I remember filling out the form, clicking send, and a day after responding to the confirmation email. I also remember afterwards thinking how absolutely insane I was for having just signed up for what I signed up for. You see, last semester I took part in an 8-week, non-credit seminar through my college through a program called Ideas for the World (I4W).
My feelings of doubt stemmed from the fact that my schedule was already packed to the brim. Adding another two hours to my Tuesdays committed me to 7 hours of back to back lectures, tutorials and seminars with no breaks in between for 8 weeks of the semester. It took all of my willpower to not drop the seminar, and I am really glad that I didn’t.
The seminar that I took was called Speaking Up and its goal was to impart the tools required to master the art of public speaking. Having already started a career where public speaking was a requirement, I felt I was already well on my way to mastering this skill, but I thought that the opportunity to practice would be the most beneficial aspect of this seminar. Much like all of my other posts where my confidence in my skill was quite high, I again came away from this seminar with much more than I expected.
Essentially, the most important thing that I took away from the seminar was a renewed understanding of the symbiotic relationship between speaker and audience. To speak well requires a good audience, and a good audience requires a good speaker. What stands between the speaker and the audience is the presentation, which both the speaker and the audience must engage with in different ways.
I know this seems fairly intuitive, but in my public speaking days I was more concerned with myself as the speaker than I was with the audience. I needed to make sure that I was delivering messages on point, that my voice wasn’t cracking, that my legs weren’t shaking, or that I wasn’t saying “umm” too often. In my mind, a successful presentation meant that the audience stayed, had questions at the end, and didn’t fall asleep. I see now the error of this, because approaching public speaking in this way will never elevate presentations beyond mediocrity. No, a thoughtful consideration of how the audience is interacting with the presentation is required and is the difference between a good speaker and a bad one.
That aside, the seminar itself was not only a good learning experience, but it was also a great atmosphere. There were about 16 people who enrolled in the seminar and it was lead by professor Paul Gooch, a man who I admire deeply. Professor Gooch was actually the president of Victoria College when I first began my U of T journey. I didn’t think that I would have the opportunity to learn from him in such an intimate class setting, but the opportunity presented itself!
My colleagues in the seminar were all really great people as well. I looked forward to learning from them just as much as I looked forward to learning from professor Gooch. The seminar was designed in such a way that it met our needs as a group. We learned about the power of rhetoric, different techniques, etiquette in formal meetings, and we ended with how to debate, all topics we expressed interest in at the beginning. On top of that, they also fed us, and on top of that, participation counted towards my co-curricular record.
Now I know that every college has these opportunities. My experience can’t speak for every college’s programs, but I’m sure that if you have the opportunity and time to involve yourself in something like this, not only will you walk away from it with a nugget of wisdom that you didn’t have before, but you also will have taken a huge step towards career preparation. I know for a fact that the competency and communications skills that I was able to hone and sharpen by participating in this seminar will go a long way towards advancing my career goals.