I’m a member of The Economic Club of Washington, DC serving on its Board of Directors and the Education Committee.
A few years ago, the Education Committee created a mentorship program, “Scholars to Leaders,” engaging Economic Club members in guiding scholarship recipients through their college years and helping them transition into the workforce. Mentoring students, mostly first-generation college-bound, is one of the most rewarding things I have done. Some of the students I’ve worked with have been homeless. All work at least one job during the academic year and often two over the summer. Their needs are wide ranging, from how to manage their time to how to deal with a challenging roommate to deciding on a major.
The Economic Club partners with Urban Alliance to provide up to 28 students each summer with jobs and workforce training. As part of the Urban Alliance experience, students must present to a panel an overview of their summer jobs. Students must create a clear, succinct, visually compelling and engaging PowerPoint presentation and address Economic Club judges, plus the other students.
Each employer in the joint Economic Club/Urban Alliance summer jobs program commits to day-to-day guidance for the student over a six-week period. The student is assigned a mentor who helps him/her succeed in that specific work environment, plus prepare for this speaking challenge. Often the guidance offered to young students is similar to what we share with colleagues who are preparing to present to current or prospective clients. This includes:
- Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare. Instead, take the time necessary to think through your presentation and to organize your thoughts.
- This is about storytelling. Develop a clear narrative designed to help the listener gain insights and understanding.
- If using a PowerPoint, make it visually appealing, not cluttered, less text and more graphics.
- Keep your presentation as short and simple as possible.
- Speak clearly and don’t read the bullets on each slide. If you have the opportunity to do a soundcheck or to look over the room, lectern or stage prior to your presentation, do so.
- Ensure the audience can hear you and see your slides.
- Eliminate wasted words from your vocabulary, such as “you know,” “like,” and “stuff like that.”
- Make eye contact with people in the audience.
- Don’t shuffle or weave while speaking. Avoid stepping back, away from your audience, unless you’re intentionally doing so for effect.
- Don’t wear clothing or jewelry that will distract the listener.
- Watch your audience's’ body language and facial expressions so you can see if they’re following you and are engaged. Adjust your presentation based on perceived response. It may mean speaking more slowly or getting to the Q&A session sooner.
- Listen carefully to the questions asked after your presentation. If you don’t understand the question, ask the individual to further explain what it is he/she is asking. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and ask the questioner if you can get back to him/her later with an answer once you’ve studied the issue further.
- Practice, practice, practice. it can be helpful to do so in front of a mirror.
Judges at this year’s Public Speaking Challenge heard from students who worked at a variety of employers in the region such as Accenture, Martha’s Table, Marriott, Children’s National Medical Center and Washington Performing Arts. Nerves were strained and for some students this was their first time speaking before an audience. Most conveyed personal lessons learned, which were inspiring.
Today’s student is tomorrow’s employee. Consider mentoring those who could benefit from your expertise. It’s rewarding for you, plus invaluable for them.