Greatness is a Journey – Ask for Help.

In my blogs I like to write about opportunities I’ve discovered for personal development. Today, I want to write about one of the most valued skills in the job search (but undervalued by most MBAs): Presenting and Public Speaking. Since day one, OCS & our professors stressed the importance of effective communication. But, let’s be honest in the midst of ECON, DMD, Finance, & Accounting improving these soft skills falls to the bottom of most of our To-Do lists.

Last week I was reminded that my ability to effectively communicate my ideas to a community of stakeholders – or even an intervieweris just as important as the idea itself.

I studied communications as an undergrad and learned it is necessary to be vulnerable in front of an audience, before you can be comfortable speaking to them. This means, you have to be okay making mistakes in front of people.

Naturally, when I applied to business school, I thought my public speaking skills were above average. But, in the context of business…I’ve found there are significant areas of improvement. Last Friday, in-between hectic schedules, I met with Tricia Homer, the executive communication coach for MBAs, to discuss how I might address these weaknesses.

I expected Tricia to run-through my previous presentations with me and rehash the written feedback she sent via e-mail. However, she had other ideas and showed up with a video camera. I was instructed to present  to a “board room” and address the “stakeholders” around the table. The instant feedback allowed me to implement new techniques as I replayed the situation multiple times. After multiple “takes,” my presentation went from a disastrous pitch to key businessmen to a viable potential pitch up for consideration.

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Here are my key takeaways:

  1.   You cannot fix a problem, unless you know what the problem is. Tricia pointed out that I speak with an upward inflection. Many of us speak so every sentence sounds like a question and often times this “flaw” goes unnoticed. In communication, how you say something is almost more important than what you’re actually saying. In speeches, an upward-inflection detracts from the confidence of your message, leaving the audience to questions your credibility- a critical aspect to getting audience buy-in.You’d think after watching and performing Taylor Mali’s “Like, Totally, Whatever…You know?”  (Click Link to watch!) as an undergrad, I’d be aware of this, but I wasn’t. After Tricia’s feedback, even as I write I catch my voice going up at the end of each sentence. This issue won’t disappear unless I make a conscious effort to address it.

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2. Silence is important (Yes, even in speeches). On the first try, I was instructed to “Use the Space.” I had no idea what the speech was about, so when I began I decided to move and talk as often as I could. The results: I rushed through parts that were meant to be punchlines, proving to be an ineffective way to make a point.

Tricia suggested I pause between movements to separate important points. These pauses can create moments of silence. Silence is sometimes uncomfortable. But silence and pause do two things- it allows you, the speaker, to incorporate movements that hit home important points and punchlines and it also allows your audience to process the information.
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  1. Public speaking is about presence & perception. Even with all the credentials and accolades of a superhero, it’s possible for your audience to peg you as a villain based on how you present yourself. Ask yourself this question: How are you communicating these credentials and your ideas to stakeholders?This isn’t an overnight phenomenon. Presence means different things for every speaker and every audience member. For me, presence means a command of my subject matter and my audience. Is the audience listening, am I engaging them, do they understand me and perceive me as credible? If not, how do I adjust? These are hard questions to answer alone, and thankfully Tricia has the tools to help me plan my transformation.

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The great thing about being back in school is that one failed presentation doesn’t have permanent results. You’re allowed to revise and edit yourself as often as you need.

Remember, you don’t have to figure it out by yourself. Tap into your network at Smith, utilize the resources you’re paying for, make the most of your two years and develop the skills you wish you could do better.

The value of the MBA Exec. Coaching, is really in the one-on-one coaching. I walked away with key behaviors and goals to practice in upcoming team meetings and presentations.

Greatness starts somewhere, and despite everyone’s different public speaking skills, Tricia builds on individual strengths and weaknesses instead of forcing you into a specific mold.

At this point, we know how to finding maximizing quantities when MR=MC, now if only we could maximize our time and value in our MBA. You can make excuses that there is no time to focus on this, or you can make time for it – it’s up to you. As most of us ramp up the Job Search, I encourage you to make time with Tricia over the next few months to see how she can help.

Note: The MBA Smith Executive Communication Office has exciting workshops scheduled for Spring 2017: Executive Presence Bootcamp, Storytelling Influence & Persuasion, and Effective Use of Visual Aids and Technology to name a few. For more information about the MBA Executive Coaching sessions or to schedule an appointment with Tricia, e-mail her at thomer@rhsmith.umd.edu or visit  go.umd.edu/MBAcoaching.

Janna Fernandez

I am a first-year MBA/MPP Candidate at the University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith, School of Business. I enjoy exploring new places and meeting new people. My blog will give you insight on my B-school experience, as well as how I, an island girl (from Guam), acclimate to the coming winter.For questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions email: Janna.Fernandez@rhsmith.umd.edu

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