Speak Easy

A community for graduate students to informally practice spoken research communication

Speak Easy is a student lead initiative that provides a weekly forum to informally practice spoken/oral research communication in a supportive environment. Groups of 7-10 graduate students and postdocs meet weekly for 1-hour meetings where they speak about, listen to and discuss their research.

Group members are expected to participate weekly for at least 1 semester but are encouraged to continue with the group for multiple semesters.

Speak Easy workshops offer individuals the chance to participate in the activity and training to start their own local Speak Easy groups.

  • How it works

    Opportunity to Improve Research Communication

    The weekly meetings provide opportunities to

    • discuss research spontaneously as researcher or technical audience
      • in a supportive enviornment
      • organically- without slides or lengthy preparations
    • improve clarity of verbal research communication through constructive supportive peer feedback and audience awareness
    • practice active listening
    • build community, support and motivation as you learn about peer research areas



    Each group meets weekly for 1 hour. Each meeting focuses on a particular aspect of research - intro, methods, results or implications. One to three students sign up to talk about their research each week. During the meeting they are each asked one thematically related question about their research, such as "what was the motivation for the study you are working on right now?" and have 2 minutes to offer a recorded initial response. After the initial response, another group member will ask the student clarifying questions before attempting to summarize the answer to the original question for the group. The audience will discuss how they understood what the student said while the student listens and takes notes. The whole group then listens to the original response. This process repeats for each of the presenters for the week. After all speakers have gone through the process, they will each have an opportunity to offer and record a final revised version of their answer and receive written anonymous feedback from everyone in the group. Speakers will also receive their recorded responses for their own evaluation.

    Sample Meeting Structure:

    Initial Response & Discussion* (repeat for each presenter, 12 minutes for each)

    • Initial 2 minute response to question (recorded)
    • Clarification questions from 1 audience member
    • Audience member summary
    • Audience member & audience discussion
    • Replay of initial response

    *audience & presenter take notes throughout

    Revised Responses

    • 2 minute revised response to original question from each presenter (recorded)
    • Each presenter receives written constructive feedback from audience members on both initial and revised responses

    A facilitator keeps time and guides each session.

  • How to join

    Applications to join the group are available each semester. Prospective members are encouraged to check the announcements on this page for current applications. Students and postdocs can also form their own groups. If you have a group of 7-10 students who can meet at the same time each week and would like to form a new group, email the current coordinator.

  • FAQs

    How do I get to talk about my research?

    Once you have joined a group, you will be given access to your group's calendar. To talk about your research, just sign up for a slot on the calendar. You will be able to see the types of questions your group plans to ask that week. Many groups negotiate the calendar, plan some slots in advance and leave some open for last minute needs. 

    What do I do on the day I signed up to talk?

    Arrive on time or perhaps a little early and know if you are the 1st or 2nd presenter for the day. You'll be able to see the types of questions you might be asked ahead of time. You do not need to prepare a presentation in advance and won't be able to use slides so you don't have to do much. It can be helpful to review the related topics of your research and decide on an area or a study you'll base your answers around to help you focus.

    Can I just come on days when I talk about my research?

    No. The group is more than just getting to talk about your work. It is a community that works together. Members rely on one another for feedback and support. When you aren't the speaker, you act as the audience and gain valuable actively listening practice while providing constructive feedback. You also gain practice asking questions as a technical audience member, as you would in a seminar or at a conference presentation. It is expected that members will make the weekly meetings part of their schedule and attend each week as possible. The group only works when the group members are involved and committed to attending.

    I submitted an application. Now what?

    After your application has been received, you will be placed in a group or on a wait list. Once you are placed in a group, you will receive an email with information inviting you to the group, including the group meeting location. These emails may not go out until after the priority deadline has passed. If you indicated that you cannot attend meetings at the provided times, your application may be kept on file that semester in case a new group that fits your schedule is started. If you have questions concerning your application or placement, you can email gradwritinglab@virginia.edu.

    I cannot make any of the times listed. What can I do?

    The times listed are times that we expect to have groups running and have space to hold them. If you cannot make these times, you are encouraged to do 2 things. 1) Fill out an application to register your interest and schedule. Be sure to indicate times that do work for you and use the comments box to be more specific if needed. It is possible that in the future we might be able to add more groups, but will only be able to if we have enough interested members who can meet at the same time. Filling out an application is the best way to show your interest. 2) Identify other potential members who can meet at the same time. Groups can be started because a group of students are able to identify a time and place that works. If you can get a group of at least 7 students who are committed to starting a group and can meet at the same time each week, email the current coordinator for help starting a new group. Note that you should also be willing to facilitate the group.

    I haven't really done this before. How can I give good feedback?

    The process is new for most people and it takes practice to get used to it and to get better at. The more you participate in a feedback oriented group (this group or one of our PRGs), the more practice you will get. Sometimes it is helpful to think about what makes feedback helpful for you. Being only positive doesn't usually lead to improvement. However, if you see something good, do point it out. We need to know what is working just as much as we need to know what is not working. Be specific with your feedback, reference specific elements when possible such as something someone said. You can state your thought process or reaction. Even if you are not a subject matter expect, you can be an expert outside listener. How the information comes across is important. You can be a test of what was conveyed. Try to hit the what, why and how. What is the issue you see? Why is it an issue? How might the person go about resolving the issue or improving. Being specific with what you see and including specific examples can help connect  concrete steps and put your feedback in context. Explain why this is important. For instance, you might point out that something they mentioned in follow up seems to be a really important point, but got lost in the main answer. By moving it to the end of the response, the beginning of the response or giving pause around it, the idea might be better highlighted. Be specific is your suggestions, offer concrete examples and provide options where possible. 

    My group members are just students like me. Can they really help me?

    Yes! Everyone has different strengths, access to different resources, and different experiences. Your group members are peer scientists and engineers. Some of your group members may give great feedback on organization and others may be excellent at understanding and explaining wording. By involving a group in the review of your work, you are able to draw on a range of perspectives and expertise. Seeing multiple perspectives is critical when sharing work with broad audiences. You will be able to see how your work reaches different audiences and glean tips and tricks from others. You will also be able to learn from other presenters and see how other people construct their work, which will ultimately make you a stronger communicator.

Meet our Graduate Student Leaders

  • Adrienne Williams

    Adrienne Williams

    PhD student, BME | Speak Easy Coordinator

    Adrienne Williams is the founder and coordinator of Speak Easy, an activity desgined for graduate and postdoctoral researchers to practice impromptu research communication to technical audiences. She is a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering studying the biomechanics of lower limb muscles in Duchenne muscular dystrohpy.