Friday, May 18, 2012

Fabulous undergradaute runners-up for commencement

Einar Barr spoke beautifully on Saturday at Kogod's commencement. She touched on "personal journeys"--an apt metaphor whether one came from the mid-Atlantic or, in her case, from Israel. As befits a business school speaker, she played on multiple meanings of the words "investment," "assets" and "debt"--as in "debts of gratitude."

Looking back we know that the judges gnashed their teeth plenty while making their selection among the other finalists, Dylan Vogt, Jessica Noonan and Samantha (Sam) Dina.

Dylan Vogt’s thoughtful proposed speech used the metaphor of coffee to explore his time at Kogod. And this coffee is no Starbucks Caramel Macchiato with two pumps of artificial vanilla and whipped cream topping but an honest, pure and utterly delicious cup of java that he tasted while in Guatemala. 

The barista was in fact the coffee farmer himself who said,

"While other coffee growers grow just coffee, I grow coffee, oranges, mangos, bananas, and vanilla, [with the]magnificent flavor resulting from the diversity of my fields.”

A similar diversity is what makes Kogod so successful, Dylan said, concluding,

"I look forward to seeing the success that awaits all of you, the positive influence that you will pass to those around you, and, similar to Fernando’s coffee, the magnificent flavor that you will bring to the future of business."

 *   *

Jess Noonan’s
 proposed charming speech reassured any nervous new grads that what’s coming next is in fact familiar. For example, the lessons of “being nice” from grade school have become “play to each other’s strengths” when working in a team: 

“In my first finance class I was intimidated and amazed when the finance majors of my group were able to crunch numbers at lightning speed, but I was able to pull my weight by amazing them with a beautiful presentation."
She also praised the well-roundedness of the Kogod degree: 

“Kogod finance majors can market to their clients and Kogod Marketing majors understand Excel. These skills will drive our competitive edge and set us apart from other recent graduates.”

*  *

The theme of Samantha Dina’s speech was that you can imagine yourself into the future. It all started when she and her fellow graduates were prospective students: 

“You may have imagined yourself as the fraternity president playing football on the quad with his fellow brothers, the super-stylish barista at the Dav who was best friends with all of her coworkers, or the kid in the suit with briefcase in hand, talking on his Blackberry in a tone that made you think he singlehandedly was running the New York Stock Exchange. "
With that vision in hand, Sam says, “…you [took] any necessary steps to make that vision become a reality....

“So you joined a club, you got an amazing internship, you rushed a fraternity …or in true American University style, you did all the above. You started forming relationships …These people became your family and were just as dedicated to your dream as you were..
* *

As Kogod's speech coach, it was a pleasure and privilege for me to work with all of these talented finalists. Best of luck to each of you in your future lives as business communicators!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Runners-Up for Kogod Commencement Impress Judges

As many of you already know, Julie Jones addressed the graduate students and Einar Barr the undergrads this past Saturday, May 12, at Kogod's commencement. Their thoughtful and heart-felt addresses in Bender moved the audience of parents, friends, deans, faculty, staff, and fellow graduates.

The runners-up were also wonderful, however, so much so that the
 committee--composed of Kogod staff and faculty--struggled to choose among the impressive contenders. (What a great problem to have!)

This is because each runner-up produced a well-crafted speech with a moving and original theme. Many had funny lines and references to their time at Kogod that would have resonated with all the students.

Since BetterBizComm is always on the look-out for great examples of communications, we wanted to spread the joy and share these speeches here.

First up: the graduate runner-ups, Amanda Cardinale and Ari Goldmann.

Amanda Cardinale notes of her fellow graduates, 

"We’ve learned how to say things like ZOPA, MAPE, LIFO, FIFO, and WACC. We know not only what these mean or how to apply them; we can even say them while keeping a straight face."
Charm aside, Amanda's speech tackles a big theme: that of being ready to ride the currents of the job market, and indeed of life, wherever they might take you. She says,

"We can’t spend our lives working toward one job title, or planning for success in one industry. And why is that? Well, remember when scoring a job at Bear Sterns was a big deal? Or when the best career for a foodie was at Gourmet magazine? Or when you actually went into a Blockbuster to rent a video?
"Shifts in the economy might change our priorities. Changes in business models might make our dream jobs disappear. Innovations in technology could dramatically alter our status quo.


Ari Goldmann's speech (link takes you to the video) also takes on an important theme, of the necessity of keeping the triple bottom line--"a strategic business concern for people, planet, and profit"--in the forefront of one's mind.

He writes,

"This affects all of you, whether you’re a financier, a consultant, or a project manager...When you leave here today, consider how we, emissaries of a new breed of MBA, embody this triple bottom line. We must evaluate people, planet, and profit in everything we do...."
"The Kogod community has empowered us, and I urge you not to take that for granted. We have been empowered to make a better life for ourselves, our families, our communities, our workplaces, and the world around." 


Check back soon for the fabulous undergraduates!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Multiple Cites Don't Make a Right

My psychology paper was finished. The data was supported and the conclusions were valid, yet my paper remained woefully incomplete. I still hadn’t tackled an antiquated requirement of modern education– I hadn’t formatted my sources.

So yet again I ended up spending hours of what could have productive editing time on Purdue’s website, looking again at where those stupid parentheses go in APA format, and where exactly the italics segment ended. (I must not have done it right even then, since I got points taken off later for inappropriately italicizing the commas.)

Maybe right now you're thinking of citation machines. Well, they've never served me much better. The act of putting each piece of “vital” information in its specified box is almost as bad as simply following the citation procedures online.

Writing professor Kurt Schick reflects my frustration in his impassioned Chronicle of Higher Education essay titled “Citation Obsession? Get Over It!” Schick argues that students’ writing should not be judged based upon their ability to flawlessly place periods and italics. The prose, content, and style of their work should be the most essential facets of evaluation, yet more often than not, these elements somehow takes a back seat to how well students can format the copyright information of the materials they used for research.

Half of my Psychology labs were wasted on exactly how to write a paper in APA style. My exam even had a section in which we were asked to recite the exact format for a journal citation. Major portions of as much of a third of my essay grades are based on citations in classes ranging from Understanding Music to Business 1.0.

Writing these essays require tremendous investments of time and intellect, yet worrying about the punctuation of copyright information is in no way intellectual or useful. I have no quarrel with acknowledging my sources or even with citations in general; I just wonder why my life and the lives of most other college students have come to revolve around formatting, instead of insight.

--Swan (guest blogger & undergrad Kogod student)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perry Lives Every Public Speaker's Nightmare

Rick Perry’s debate gaffe last night is every public speaker’s nightmare: what do you do when what you want to say flies out of your head faster than the post-Halloween candy stash disappears?

I tell my students that at times of panic, to pause, breathe, and ask yourself “What am I trying to communicate with this audience?”

The word “communicate,” with its connotations of civility and collaboration, always calms me down. So, after a pause which always seems longer to me than it does to the audience, what comes out of my mouth is, “I guess what I’m trying to communicate is such-and-such…” I find my brain perks up and the words come tumbling out.

If Perry had followed my approach, he might have been able to say, “Well, the third agency will come to me in a moment. The bigger point I’m trying to communicate here is that we need to eliminate wasteful government agencies.”

That wouldn’t have been a total save, but it would have kept the debate moving forward. Memory experts tell us that thinking about something else is the way to remember something, not staying frozen on the missing thought, especially while millions of Americans are watching with varying degrees of empathetic discomfort, hostile delight, or some combination of both.

One thing Perry did right was to forthrightly acknowledge his mistake: “Good thing I had my boots on, because I stepped in something deep just then,” he said, according to the New York Times.

It’s cold comfort for Rick Perry, but anxious public speakers should also keep in mind that this latest slip-up comes on top of a series of misstatements and foot-in-mouth moments.

Ultimately it’s the cumulative effect of poor speaking abilities that is turning off potential Perry supporters—not this one lone gaffe.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Be Careful What You Market For

When two Domino workers filmed a prank video at work, nobody was laughing. Less so themselves, when they ended up unemployed and facing felony charges for distribution of prohibited foods.

In the video (broadcast on the Today Show back in 2009), the two employees are in the kitchen of a Domino's restaurant, preparing food. One of them puts cheese up his nose and sneezes on a meal. Their antics go on as they get more creative with illegal kitchen practices and scatological humor.

The pair then posted the video on YouTube. Soon after, the blogosphere caught on and posts of the video cropped up like garden weeds on a rage. Two blog readers even sleuthed out the location of the Domino's restaurant of honor (North Carolina). 

Like rapidfire, the video attracted thousands of viewers, and Domino rushed to palliate the publicity disaster that inevitably ensued. News of the video spread to Twitter, and though the culprits tried to take down the video from YouTube, the video-sharing community persevered valorously: the video was reposted by other users.

This, and Rebecca Black (more than 84 million viewers and escalating), are one of many examples of viral going very big and very bad.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Simple Kind of Magic

When Rita Skeeter coerced Harry Potter into a broom closet and forced him to spill his wizarding guts, little did she know that Livescribe’s Smartpen could have given her magic quill a serious run for her Gallions.

If you’re more of a Lord of the Rings devotee, I’m talking about the magic quill that Rita Skeeter dictated into. With a life of its own, the ebullient quill would absorb what the interviewees said and pour out fully fledged sentences.

In the real world, Livescribe created the SmartPen. This regular-looking pen comes with special paper. At the bottom of the paper, tap the word ‘Record’ with the pen’s tip. Next, write and speak at the same time. Solving a math problem? Utter your thinking process. Interviewing an AUSG candidate? Take brief notes and let her talk all she wants. Finally, tap the stop symbol at the bottom of the paper.

The SmartPen allows you to tap onto any word you’ve written and listen to the playback of what you were saying at the time of writing that word. What’s more, with its embedded camera, it lets you upload the notes and recordings onto your computer. On your screen, click on whatever note you want to revive, and watch as it gets animated before you. Magic.

The SmartPen is your memory storage outside your brain. It combines the archaic necessity of penning our thoughts—I’m thinking caves and walls—with the utility of audio tracing. Used right, it’ll help you take less vigorous notes, that are backed by the storage of exactly what you were thinking, rather than the elaborate coding I find in my notebooks long after I forget my meaning. From my Anthro class:

key distinguishes joking manner not from serious manner
secondary text needs to be framed as not misconceived as the primary text and cause butt offence

I no longer recall what I meant by ‘butt.’

The New York Times tells us, “A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems.” (
Stanford professor, Larry Cuban however points out: “There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines.”

Tablets are novel because they are multi-functional. Being multi-functional is also what makes them forces of distributed focus.

Since the iPad can do things your brain can’t (like access the web), it sometimes feels like your own brain is not doing the doing. But in education, no tricks or artifice should replace a learner’s mental work-out.

There’s also a cognitive distance when we use a not-there keyboard  that somehow the pen in your fingers does not engender. Perhaps our traditional form of note-taking has been hard-wired into us evolutionarily.

So why not keep the $750 per iPad and invest instead in things like the SmartPen? It blends the agility of new, clever gadgets with the promise of old habits.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Generation BM (as in, Business Model)

When Zach Allaun, BSBA '13, and Jorge Espinoza, SOC '11 won the Brigham Young University business model competition, naturally I had to corner Zach and ask him for input about presentation and communication brilliance. Turns out, Zach’s largesse with such input is considerable, and you can now hear the many useful things he has to say at and

For the BYU competition, contestants had to outline  the concepts and metrics that lead them to an innovative product. For Zach and Jorge, this product is Gamegnat, a gaming site that will—with the blessing of the $15000 award—expedite and sharpen the way gamers look for gaming reviews.

In the preliminary round of the competition, Zach and Jorge sent in a video presentation. In the final round, however, they presented live before Brigham students and a panel of judges. That comparison helped them see what’s ‘special’ about presenting before a live audience of 500. ‘We wanted to do something different. It’s not trying to get as much information in ten minutes. In a video, people can go back, they can rewind to better understand the material. In a live presentation, there’s no rewinding.’

Indeed, examing that difference between the cryogenically frozen (video, or text) and the organic (live) may help you understand the role of your presentation. What are the dynamics of a real spatial and temporal relationship, between speaker and audience, that you can use to your advantage?

That’s how the pair came up with the winning presentation: one that followed a narrative arc of sorts, that told the story like a story, with chronological ‘plot’ development and a lead-up to a ‘morale.’ And Prezi helped them narrate.

‘Prezi…set us apart. Because we used Prezi,  everything [was] animated.’ They used bubbles to represent their various ideas. ‘It was kinda silly and cheesy but we were able to create a very clear "We’re moving on to the next point"…a clear delineation between step 1, step 2, step 3.  Our presentation was completely different.'

Chronology and clarity then. What about characters?

‘Did you bring Jorge and yourself into the story?’ I asked.

‘Yeah, we did,’ Zach said with a smile. ‘Our presentation had quotes for things we were saying [while brainstorming for the product]. Little things like that.’

Zach and Jorge enriched the story with a personal touch and a strong visual (of themselves as the out-loud thinkers of the process). Rather than saying, ‘This was done,’ they said ‘We did this.’ Just like active verbs (instead of passive) can give a story vigor, so can “characters” sometimes give your presentation a stronger voice.

Would he recommend the narrative-arc presentation? Certainly, ‘if you’re in a competition that’s similar in nature. We identified early on that this competition was gonna be about input rather than output.’

What about Q&A? This is arguably the most difficult thing about comps. Luckily, Zach and Jorge both have debate backgrounds that trained them in rapid-fire speech and responsivity to the unexpected.  ‘This is where we shone above. We were [good] on our feet.’ 

‘The biggest thing is confidence,' he adds, 'even if you’re saying something you’ve never thought of before. Saying “I don’t know” and being confident in not knowing the answer to a question is better than being unconfident.’

By the way, you may want to check out the two books that gave fodder to Zach and Jorge’s business model trope: The Four Steps to the Epiphany, by Steven Blank,  talks about startup success, and The Business Model Generation, by Alexander Osterwalder, lays out the 9 quintessentials building blocks of a business. Zach, indeed, seems to be part of this very Generation. He emailed me the next day with some closing tips for presenters. In true entrpereneurial form:

The presentation that wins in a competition is likely going to be the presentation that stands out from the crowd…The ultimate winner will be the team that the judges remember. A safe and conservative presentation that breaks no boundaries will only give you a shot at beating the other safe and conservative presentations, because there will always be at least one team that tries something different, and that's who people will remember, good or bad.

All else held equal, the guy who spoke too fast and stumbled over his words because he was so excited about what he was saying will beat out the guy who gives a textbook delivery. Textbook deliveries are commonplace in these kinds of competitions. True passion, however, is not.