Compelling Communication, Remotely

June 7, 2021
Compelling Communication, Remotely

Teaching is an act of scholarly communication, whether you are explaining a concept, giving a lecture, or presenting your research on the Sanders Theatre stage. Whether you are working with a small, familiar group of students or a large public audience, what goals do you have? How can you structure your content, use your visuals and voice to support those goals, and keep the audience engaged in your ideas? Engaged communication is a core component of the Bok Center’s work; over the past year, we translated lessons of engaged communication to the Zoom setting, and adjusted how we coach instructors on connecting with their students and other audiences remotely. Here we highlight some of our work on remote communication with PhD students this year.

We invited Bok collaborator Erika Bailey, Head of Voice and Speech at the American Repertory Theater, and Lecturer on Theater, Dance and Media, to share how her theater expertise and the workshops she traditionally gives on in-person communication would translate to the Zoom setting. She offered a series of workshops on strategies for being authentic and engaging your audience online. Early workshops explored the initial transition to Zoom, including topics like lighting and camera angle, and later workshops delved deeper into topics like presence and anxiety. Participants appreciated her sessions:

  • Erika's sessions have been so, so useful. I've been to several, and I really enjoy them and will continue coming. The concrete strategies and the practice at the end were great.
  • I was able to note specific exercises that, with practice, will improve my teaching and engagement with students.

To learn more from Erika, you can watch her talk on Engaged Communication: Anxiety, Performance and Presenting in Zoom on our Hit the Ground Running Canvas site.

In the spring we transformed our popular Bok Seminar, Public Speaking for Teachers and Scholars, to a remote format. Twelve PhD students across disciplines participated in Engaging Audiences in our Professional Stories: Compelling Communication Remotely, exploring topics on storytelling, visuals, and voice. Students learned new strategies and had the chance to practice and engage with a supportive community:

  • I really appreciated having the opportunity to work with grad students in other departments across Harvard, sharing ideas and practicing talks. This was a wonderful seminar.
  • I learned so much! I greatly enjoyed sharing my work with my peers and hearing them present; the seminar provided a friendly and supportive space to converse and practice.
Jamboard of brightly colored digital sticky notes from students on what they learned in our Bok Seminar, Engaging Audiences in our Professional Stories: Compelling Communication RemotelyNotes from Engaging Audiences in our Professional Stories: Compelling Communication Remotely


Finally, so much of our work on communication is informed by what we have learned from supporting the Harvard Horizons program since it launched in 2013. Eight PhD students are selected each year to share their research at a symposium in Sanders Theatre. We help the students prepare through training that is a more focused and intensive version of our workshops and seminars; we support the scholars as they grapple with important questions in their research, learn storytelling strategies, develop compelling visuals, and engage their voice and body in the crafting of short talks about their dissertation work. The 2020 Symposium was postponed due to COVID, which challenged us to rethink the program for a remote format. Six of the 2020 scholars worked with us this spring to make short videos about their projects, which they will introduce briefly at the Harvard Horizons symposium on June 10 at 6:00 pm. While a big change from the Sanders Theatre stage, holding the event as a webinar will allow more people to attend, and will provide the opportunity for more interaction between the scholars and the audience. We hope you will join to learn about interesting projects going on across GSAS, and to think about strategies for communicating your own research to a general audience.

As we all navigate the return to campus, we will continue to learn more about how the remote format has changed the way we communicate, and what we will carry with us as we make this transition. What is next for our work on public speaking and engaged communication? What will it be like to stand in front of a classroom or on a stage again? Regardless of format, the act of practicing and developing your communication skills helps you understand your work better. We are here to support instructors thinking about best practices to engage their audiences, whether you are preparing to talk on a webinar, on a stage, in a classroom, in office hours, or anything in between. Join our mailing list to stay up to date on our offerings, or schedule a consultation to discuss your goals.