Bryn Mawr Alumnae Give Advice at Event Co-Sponsored by Public Speaking Initiative and LILAC

Posted February 26th, 2014 at 4:17 pm.

At an event held earlier this month, Bryn Mawr trustee Susan MacLaurin ’84, vice president of Toronto-based GWL Realty Advisors, and Amanda Joseph ’86, who has two decades of experience in social-change nonprofits, shared a wealth of advice about public speaking gleaned from their years of professional experience – and “connect” summed it up in a word.

Effective verbal communication, the pair told a packed room of students, is more about reaching out and connecting with others than turning in a “perfect” performance.

The talk by MacLaurin and Joseph was moderated by Matt Ruben, writing instructor and coordinator of Bryn Mawr’s Public Speaking Initiative (PSI), which co-sponsored the event along with the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center (LILAC).

During the hourlong talk, MacLaurin and Joseph discussed best practices they’d adopted, “worst practices” they’d learned to avoid, and some of their most successful—and bumpiest—experiences. Joseph spoke about learning to improvise after drawing a blank when getting up to deliver a pitch. MacLaurin used the example of a conference call to illustrate how clear communication and active listening in everyday business situations can dramatically impact one’s ability to have an impact in an organization.

By the end of the panel, which concluded with questions from the students, three main themes had emerged.

The first was audience: consider what is important to one’s listeners and how best to convey one’s message.

The second was authenticity: “Public speaking is easier when you believe in what you are communicating,” said Joseph, adding that one always can generate passion and purpose by focusing on what one is trying to accomplish in a talk.

The third was practice, which is critical to building the necessary confidence to speak effectively: “The main points of a presentation are key, not memorizing word-for-word,” said Ruben. “Preparing in this way allows you be authentic and connect with your listeners in the moment.”

Ruben led an interactive, follow-up workshop on February 18, in which students learned more about the theory and practice of speaking and presentations, from stance and eye contact, to voice and breathing, to organization and visual aids, to preparation techniques.

Launched in 2012–13, PSI offers campus-wide and in-class workshops; provides peer speaking tutors; assists faculty in developing assignments that involve speaking and presentations; and more. PSI offers practical techniques grounded in rhetoric and composition theory, enabling it to provide assistance tailored to the curricular goals of specific courses and assignments. Reuben is a longtime instructor in Bryn Mawr’s Writing Program as well as a community activist in Philadelphia with a broad range of public-speaking experience. For more information, visit the PSI website.
The mission of LILAC is to prepares liberal art students to become effective, self-aware leaders in their chosen life pursuits. The preparation is rooted in experiential education. Students can explore opportunities through classes, personal and professional workshops and trainings, internships and externships, alumnae engagement, and civic engagement.

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