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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lessons from Public Speaking

Over the past six months, I have been so fortunate to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program. I've had the opportunity to learn from some of the most intelligent, hardworking, motivated, and passionate change-makers I've ever met. My fellow Emerging Leaders have challenged me, coached me, supported me, advised me, and inspired me. (And made me laugh!) I knew this was a special group of people, but this fact became even more apparent to me at our November session.

I came into this particular session less enthusiastic than I had been at other sessions. First of all, it involved getting up early on a Saturday morning and second of all, this session focused on public speaking. Not only would we have to present in front of the group, but we would also be videotaped – I was dreading this part specifically. As I prepared my three-minute presentation a few days ahead of time, I tried to remember what I had learned from a public speaking seminar in college. Things like, “project your voice” and “pick one person to make eye contact with” and “use large hand gestures.” It all felt a little forced and awkward to me, and I was nervous going into the presentation.

However, I didn't account for two important things: Jezra Kaye, our fantastic guest speaker and public speaking guru, and the supportive community of my fellow EL-ers. Jezra started our day off, and she was unlike any other public speaking coach I have encountered. She didn't tell us to take a power stance or gesticulate wildly or use impressive words – she told us to speak like ourselves. Her philosophy comes from a strengths-based perspective, that we are at our best when we are being authentic. Through her teachings, I was able to see how each person in the room could be a dazzling speaker as they let their personality shine through. Jezra had us up with our public speaking avatars, choosing three adjectives that we wanted to exude. Everyone chose something different – some people wanted to be perceived as confident, others as warm, others as innovative, and others as authoritative. This exercise spoke to the diverse personalities and values in our group.

Later that afternoon, we gave our speeches. Though I had been nervous going into the day, I hadn’t accounted for the encouraging, supportive, and nurturing community of EL-ers. In a previous Emerging Leaders session, our group leader Yael talked about the power of vulnerability,  and how vulnerability allows us to connect with people in an entirely different way. I saw this in action during our November session. We all were vulnerable when speaking in front of the group, but this shared experience also facilitated great generosity and learning. Watching others present taught me so much about public speaking. When it was my turn to present, I was struck by how open, attentive, and curious others were. The feedback I got was some of the most productive, generous, helpful, and thoughtful feedback I have ever received. I believe this exercise was so helpful because we all experienced this together, and we were able to learn from others’ strengths and vulnerability.

Needless to say, I left our session more energized than I ever expected (despite my early wake up!). I feel so lucky to be a part of such a meaningful and special community of peers, and I was so glad to gain public speaking skills is such a supportive environment. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Get Involved!

Inspired by the Emerging Leaders program, last month I had the opportunity to observe a board meeting for our organization. As this was my first board meeting experience, I was unsure what to expect.

Overall, the meeting was well-attended and board members were very engaged. Our Chief of Research (my direct supervisor) presented an excellent overview of our student and teacher data from the previous school year. I was especially impressed how board members interacted during this part of the meeting. Members had specific questions about measurement tools, national averages, etc. As a person who spends the majority of my time working with data and trying to find ways to communicate the data in concise, meaningful ways, it was helpful to observe what data were of interest to board members.

In days following the board meeting I had the chance to debrief the meeting with the president and CEO of our organization. Meeting with our president was an equally educational experience as he has years of experience serving on multiple nonprofit boards. Notably, during our meeting, it was mentioned that a recurring potential challenge for board members (not specific to our board, but members in a broader sense) is the diversity of roles within board members. This has the potential to lead to confusion and warrants discussion surrounding expectations and concrete responsibility setting.

While reflecting about my experiences with our governance procedures it occurred to me that many of the topics (if not all) covered by the Emerging Leaders Program are directly applicable to participating on a non-profit board. The power of networking, knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, emotional intelligence and managements skills, trust-building, and presentation skills are all components that work together to create a successful board member.

In the coming months, I am looking forward to developing a more influential style of communication and fine tuning my leadership style. This summer I also plan to volunteer to serve on a nonprofit board with hopes of using my newly honed skills and experiences from the Emerging Leaders program to give back to the non-profit arena.