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Improving Engineering-Student Presentation Abilities with Theater Exercises

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication as Performance

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.916.1 - 26.916.14



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Paper Authors


John W. Brocato Mississippi State University

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John Brocato is the coordinator of the Shackouls Technical Communication Program in the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University, where he teaches technical communication and provides writing/presenting-related support to the entire college. He is the LEES Division Program Chair-Elect as well as the Campus Representative Coordinator for ASEE's Southeastern Section.

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Amy Barton Mississippi State University

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Amy Barton (M.A. in English from Mississippi State University) is an instructor in the Technical Communication Program in MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering. She teaches Technical Writing, a junior-level writing course required of all undergraduate engineering students. She focuses on implementing writing-to-learn strategies in engineering courses to keep students engaged and improve critical thinking skills. She has presented on writing-to-learn topics at the ASEE Southeastern Section Conference and led writing workshops for faculty who are interested in adding writing assignments to their courses.

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Kelly Agee Mississippi State University

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Kelly Agee serves as an instructor in the Shackouls Technical Communication Program in the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University. She teaches GE 3513 Technical Writing, a course that provides undergraduate engineering students with instruction and practice in the technical communication process. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in English education from The University of Tennessee and previously worked as a senior technical writer in the healthcare industry. She is a member of ASEE and the National Council of Teachers of English, and she is a teacher-consultant of the West Tennessee Writing Project.

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Ed Dechert Mississippi State University

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Greg Carlisle Morehead State University

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Improving Engineering-Student Presentation Abilities with Theatre ExercisesOne of the main impediments to improving presentation abilities is self-consciousness: thepresenter’s/speaker’s fear of looking foolish in front of a crowd of people. Content-centeredpreparation (i.e., knowing the material and shaping it appropriately for a given audience) canhelp with this problem in theory, but in practice the physical reality of a critical audience oftennegates such preparation – in other words, emotion overpowers logic. Thus, presenters (andespecially novice presenters) need more practical, more physical strategies for controlling andworking with their fear. This paper describes one such strategy wherein engineering studentsparticipate in exercises from the world of theatre designed to prepare the voice and body foronstage performance, an activity that correlates naturally with delivering professional technicalpresentations. For this project, students completed a pre-survey about their to-date presentationexperiences and overall public-speaking confidence followed by an interactive workshop on thetheatre-based exercises mentioned above. They then completed a post-workshop survey on thesesame concepts before giving their first presentation of the semester in a technical-communicationcourse. Significantly, the workshop was conducted by a theatre professor (one of the currentpaper’s authors) who began his career with an electrical-engineering degree and several years ofexperience in industry. The paper discusses the philosophy behind this strategy, including areview of existing literature on the topic; the pre- and post-surveys’ contents and studentresponses to them; full details on the workshop activities, including photos of the participants inaction; and the students’ subsequent presentation assignments, including any notableimprovements in their performance.

Brocato, J. W., & Barton, A., & Agee, K., & Dechert, E., & Carlisle, G. (2015, June), Improving Engineering-Student Presentation Abilities with Theater Exercises Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24253

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015