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Workshop to help faculty use applied improvisation to improve public speaking

Friday, January 17, 2020


LAWRENCE – To help faculty members gain skills to convey their research and discoveries to the public, the Life Span Institute at the University of Kansas is offering a two-day workshop hosted by experts who blend techniques for public speaking with improvisational theater.

Held Feb. 20-21 at The Commons, “Improving/Improvising” will lead faculty through hands-on, interactive activities designed to help them find common ground with an audience, speak at different levels of complexity for different audiences and answer questions about their work.

The workshop will be led by Krista Hoffmann-Longtin, assistant professor of communication studies and assistant dean of faculty affairs and professional development at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and Jason Organ, assistant professor of anatomy, cell biology and physiology, also at IUPUI. Advance registration is required and will be limited to 64 KU faculty and postdoctoral fellows.

John Colombo, director of the Life Span Institute and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, said it was important to provide opportunities for faculty to learn ways to improve their public speaking.

“As KU moves forward, I think it’s critical for us to invest in having our scholars and scientists develop the skills to communicate effectively about what they do to constituents beyond the academic environment,” he said. “I am convinced that this will build support for KU and its research mission more broadly in the community and state. I also think that working with faculty to make their scholarship and science more accessible helps to make that work stronger and more relevant in the long run.”

In the first session of the workshop, participants will practice connecting with an audience, paying dynamic attention to others, reading nonverbal cues and responding to questions appropriately. The second session will expand on the first, with a focus on defining communication goals, identifying main points, explaining meaning and context, responding to questions and using storytelling techniques to enliven messages.

Participants will be asked to commit to applying their skills in the year following the workshop, such as offering a public talk.

Faculty members increasingly are called upon to talk about their research in meaningful ways to audiences as diverse as corporate investors, potential community partners, legislators and other public audiences, said Simon Atkinson, vice chancellor for research at KU.

“Research communication trainings like this have been shown to increase confidence among participants in their ability to share their work with nonexperts. These gatherings also have the potential to strengthen professional networks across disciplines,” Atkinson said. “As funding agencies increasingly favor interdisciplinary research teams to tackle society’s most complex challenges, it’s important that KU scholars and scientists have the skills to communicate with colleagues outside their disciplines to build collaboration.”

Registration information and additional details are available here.