Learning to Communicate Effectively

MEM students develop a new understanding of how to present data to diverse audiences, overcome anxiety, read body language and more.

Arthur Childs always thought of himself as a good communicator, but when the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) student heard the program had organized two presentation and communication workshops for students in January, he made sure to sign up.

Daniel MoserThe sessions, led by Northwestern Graduate School Professional and Presentation Skills Director Daniel Moser, allowed Childs and the approximately 20 other student participants to learn how to read non-verbal body language, communicate data effectively with PowerPoint, techniques for overcoming anxiety, internalizing storytelling structures and more.

"Because I've never spent a lot of time directly working on my communication skills, I actually found myself feeling nervous as I really didn't know what to expect," Childs said. "Dan did a very good job of making the students feel comfortable but also worked to get us involved."

This was the fourth straight year Moser led the workshops. He explained that since MEM students often come from either a technical or analytical background, they frequently are able to benefit from communication training that helps them better comprehend the skills needed to present data to diverse audiences and manage others. He added that the students were up for the challenge.

"I'm always impressed by the MEM graduate participants," Moser said. "They are exceedingly smart, generous of spirit, and intellectually curious."

While many of the topics Moser discussed were geared toward MEM students, he also offered some general communication tips that anyone could benefit from, including:

  • Smile. Be upbeat and act like you want to be there.
  • Know the content sophistication of your audience and understand the occasion for which you are asked to speak.
  • Structure your message, know your stuff, and speak conversationally.
  • Take the attention off yourself and be other-centered.

"I'll be able to take these newly acquired skills with me to networking events, use on interviews and in work presentations," Childs said. "MEM students and all leaders of tomorrow need to be able to communicate effectively to succeed. It doesn't matter what knowledge you have if you can't effectively share it with others."

While Childs sees the long-term advantage of this type of training, he also confessed that he signed up for the workshops with a short-term goal in mind.

"I am actually officiating my friend's wedding at the end of the month, so I went through a trial run during the second day in front of the other students and got feedback from everyone in the room," Childs said. "I was more nervous than I should have been, but getting honest opinions from unbiased sources who are all working on their presentation skills was pure gold.  

"I still have a lot more work to do on that in the next few weeks!"