Radio 4 ‘Today’ presenter and University honorary graduate Justin Webb was on campus last week to deliver a lecture reflecting on his career in broadcasting and lessons for our teaching staff on engaging audiences.

Drawing on numerous examples gleaned from journalism, in particular from his spell as BBC North American Editor and his interviews with successive US Presidents, his presentation explored the value of storytelling and personality in communicating effectively.

On storytelling, he said: “The importance of storytelling is not just a communication thing. It is also something that really deeply impacts on what people think about the outside world. When you look at the modern world, you can see that the stories that have been told to people have impacted them as much as them developing stories themselves. It’s so much a part of life and has always been.”

He also reflected on the power of performance when engaging different audiences. Reflecting on the different personality types of George W Bush and Barack Obama, he remarked on Obama’s slick presentation verses Bush’s “quick-wittedness and self-deprecation.”

Describing Bush as an “amazingly engaging as a person”, he expanded on how there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how you present yourself, but how you need to find your role model. “Watch people you admire and emulate it”, he said.

To finesse the performance element of teaching he suggested: “You have to watch your own performances. One of the things Obama knew enough about is performance. In the modern era, you can’t avoid it, but you need to be true to yourself.”

On receiving and acting upon feedback, his talk explored how and why feedback is important but why developing a toughness, “a thicker skin”, and keeping a sense of perspective around what we respond to is essential. This is especially true when it comes to social media, he said.

Considering the rise of Donald Trump and an era of ‘post-truth politics’, he suggested there are still people “crying out” for quality journalism, evidence and proper analysis of the facts.

During his visit, Justin also met researchers from our Faculty of Science involved in diabetes research, which he takes a keen interest in, and was interviewed in our Students’ Union for Campus TV about his advice for our aspiring student journalists. Watch David Gwynne interview Justin for Campus TV.

Commenting on the visit he said: "This is a deeply impressive place full of people making the most of their talents. I particularly enjoyed seeing the people involved with student TV and radio and the researchers looking into the non-invasive measurement of blood sugar for diabetics. This is a University at the top of its game."

The event, organised by Dr Kate Woodthorpe and Dr Richard Joiner from the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, was part of a series of events themed around some of the subtleties of communication for learning and teaching.

Dr Kate Woodthorpe (Department of Social & Policy Sciences) who co-organised the event said: "It was fantastic being able to welcome Justin to the University, and his talk about engaging audiences was excellent. With good humour he talked about authenticity in performance, the role of journalism in a world in such a state of flux, and the importance of resilience if you 'put yourself out there' as both journalists and lecturers do.

“We had a great turnout, thank you to all who came and to the Humanities and Social Science Faculty for the opportunity to hold this talk via the Teaching Development Fund (TDF). Richard Joiner and I are organising two further discussions this semester as part of our TDF project; one on the use of technology in teaching, the other with the Students' Union on feedback."

Details for upcoming events will be released soon.