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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Report by Steve White

'Comedy Workshop – Presenting with Humour’

The workshop was hosted by Nikhil Mistry and Dave Christensen, ex-Southampton PhDs and also active members of the Southampton Bright Club. 

There were quite a few ice-breaker activities to help participants develop their confidence for public speaking. The activities were sometimes awkward, often uncomfortable, but likely useful to help us all speak with more confidence in a range of situations. 

It was interesting to see what things people came up with when asked to share something unusual or surprising about themselves. I think we covered the full ‘goldilocks’ range of options from not enough info ('I like swimming’), just about right (‘I’m one of triplets’), to waaaay too much (‘I am a sexual deviant and I like …’ [the rest is censored, but yes, that’s really is how it went]). We were also exposed to a few choice overshares when thinking about how to use awkward or weird experiences to enrich our talks.

The next topic was how to present research in interesting and engaging ways. In fact, we got some advice direct from Kurt Vonnegut on story structure - apparently people really like ‘boy meets girl’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘man in a hole’ stories. I hadn’t really thought about my research as a Cinderella story, but I’ll return to update this blog once I’ve worked out who the stepsisters, wicked stepmother and talking candlestick are in my PhD.  

To finish the session, the facilitators challenged us to deliver a 30 second elevator pitch to an imagined public audience. A special mystery prize was up for grabs. Though we had to compete against the considerable talents of Southampton’s own Professor Les Carr, the eventual winner was a snappy account of embedded intelligence research by Matthew Lewis Smith from the Loughborough University CDT.

Overall, the session was a useful reminder to focus on the needs and interests of the audience as part of your aim in communicating. The workshop was focused on comedy; I’m not sure I came away any funnier as a person, but I definitely met some ‘funny' people. 


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