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This semester, my COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns students had the opportunity to take on an international non-profit as a client. That non-profit was Children of Uganda. Children of Uganda seeks to give a hand up to women and children in Uganda. Among its efforts, Children of Uganda helps put Ugandan children through school and provides micro-funding for income generating projects for Ugandan women.
It was an amazing learning opportunity to partner with the passionate and dedicated team at Children of Uganda. It was very inspiring for me. And I believe it was for the students as well.
On Thursday, December 14, the students had the opportunity to pitch their completed campaign plans to Children of Uganda. The students were nervous. I was too. They worked all semester to research and plan their campaigns and had worked hard to address the client’s earlier feedback on their proposals. It was time to see what the client thought.
As a professor, you work for years to help the students grow, mature, and learn. You push them to believe in themselves and to realize what they are capable of. The campaigns class is the culminating class in the Strategic Communication concentration in our department. It is where the students have the opportunity to transition from being students to being professionals.
Both presentations went very well. The team at Children of Uganda expressed sincere satisfaction with, and excitement about, both campaign plans. After the presentations, the client asked great questions and the students handled them very well. It was a #proudprofessor moment for sure!
When it was all over, I could sense a feeling of excitement and relief emanating from the students. I sensed that they were almost surprised in how well they executed and how well their ideas were received. I sensed that the students were impressed with themselves, and rightly so. They did an awesome job!
I’ve taught the campaigns class in the fall for the last four years (here’s the syllabus from the first time I taught it in Fall 2014). I always find that it is the most challenging class to teach and for students to take. Further, preparing students to give a pitch presentation is hard. I’ve shown different slide decks, talked about strategies, etc. We did a few trial runs and had the students work on ironing out the weak points.
I reflected on this a bit.
I realized that I had missed a teaching opportunity.
As an educator who has been teaching at the college level now for over 10 years, I’ve come to see my mission as: to help my students self actualize.
It is not enough to me that my students do well. I want them to feel good about doing well. I want them to believe in themselves and know that they can accomplish things they didn’t think they could. I think that, to many of us educators, the information we help the students learn is at the surface of how we are hoping to help them. Beyond knowledge, I think that for many educations, educating is about helping people push personal boundaries, enter new spaces, and grow confidence in those spaces.
I believe that one way to do this, is to help heighten student awareness of how they are perceiving themselves and/or a situation and how that can limit their growth.
Was the students’ nervousness before the presentations justified? Was mine?
Presenting before a client is a scary proposition, especially when you’re a student doing it for the first time. It is of course natural and perfectly normal to feel nervous. We all feel that way from time to time.
But, I want to help my students begin to take control of this feeling so that they can continue to become more comfortable giving presentations and pitching clients. I believe that the more at ease one feels in these settings, the better they will enjoy them. The more they enjoy them, the better they’ll go.
One way to do this, is to examine the evidence when facing a high-pressure situation. Students could look at what they thought might happen that would be bad. A thought might be: “What if the client hates the idea and tells us so?” Afterwards, they could look at the evidence as to whether it actually happened. Since, most things we fear never come to fruition, chances are that things will turn out better than one expects. When one sees that things turned out better, I think it has the power to break those limiting perceptions about one’s abilities.
Here’s what I’m going to do next time:
1) Have students write down on a scale of 1-7 with 1 meaning “terribly” and 7 meaning “amazingly”: “How well do you think this presentation will go?”
2) Have them write down a brief description of what they think might happen that wouldn’t be good.
3) Write a statement to counter those negative thoughts – such as, what might go well.
4) Give the presentation.
5) Use a scale of 1-7 to answer how well the presentation went, with 1 being “terribly” and 7 meaning “amazingly.”
6) Have the students identify the number of things that they thought might happen that wouldn’t be good that actually happened.
7) Have the students write a positive statement about how the presentation went, such as identifying things that went well.
Afterwards, we will discuss their answers to these questions, with the goal of having them reflect upon the positive of what they did. My hope is that it will help them start to break any limiting perceptions that they may have. I hope this will accelerate their comfort with presenting so that their comfort is in line with their abilities.
Closing out 2018
I think for all of us, when we face a challenging task, there is a tendency to focus on what might go wrong. As I look forward to 2018, a goal I have for my classes is to continue to shift the narrative for my students to focus on what will go right. These students are amazing people with wonderful talents. I’m super impressed with how they performed this semester!
Congrats to the December grads and to the students who have taken their final course from me.
Lastly, on behalf of the class, I want to thank Professor Larson and the students of COMM 406 Advertising & Imagery. For the first time, my class partnered with Professor Monica Larson’s class. The Ad & Imagery students created all of the graphic design work for our campaigns. The campaign students decided what they wanted created, and they worked with Professor Larson’s students to flesh out the ideas and refine them. Then, Professor Larson’s students did the graphic design work.
About half of the students were in both classes. My class had two different groups, each working on their own campaign. Half of Professor Larson’s students worked on creating media materials for 1 of the groups in my class and half of the students worked on creating media materials for the other group. Thus, each student in Professor Larson’s class created their own version of the media materials my students requested. The best 3 designs were chosen for each campaign.
Professor Larson is a very talented, amazing professor. Having the opportunity to work with her class elevated the experience for the students in both classes, I believe. I know that it greatly enhanced the quality of the final product in my class. Her feedback in helping the students refine their pitches was instrumental in their success.