heart of British manufacturing – we make and sell more things here than in any other part of the UK. And it’s no coincidence that this Chamber also has one of the largest memberships in the country – there’s real energy and ambition right here, right now and far beyond. Nowhere more so than in the new generation of business leaders.”
Lindsey highlighted the work of young professionals’ network Generation Next, which hosts its second-ever awards on 14 July, and the Enterprising Women network, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
She also explained why she wants to strengthen the link between business and communities, adding: “Around the region, I have seen so many examples of businesses linking up with community-focused organisations, supporting charities, delivering training, supporting foodbanks and volunteering – it’s a long and varied list.
“Every time we do something like this, we change someone’s life, we shape their prospects, and we create new possibilities. It’s an achievement we should be proud of and pledge to each other to build upon.”