Wednesday Workshops: The Art of Presentations

“I was asked once if I believe teaching is an art or a science,” Greg Justice told participants at a Center for Communicating Science workshop April 11, 2018. “The answer I gave was that I believe it’s both.”

Greg Justice has been in love with the performing arts most of his life. With a background in theatre and cinema from Utah State University and a master’s degree from Penn State, he has performed in over 100 shows and directed more than 40 productions. Now Virginia Tech’s undergraduate coordinator for theatre and cinema, Justice has also spread his knowledge through teaching workshops on how to present to a corporate audience, what he calls “The Art of Business.”

When the theatre department introduced a class called “Intro to Acting for Non-Theater Majors,” Justice did not expect the response he got from students. It quickly became–and remains–the most difficult class to gain entry to.

“Students told me that 40 to 50 percent of the class was applicable to any field of work,” Justice said. “They liked that it was participatory and different from many classes they had taken.”

His workshop for the Center for Communicating Science focused on how any researcher can engage an audience by practicing simple behavioral techniques. A presenter’s body language and energy can either make or break their message, Justice said. He presented the idea of the Positive/Negative Energy Sphere, which is all about the subliminal messages a presenter may not even realize they subconsciously convey.

“For any actor, presenter, or interviewee, there are two things that are the same: You want them to watch you for as long a time as possible and you want them to remember your words,” he said.

The average attention span for most people is anywhere from 7-12 minutes, Justice said, and any researcher giving a presentation or student going in for a job interview must decide what part of their information is the most important and get it said in those precious minutes.

Justice wants to help people expand on the techniques that can make a good presentation into a great one. The presenter should be the presentation, and any tools should be used solely to enhance what the speaker is saying.

And to counteract nerves? Justice always recommends a simple warm-up to eliminate or decrease nervous ticks. Contracting the muscles, doing a few jumping jacks in the bathroom, or using different vocal ranges all help to calm the body and release endorphins.

“Athletes always warm up before a big game,” he explained. “The same should go for public speaking.”

With all these tips the soundest advice he can give to presenters and researchers is to be themselves.

“Speak from your heart and your instincts,” he concluded. “That’s the way to open up love and trust, and if you do that you will win every time.”

By Nicole Elbin, Center for Communicating Science student intern

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