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The second edition of Social Leadership – Public Speaking started with a bang this weekend as the 75 2nd year undergraduate students knuckled down to 16 hours of intensive Public Communication skills training and introduction to this innovative course. Yet we still had fun: role plays, presentations and other opportunities to present were mixed with theory, demonstrations, videos and recordings, to ensure the classes were dynamic and applied.
Following tutorials with the students of the three sections, everyone came together for the official opening of the course. Alfred Vernis, ESADE’s Director of University Programmes, highlighted the importance of the programme for the school, “the role of a business school is not just to impart academic knowledge but also get students to leave the classroom and make a difference in society.” He continued, “this will take you out of your comfort zone, but that is our job. On this journey, you will have to work hard, but you will learn by doing, and learn by offering a service to society.”
Javier Roglà of Epieza por Educar gave a key note speech where he underlined the importance of being a social leader, of cultivating interests, and knowing what you want in life. Through stories of his personal experience in the corporate world and as a social entrepreneurship, Javier introduced us to social leadership, noting the importance of being the first to act and leading others to become leaders.
Introduction over, were ready to begin the Public Speaking skills marathon. Back in our four classes in three languages, we started with verbal and non-verbal communication, analysing and learning from good and not-so-good practices of classmates and famous speakers, practicing, learning some theory and practicing some more. As we emulated different postures and facial expressions, worked on breathing and tried to speak with pens in our mouths, it became clear that it was a good thing that there were no other mad people on campus on Saturday afternoon!
After what felt more like a siesta than a good night’s sleep, we were back bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for Sunday’s classes. Looking first at the audience as the key actor in any communication, we worked on the basic structure of any presentation. Drawing ideas from films, television adverts and other sources of stories, we worked in small groups on constructing different kinds of presentations. From the negative, such as communicating bad corporate news to employees or press, through the useful such as convincing a board of directors to invest in a project, or a consumer to buy a product, to the fun such as putting together a best man’s speech. We took time to think through the objective of the presentation, generate ideas and messages and apply the structure (all before opening PowerPoint). This gave us more persuasive presentations with impact.
After lunch we launched ourselves into the final session, which took place during, without doubt, the hardest time of the week to learn: Sunday afternoon. The good news is that we all managed to stay awake. We focused on the importance of empathy in all its guises; from understanding and segmenting the audience, to learning how to listen actively. What in theatre would be called wardrobe and set, were considered in the context of credibility when public speaking: Dress appropriate to the audience and ensure your backdrop does not detract from your speech – particularly if that backdrop is comprised of other people.
Finally we got onto the popular theme of managing your nerves. Pretty much no one escapes feelings of nervousness when speaking in public so we first shared experiences then learnt and applied some new techniques. Only time will tell which of these are effective for each of us as with so many practical exercises over the weekend, performing in front of classmates has become far less nerve racking.
We turned to some Mindfulness techniques to help with the challenge of concentration and then took a look at storytelling. This done we were ready to put together the final group presentations, bringing together the skills learnt and practiced over the two days. In selling their strange inventions to investors, the groups used imagination and creativity to tailor their pitches to the audience, incorporating storytelling, dramatization and other devises, while clearly outlining exactly why they needed that half a million Euros and the reasons the investors should part with it.
While those fictitious investors would have been unwise to part with their money, I can’t help feeling that this was a weekend well spent. We touched on a lot of topics in a short space of time, but we practiced all of them and we’ll continue to practice them in preparing the workshops and of course, in the schools and social centres.