Episode 7 – Tony Eng On How To Think About Body Language & Pacing

MIT EECS Senior Lecturer, Tony Eng, helps us understand how pacing delivary can help your audience’s ability to parse the information you are communicating to them.


Guest Starring Tony Eng, Lead Instructor of Gradcommx & Senior Lecturer MIT EECS 6.UAT

Produced & Hosted by Adam Greenfield

Executive Produced by Patrick Yurick, Instructional Designer – MIT OGE

Executive Produced by Heather Konar, Communication Director – MIT OGE

Special thanks to the following editors who provided us invaluable feedback that aided in the development of this show:

Christopher O’Keeffe, Co-Founder of Podcation

Kristy Bennet, Manager – MIT Woman’s League

Kristy Bennet, Manager – MIT Women’s League

Jennifer Cherone, Phd Candidate – MIT Burge Laboratory

Erik Tillman, Phd, Formerly of the Kim Lab & Currently A Fellow at Vida Ventures, LLC

The Great Communicators Podcast is a part of Gradcommx. Gradcommx, targeted at enhancing research communication, is the first offering of Gradx – a professional development project created for the graduate student population at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by the Office For Graduate Education.


“All The Best Fakers” by Nick Jaina is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License (http://freemusicarchive.org)

“A Rush of Clear Water” by Blue Dot Sessions is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.

“In Passage” by Blue Dot Sessions is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License. (http://freemusicarchive.org)

“Deliberate Thought” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/




Welcome to The Great Communicators Podcast presented by The MIT Office of Graduate Education, a professional development podcast expressly designed to bring lessons from the field to our graduate student researchers.

My name is Adam Greenfield and a while back I was approached by the Office of Graduate Education to help explore a subject that, admittedly, I wasn’t all that familiar with. That topic? Scientific research and professional development in communication. My job was to learn all I could about the subject, then deliver it to you through a medium that I am intimately familiar with: podcast production and interview style formatting.


We decided the best approach to this subject was simply to talk to great communicators and field related iconoclasts, and find out from them what was most important when communicating science. Or in some cases, just communicating, period.


During some of those talks, I was concerned some that there might be terminology, or jargon, that I might not fully understand. But it became clear early on, through the talk with today’s guest, that there are times and places for jargon, and knowing who your audience is can help determine that.


In this episode, our guest’s official title is senior lecturer at MIT. However, if you ask him, it’s a bit more focused than that.


I teach engineers how to communicate here.


That’s Tony Eng and this job description kind of makes Tony the right guy to talk to regarding research communication and professional development. Good thing I had the opportunity to talk to him twice, once in person and once online.

And it was this second time where he raised an important point about language and that you don’t always need words to communicate.


In terms of a presentation, I always think of it as a two way conversation even though i’m doing most of the talking and the medium that i’m using, i’m using words, right? But the medium that the audience is using is non-verbal. And even though i’m the only one talking, i’m looking for those non-verbal responses. So I think in some ways that could be a language where words are not being used but thoughts, understanding, opinions are being conveyed to me.


So it’s as if there’s this dance that takes place between a speaker and the audience, a dance we’ll hear about happening throughout this episode, and the audience really is telling you something with these non-verbal clues. To me it’s important to be cognizant of that interaction.

But now let’s get to the verbal part, or the language part, of communication. And it’s not just about the words, either. There’s a rhythm to how you say something and if done right, like a snake charmer, you’ll have the full attention of your audience.

Need examples? Just listen to some of our greatest speakers, from Martin Luther King jr. to Randy Pausch to even President Obama. Their talks and speeches are great references to see how vocal modulation can be equally as important as the words you are using.

Tony had this to say when it comes to vocal modulation.


So this comes back to the written word and the spoken word. With the written word, I have it in front of me and I can read it and I can re-read it if I didn’t understand something. The spoken word, you typically don’t have a transcript of what the person is saying. You are sitting there listening to these words that are being emitted and don’t know what’s important to listen to. So the burden is on the speaker to do things to help you parse the message.


Don’t be scared off by this burden, though. Sometimes it’s just a matter of varying the speed in which you say things, and sometimes slowing down… for maximum… effect.


If everything comes out in equal pace at the same volume and everything is the same, nothing is going to stick out. But certainly, if there are important points, you can emphasize that, you can speed up for things that are not so important and you can slow down or pause for something important. So all of these things that have to do with vocal modulation, I think, basically help a listening audience parse your message better. There are tools that a speaker can use.


We also discussed situations when it comes to highly technical or specific topics, how some audiences may not have the same background and whether or not there is a certain level of attention that needs to be paid to how the subject is being discussed.


A lot of my students live and breathe this stuff. They don’t realize that they have to step back and first connect with the audience. Like, “where are you at? Do you even understand what I’m saying?” Yeah, it’s a nuisance because you can’t get to the good stuff but if you don’t do that then you are going to lose them from the very start. So they have to take time to define things or explain things.


When it comes to jargon, it can help explain a detailed subject… but only if your audience understands that jargon.


If it’s an audience member of like mind and like background, then it is much easier. I don’t have to worry so much about jargon and the words I use. If it’s a different audience, it’s not so much you want to avoid jargon, and you do want to avoid jargon they don’t understand, but you want to use jargon that they do understand. So if you happen to be fluent in their vocabulary, then it’s much easier for them to understand and parse your message if you use words that they are more familiar with and terms that they are familiar with.


As we heard, Tony points out there are many ways to communicate effectively, even if no words are said or used. Your physical movements and eye contact can be a very powerful unspoken way to communicate.

There’s also the cautionary tale of using jargon, as your audience may not be familiar with those terms or that language. In this instance, be sure to be aware of your audience’s background and adjust the way you communicate.

And finally, another effective communication tool is vocal modulation. Here you can alter the pitch of your voice to emphasize important points or speak slowly to give your audience an opportunity to allow the information to sink in.

Thanks for listening to The Great Communicators Podcast brought to you by The MIT Office of Graduate Education. My name is Adam Greenfield, and feel free to talk amongst yourselves.