The Art of Connecting with Audiences

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Gregory Justice, who teaches acting at the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts, often trains business executives, teachers, and professional speakers to use acting techniques to command audience attention. Here he demonstrates warmup exercises, which aid in easing tension to the voice and throat.
Gregory Justice, who teaches acting at the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts, often trains business executives, teachers, and professional speakers to use acting techniques to command audience attention. Here he demonstrates warmup exercises, which aid in easing tension to the voice and throat.

People tend to dread public speaking even more than they fear dying, according to a study finding that inspired comedian Jerry Seinfeld to quip, “This means, to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Virginia Tech community members will have the opportunity to try to overcome at least one of those fears during the spring semester, when the Center for Communicating Science will offer a series of free workshops intended to help faculty, students, and staff sharpen their skills in connecting with a range of audiences.

One of the workshop leaders, Gregory Justice, an associate professor in the School of Performing Arts, will teach methods for overcoming stage fright. His techniques include standing on the balls of the feet while talking, maintaining a high level of vocal energy to the end of each sentence, and doing relaxation exercises, as a tense throat can restrict oxygen to the brain, leading to the loss of a train of thought.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer workshops with a great group of experts on an array of topics that help people not only communicate science, but also connect across differences,” said Patricia Raun, director of the Center for Communicating Science.

Raun, who is also a theater professor in the School of Performing Arts, will join Carrie Kroehler, the center’s associate director, in leading a workshop that uses improvisation games and exercises to help participants forge connections and communicate ideas. In addition, Kroehler will teach a seminar on creating science stories for children.

Several of the center’s faculty fellows will lead workshops as well. Elizabeth Allen will demonstrate techniques for turning data into storytelling; Meaghan Dee, who is also chair of visual communication design in the School of Visual Arts, will offer tips on communicating through graphic design; Anne Hilborn will explore social media platforms as science communication tools; and Cassandra Hockman will teach workshops on crafting media releases, responding to reporters, and writing for general audiences.

“One of the goals of the workshop series is to build community,” said Kroehler. “We want to bring together people who are skilled at or enthusiastic about communicating science — or both!”

Registration is now open for the individual workshops, which will take place beginning Jan. 17 in Newman Library or the Graduate Life Center on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. Please note that each session has limited slots available.

The Center for Communicating Science is supported by the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment; the Graduate School; the School of Performing Arts; and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Founded just under a year ago, the center has already held two Nutshell Games, a competition for graduate student researchers; hosted German Fulbright Fellows in collaboration with the Cranwell International Center; and conducted dozens of workshops both on and off campus.

“In everything we do,” Raun said, “we hope we’re helping people learn to be more personal, direct, spontaneous, and responsive in communicating.”