Month: March 2023

Oh that judge-in-my-head

It happens every single time without exception. Every time I work with a new group, I come out of the workshop knowing something more than I did when I went in. If I’m really present, if I’m really listening, the participants teach me.

So it was at NYU Tandon, with a group of PhD candidates in a variety of STEM fields including mechanical, chemical, and bio engineering.  All extremely smart (you’d have guessed that) and all wanting that magical key that leads to better, more specific communication. Carolyn and I were invited to teach two sessions for Matteo Rini’s class, a semester-long course in Science Communication with a strong focus on written communication. Matteo wanted Exact workshops to give them some pointers for verbal communication and presentation.

Early on, we decided to introduce an exercise called “Sixty Second Rambles”. Very simply, we ask each student to come up, randomly chosen to just talk. About anything. For a minute. We suggest that they don’t plan what they’re going to talk about but just let their mouths open and sound come out. As soon as we started, the “judge-in-my-head” started to yell at me. “There are 25 students in this class, and we only have 2 ½ hours. We’re going to spend a fifth of the workshop on this?”  I thought, I’ve made a tactical error but I’m in it now. I hope I haven’t wasted time here.

They all talked. Many of them surprised themselves. Some thought the minute seemed like an hour and some thought it was too short, but all of them spoke about things they cared about. Most of them spoke with a clarity and passion that was engaging or funny or moving. And here’s the surprise for me. This exercise made the group into a group. These 25 different people became a unified team that was ready to learn together – to help each other navigate a variety of more complex communication exercises. Their professor sent an email after the workshop:

The workshop by Exact Communication was fun and energizing and taught the students the most important skill needed to be a good communicator: empathy for your audience. Every student in STEM should take a workshop like this one!” – Matteo Rini, NYU

My own take-away.  Never listen to the judge in my head. Trust the work and listen to your audience.

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