As I walked to the front of the classroom on the last day of my senior English class, I was fully prepared to nail my presentation! I had spent three whole days carefully typing out my argument about gender equality in George Orwell’s 1984 into a series of slides. While I think it is interesting that that Orwell’s text delineates a gender parity within a repressive, authoritarian state, it quickly became clear that my audience did not share my enthusiasm for this odd disjuncture. By my second slide, half of the audience was looking out of the windows or down at their desks, and before I had even reached the final slide, a guy in the corner was fully asleep. “Were my ideas really so boring,” I wondered as I walked back to my desk amid light smattering of applause? What could I have done differently to better communicate my claim and analysis to an audience of my peers? While I still have faith in the usefulness of my interpretation of 1984, an interpretation that earned me an A-, I arrived at Georgia Tech a little apprehensive about giving presentations. However, over the course of the semester my concern about public presentations was replaced by confidence because I learned how to take my audience into account both throughout my writing process and in my final drafts. This portfolio shows that I have a stronger understanding of how to imagine and respond to audience needs, and the ability to fit my process to the specific conditions of the writing situation. Ultimately, I have developed as a communicator because I now respond to audience needs and to specific writing situations as component of all writing projects.
Developing a writing process that works for me, and remaining mindful of audience needs, helped me engage my peers during both formal presentations and during class discussion and group work. Because of the way my 1984 presentation was received, I initially identified oral communication, as the WOVEN mode I anticipated would prove most challenging. Specifically, I was worried that I would have trouble designing a poster that illustrated my take on the course theme, and I was even more nervous about engaging my peers during the poster pitch session. If that what wasn’t enough, when I first learned that we were also required to give a slide share presentation, my mind went right back to that final talk I gave in high school. Yet, unlike my high school English teacher, Dr. Brundle set up the class so that we had all sorts of opportunities to practice grabbing audience attention. For instance, he asked us to walk around in the hall way for 20 minutes and make mental notes of the posters, flyers, brochures, and signs we saw there. Then when we came back to class, we all had to draw the poster or sign we remembered best on the board. Almost everyone remembered a flyer advertising free pizza at a student union meeting. I thought everyone remembered that poster because it was close to lunch time, but Dr. Brundle asked us to grab one of the flyers so we could investigate why it captured so many peoples’ attention. Turns out the flyer does more than make audiences want to eat pizza. It also grabs audience attention because of the way it uses CRAP design principles. Namely, the color contrast draws audiences in and then the holds attention through savvy use of negative space. I was able to transfer what I learned from the flyer to my own poster design. Specially, I concentrated on color contrast and drawing audience attention to a main image through the use negative space.
Because the poster design did not overwhelm my audience with written communication, I was free to explore my argument with them during the poster pitch session. Over the course of the session, I also learned what portions of the pitch made the most sense to the audience, so I revised the pitch as the session wore on. I think that by the time my friend filmed my pitch, it had really improved from where I began, in part, because I allowed the image I had designed supplement the main points of my pitch. I took what I learned about engaging and connecting with audiences and then applied those lessons to my final slide presentation. In the final presentations, every student had to stand up in front of the class to give a pretty much memorized talk for almost seven minutes while the slides just scroll in the background. In my presentation I argued that TV shows like Game of Thrones shows how the line separating humans from the nonhuman is less solid than is generally assumed.
Since the show names Bran the winner of the power game at its center, the show runners indirectly endorse the sort of integrated human/nonhuman position that grants Bran his power. I illustrated this point with a series of images showing Bran’s transformation from the boy who fell from the tower in the first episode to the man who faced the Night King under the heart tree in the final season. That the majority of my classmates watched the presentation with interest both demonstrates my understanding of audience needs as well as how much I have grown as a communicator since my 1984 presentation.
Because all our projects in ENGL 1101 helped us to reflect on both writing process and audience, I feel confident about approaching similar projects in the future. In addition to the more formal assignments, I also think that I improved my communication during informal activities in class. On most days, Dr. Brundle asked us to respond to discussion questions in groups or read and provide feedback to our classmates writing. A few times this semester, he even asked us to draw responses to questions on the board and then respond to those drawing like they were paintings in a museum. While I was never fully comfortable talking during full class discussions, almost every time I was put into a group, I felt like I made a contribution. I gained a lot of confidence from those activities and made some pretty good friends, so when I was giving my presentation, I knew there were some people in the audience rooting for me. Finally, because all the writing that we did this semester used most all of the WOVEN modes, I also develop a skill set that allows me to draft in all sorts of modes. For example, if I find myself getting ready to write an essay, I can use the sorts of strategies we practiced for drafting presentations: find or draw some pictures to illustrate the claims and argument I am making. Then I can move those pictures around to see what would happen if I moved the components of my argument around. As I move into ENGL 1102, I plan to spend more time focusing on how the medium we use to communicate can transform the content of our projects and continuing to improve my process and understanding of audience.