Saturday, May 5, 2012

Guest Post - Swagata Upreti

Swagata is one of Chris' Spring 2012 Professional Speaking students at Carnegie Mellon. Here she writes about virtual communication.  

The primary urge of human race to remain connected with its peers has time and again inspired it to innovate. Science has provided mankind a window to peep into the other side of the world by bridging the gap between the physical locations. As a result communication has evolved from Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to Zennstrom and Friis’s1 Skype.

Today’s globalized world is witnessing scattered clients and distributed systems. Outsourcing has become the norm for information technology companies. In such a scenario where the parts of a machine are manufactured in one country, assembled in other and maintained in another, virtual communication provides the foundation of businesses. ‘A virtual community is a social network of individuals who interact through specific media, potentially crossing geographical boundaries in order to pursue mutual interest and goals’2. Thus, virtual communication refers to the act of connecting together a virtual community through a virtual medium often called internet. It encompasses a wide array of technologies, concepts and practices that today form a prominent part of our quotidian. Internet telephony, video conferencing, online chatting, VOIP, and texting all form a part of virtual communication. The two most important advantages of virtual communication can be stated as under:

Saves money: Virtual communication aids in saving money spent on travelling, while allowing a group of people located across various continents to collaborate over an issue.

Saves time: This mode of communication saves the time of individual that could have been wasted in airports lobbies or in travel. Moreover, an email with explicit facts and a list of action items is at times more expressive than word of mouth.

Virtual communication is an art. Based on my prior work experience I can list the following key points which are essential for virtual communication:
      1.      Identify the communication medium to be used
      2.      Formulate a clear message
      3.      Understand the time lag of the digital medium.
     4.      Ability to comprehend the language of a message by effective listening.

My stint at Infosys Limited where I led a team across two geographical locations and collaborated with the client situated in a different continent, virtual communication formed a daily part of my routine.  From live meetings that were conducted every morning, to daily status meetings over Skype during the evening, this mode of communication formed the basis of our project’s everyday work. I remember how we sought out team issues with the help of our onsite project manager, based in Charlotte within no time. My team was coached from a person sitting in U.S. about the way we were supposed to handle changes in client’s requirement. I still cherish the moment when I was praised by the client team directly for my efforts in delivering results. Having such compliments from the client directly became possible because I was a part of a meeting that was going on in the States, while I was enjoying my coffee back in India.

It is not just professional arena where virtual communication comes in handy. Belonging to a close knit Indian family, coming to US was a tough decision to make. The apprehension of my mother about not being able to see her only child, i.e. me, was understandable. This is not just my story. This is the story of a lot of students like me that come for higher education from different countries. But the power to make a video call early morning to be able to wish a mother happy birthday, wipes away all the distance related worries. Thank to virtual communication.

The use of Virtual Communication is not limited to just communication as a part of leisure or business. It has for more widespread areas of application. The seven major areas where virtual communication is used are:
      1.      Information Sharing and Knowledge Exchange
      2.      Collaborating and Team Work
      3.      Decision Making/Voting
      4.      Document Sharing
      5.      Project Management
      6.      Scheduling
      7.      E-Training

In a survey conducted by RW3LLC, New York, to find the success of working in a virtual team, just about 2% responded from across the globe that such type of working does not work3. Here the target people were working professionals, 80% of whom said that they were a part of a virtual world with members outside their country. This shows the level of success virtual communication has been able to offer.

Of course it is a well-known fact that the best of the communications is when you see the person you are speaking to face to face. The fact is well supported by a research at Cornell University4. Does this fact really shadow the advantages of virtual communication? I strongly believe that it does not. The basic design of virtual communication itself answers the above question. Just as the primary purpose of a wheelchair is to aid people with disability, similarly virtual communication is primarily designed to make people who are far off, interact.

Considering the wide spectrum of areas where virtual communication finds no parallel such as business, online education, medical research and operations, defense, astronomy, and personal chats, virtual communication can be deemed as one of the most important inventions that mankind has ever made.


Guest Post - Hayden Tang

Hayden is one of Chris' Spring 2012 Professional Speaking students at Carnegie Mellon. Here he writes about Presentations.

“Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.” This quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh reflects on the never-ending challenge to perfect communication in a day and age where stimulation is so common. Think of the colorful city sceneries, the graphic and high definition TVs, the slick designs of, the organized yet efficient Google Mail – you get the point. We have been incorporating more sources of information in our daily lives – from newspapers to TVs & computers. Studies show that information usage is rising and data usage on mobile phones is now the norm [1]. In such day and age, how do we, as presenters, compete with such artificial stimulation? How do we let our voices, our PowerPoint decks, and our presence leave a lasting impact in a hyper connected digital world?

When I think about these issues – I think to myself, what can we offer that a computer screen, a television, a radio or the www cannot? The first thing that comes to mind is Passion.

Passion. Passion is the lifeblood of emotion. Passion is the act of believing, conveying raw emotion through voice and presence. Various sources, ranging from David V. Lorenzo’s book on career intensity [2] to Seahawk Associate’s articles [3] to blog posts from Presentation Zen [4] all attest that passion is integral to the success of a presentation and communication. Passion wakes audiences; passion shows the confidence and the ability to convey the intangible – emotion. It adds veracity to and affirmation to presentations. Passion, however, can’t be faked [4], the best presenters aren’t actors, they are everyday businessmen, designers, and researchers who can convey sincerity through warm connections with the audience.

Throughout my college experience at Carnegie Mellon University – one of the best presenters that I’ve ever met, and also one of my closest friends, was someone with overflowing passion.  Academically, Suraj is a decision science major who will be working for IBM Consulting in New York.  But that’s not who he really was. At the core, Suraj was Mayur Sasa President, BIB MC, Alpha Kappa Psi VP Pledging, comedian, mentor, and fraternity brother. Whenever he spoke, he commanded such passion that everyone would listen, his voice was booming, clear, and sincere. He commanded such respect in front of audiences that whenever I thought of presentations, I thought of Suraj. Most of all, he was an individual who believed so sincerely in ideals and himself that passion was inherit in his personality. Turns out – the biggest thing I learned from Suraj was:

“Praise can be your most valuable asset if you don’t direct it at yourself”

Given his accomplishments, his university awards, leadership and academic success, Suraj was by far one of the most humble individuals I’ve ever met. Point is – Passion can be conveyed by the most humble of people.  You can watch Suraj speak here [5].

In my own life – whenever presenting, I have always found passion and the ability to motivate and touch others intrinsically, one of the most valuable assets in life. I’m sure Suraj can attest to this statement. Thus, in a day and age where we compete against computers, TVs, cellphones for the attention of our audience, it is essential to use what they cannot offer – passion, emotion, conviction.

[2] “Career Intensity: Business Strategy for Workplace Warriors and Entrepreneurs”
[3] Bring Passion to Presentations
[4] The Power of Passion
[5] BIB 4 MC – Suraj Baxi

Guest Post - Elizabeth Schuelke

Elizabeth is one of Chris' Spring 2012 Professional Speaking students at Carnegie Mellon. Here she writes about Presentations.

Prompt: Every class is at least part presentation.  What are the good and bad things you’ve noticed about the classes you’ve been in.  What would you do differently?

As with any presentation, class should be a conversation; a forum for the production of ideas and transmission of knowledge. Carnegie Mellon professors rank among the most accomplished in their fields, and many of them excel in leading our young minds into their field of expertise. The best teachers I have had so far at Heinz really have embraced the conversational and interaction aspects of teaching. They ask many questions, seek active input and rely on peer to peer insight to fuel the class discussion. The classes I have enjoyed the most involve me to be fully engaged and result in a conversation between my fellow students, myself and the professor. It is not a time where I am being talked to but rather an evolving educational space where the professor has an agenda he/she is wishing to teach but is also always changing as students bring their input and insights to the table.

Despite the many great successes of Heinz faculty, some professors seem to experience a hurdle presenting their knowledge and actual absorption by students. It’s the old adage “they are too smart.” Unable to relate to students first discovering a particular subject, these professors end up talking to a classroom of unresponsive participants who spend half the time lost or inattentive. Students, I have noticed, don’t gain as much from the class and the subject feels as though it falls flat.

The greatest improvement on this could be greater interaction. I have noticed that most professors who fall prey to an unresponsive audience rely far too heavily on power point. The concepts taught here at Heinz are complex and dynamic. Professors that engage visual and verbal communication, asking questions, drawing on a whiteboard and involving student response end up with active students who garner a wealth of knowledge from the class. Explaining dynamic models through a snapshot on a slide, however, often results in a disconnect between what the presenter is attempting to convey and what the student is actually absorbing. I would highly recommend professors use power point as a supplement at most. Show an idea or brief caption but then use whiteboards and discussion to convey the actual message. 

Guest Post - Shubhro Roy

Shubhro is one of Chris' Spring 2012 Professional Speaking students at Carnegie Mellon. Here he writes about meetings.

The Meat of Meetings

Meetings get a very bad rap in business because very little gets achieved in them.[1] Then again 65% of the time in a work week involves meetings of some, kind be it a stand-up SCRUM meeting for 5 minutes or a formal product launch meeting for half an hour. The key is not to run away from them but, as a meeting organizer , identify how to make them more productive. As we can see from the above Dilbert comic , the key is actually to have few meetings which are more effective. Then the first question that needs answering is "Do we need to meet?" . Human beings are social animals and hence we prefer face-to-face interaction. But many a times a lot can be achieve using a memo or an email with just a follow-up call to ensure that the message was conveyed properly and to clarify any doubts. One should hold a meeting only when absolutely necessary. That brings us to the first point of our PCF model to successful meeting, that is "Purpose".

Without purpose a meeting is just sharing of unrelated emotional statements about things that bother us. Purpose is what we define when we answer the question "Do we need a meeting?". For a meeting to be successful it needs to have a well defined purpose regarding what needs to be achieved in the meeting. This also provides a way to quantify the success of the meeting. Marissa Mayer, Google's vice-president of search product, says that she always has a strategic mandate and strict direction for all her meetings , even the 5 minute ones.1 Purpose is what guides the meeting Agenda.

Agenda is a tool that make participants of a meeting think of what they want to achieve in the meeting.

It is also the first form of formal communication with the participants of the meeting. Hence an agenda needs to be crisp and clear. It should not be more than a page long and it should highlight the purpose of the meeting as well as the attending members, time and place of the meeting and any other important points relevant to the meeting.

Participants form the most important part of a meeting and hence they should be selected carefully. A meeting with more than 10 participants is rarely productive. Hence we must identify people who bring value to the meeting. We must also identify people who are enthusiastic and provide a momentum to the meeting as show in the adjoining diagram. On the other hand we must avoid inviting people who bring the energy of the group down.

This involves certain points which are applicable to any kind of presentations. One must begin the presentation with an introduction of all the members in the meeting. This should be followed by stating the point and purpose of the meet. It is also important for the convener of the meeting to be energetic and involved in the discussion. Visual aids are often helpful in making the meeting interesting.    


One must ensure participation of all members in a meeting. A meeting with only a few involved members and the rest passive, is unproductive and a wastage of time for most. Hence as a conductor of the meeting, one must ask questions to get passive participants to talk and put forth their ideas. After all, the purpose of a meeting is to exchange ideas to modify group knowledge.

Last but not the least , it is extremely essential to leave aside 10 minutes at the end to summarize the proceedings of the meeting. During this time action items assigned to people during discussion phase  can be reviewed. Key items noted by the scribe can be mentioned and most importantly follow-up action needs to be defined which may be in the form of a follow-up meeting, an email with the minutes of the meeting, an action chart with deadlines for action items etc. This phase defines the concrete results of the meeting.[2]

Minutes of meetings 
The last phase of a meeting that occurs after the conclusion of the meeting is the follow up phase. This ensures that the outcomes of the meeting are not foregone conclusions. The most important tool to avoid this is minutes-of-the-meeting that was taken down by the assigned scribe for the meeting. This should be sent out to all attendees of the meeting in order to remind them of the major points of discussion of the meeting as well as important conclusions/decisions.

Action Items 
Finally Action-items taken by various members of the meeting needs to be followed up so as to ensure that they are completed by the set deadline. A meeting without further action is just a meeting for the sake of meeting.

Guest Post - Rajesh Ravikumar

Rajesh is one of Chris' Spring 2012 Professional Speaking students at Carnegie Mellon. Here he writes about meetings.

Meetings have been an essential part of the human history whether it has been for social, business, political or any other purposes. We like to discuss and talk to disagree, or come to general agreement or decision. Professional organizations are becoming decentralized and exploring the power of putting together diverse skill sets through cross-functional teams. People who have never met before are in situations where they have to make major decisions quickly. As a result the average time for meetings of 5.7 years is expected to increase dramatically going forth. With these circumstances in place, how can one manage a meeting efficiently and come to a decision with time and personnel hurdles. As a team works together for a certain period of time, they start to gel and understand the dynamics of the team, but when time is not abundant how can you understand the same dynamics?

Anthony Jay published a paper in Harvard Business Review called “How to Run A Meeting,” in 1976 where he highlights methods to structure a meeting and how the meeting chairman should facilitate meetings. A conversation between every participant is essential to address the purpose but at the same time conversation does not have boundaries, which makes it really easy to go off topic. Drift from the subject is the number one reason for what people do not want in a meeting. To solve this problem, the meeting chairman must prepare an agenda and present to the participants prior to the meeting so that they can come prepared and as a result this will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the meeting. In receiving an agenda before the meeting, one will feel the sense of exclusivity and the invitation will increase their commitment level. The agenda provides the scope, commitment, structure and order – all essential components for a successful meeting.

To maintain your credibility as a meeting chair, it is important that you are prepared, understand the different aspects of the problem and are in site before the meeting starts. Having some time for yourself will help you relax, review the agenda and allow you to greet people and convey the importance of their participation. Simple duties from the start of the gathering of the participant can really set a good tone for the rest of the meeting.

The meeting chairman should be the equivalent to jazz conductor. While following the music script, the conductor allows the musicians to improvise and add their own licks but in the context of the chord and chord progression to produce a unique but unified performance. The meeting chairman should be able to initiate people to let their ideas flow in an organized manner and within the objective’s boundaries. The meeting chairman has responsibilities to effectively manage the subject and the people in the meeting. When dealing with the people he or she needs to give equal weight to each idea, dissolve any friction, clarify ideas to keep everyone on the same page, align incentives, and ultimately maintain a work-friendly environment. To keep the meeting in parallel to the subject in hand, the meeting chairman needs to stick to the agenda, explain the current scenario of the matter, follow the schedule and summarize the whole discussion.

In my opinion, managing people is more difficult because there are more variation and by keeping the people under control it will naturally fuel the discussion of the main subject. Different personalities, the person’s mood that day, professional rivalry, seniority in the organization, personal conflicts and many other variables can really hinder the environment of a meeting. This is where the team chairman needs to choose the participants wisely so that he or she can avoid most or all of the obstacles listed above. Sometimes having two separate meeting with two different groups to avoid unnecessary conflicts maybe a better idea. Selecting a good time to allocate the meeting is also critical because people do not tend to be at a 100% all day long. Putting into the consideration that anything more than 2 hour window for a meeting will be strenuous to the mind; research has shown that the best times are between 10 am -12 am and 2 pm – 4 pm.

Summarizing the meeting and defining the next steps are essential to a meeting or otherwise it is just a conversation. Listing the main points discussed and the general consensus attached to each issue will put everyone on the same page to set the foundation for the next meeting. When the next meeting is scheduled, the meeting chairman must inform the team what the next steps to be taken and what are the milestones which need to be reached by then. Once this is out on the table, he or she will have to assign the tasks to each one, but preferably if the participants volunteer to it will take a lot of burden of the chairman. To initiate such an action, the chairman should announce what he or she will be doing and explain to the team how the target will be achieved. This can cause a ‘jump in the bandwagon’ effect and people will subsequently volunteer to do a particular task because with a certain level of commitment they will feel the need to contribute to the greater cause. Once all the required tasks have been assigned and the meeting has been dismissed, the chairman must follow up with the minutes of the meeting so that members can use it to complete their assignment.

Recently, my group for Biotechnology: Structure and Strategy class had our first meeting to come up with an outline for our ‘drug discovery project.’ It was an interesting group with a mixture of MBA students and science students. There weren’t any directions or guidelines given by the professor so the nature of the project gave us a lot of freedom but also ambiguity. Six of us walked in without knowing what to expect, had no agenda and it was the first time we even introduced ourselves in person. With a vague goal of creating an outline, the discussion swayed in all direction until a point where we did not know what and why we were talking about what we were talking about. The first hour was utter chaos and not one thing was accomplished for the project. We started talking about venture capitalist to Alzheimer Disease screening methods to reimbursement and basically covered every aspect of the healthcare industry! The scientists, including myself, were arguing how we should talk about the technology and explore the business opportunities while the MBA kids were all about how to make money from the drug discovery process. But, as the second hour approached a clear meeting leader of the team emerged and he started taking initiative to writing down the important points on the white board and we were able to visualize the process and the components of drug discovery. At this point one of the really volatile MBA student had left to class to this made all our lives easier to have a cohesive discussion.  The meeting leader mainly asked us probing questions to explore into our interests and was very patient in clarifying any doubts the team had. As the hour progressed, through everyone’s contribution we were able to construct a solid outline. This made the team members and myself proud of our accomplishment and we started to volunteer on what each one of us wanted to work on. After the initial turbulence we were able to define the purpose and analyze the issues we needed to investigate to achieve the target goal. By a simple initiative approach taken by one of the members, all six or rather five were able to put out minds together and align our incentives.

Running a good and efficient meeting will be a useful skill going forth in the professional world. People are really busy and making the most of their time by being a servant to their opinion and expertise is critical. Being a meeting chairman is not a one-dimensional skill, but rather an integration of different skills. The main skills in my opinion for this function are initiation, preparation, listening, leadership, followership, coordination and focus. I believe a balance of all theses skills will help anyone to become a successful meeting chairman, who can conduct great and effective meetings.

 “How to Run A Meeting,” by Anthony Jay -

“How to Run A Meeting,” by Brett and Kate McKay -

Guest Post - Justine Patrick

Justine is one of Chris' Spring 2012 Professional Speaking students at Carnegie Mellon. Here she writes about job interviews.

What we have is a failure to communicate:  Job Process Step 1

The interview.  The gatekeeper to the world of potential employment and necessary threshold from the purgatory of writing endless applications, cover letters and resume submissions.  Why is that for many job seekers hours and money are spent on courses, career forums and literature that reiterate ways to find the Holy Grail response for this 10 to 30 minute session?  

Silly Interview, a Monty Python sketch depicts an awkward and off footed job seekers attempt to woo his recruiter.  A comedic exchange ensues but what is most obvious is that neither the recruiter nor, the applicant successfully communicates with each other where the applicant does not get the job. According to Random House Dictionary, the word interview refers to a “formal meeting where one person questions or evaluates another ”[1].  The evaluation process is realized by the applicant’s capacity to respond adequately in the perspective of the potential employer.   By definition this tactic fails to fully accomplish the true mission or purpose of the recruiting interview process. 
As unrealistic as thinking 20 questions can evaluate the potential of a mate, pure rote responses offer recruiters little insight into the capabilities of the candidate.  How often does speed dating really work? True, interviews are a common strategy and are not going anywhere quickly.  It is however well within the power of the interviewee to dictate the quality of the evaluation.  Which lead to this burning question: why does the interview have to feel like an awkward first date?

Solution: the interview should be conducted as a conversation.   When two people engage in a dialogue, ideas and experiences are shared.  Both speakers have the opportunity to express and articulate viewpoints.  Conversations allow the interviewee to create a lasting impression on the recruiter and vice versa.  Both companies and prospective hires want to find the best match for their improving their bottom lines, whether experiential or fiscal.  Candidates that are remembered (at least positively) tend to move up in the job pool.  In the instances where the applicant is not selected, recruiters sometimes go beyond their “normal duties” to suggest them for other positions within the company.  A connection has the potential to go further than the simple 20-question evaluation simply because the interviewee, is for that brief time, connected to the recruiter.  As the saying goes, great relationships often begin with great conversations and who does not hope to have that in their work environment.   A 10-minute interview is the perfect place to start one.  Conversation is key!  END

[1] Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2012. (

Guest Post - Evan Kamau

Evan is one of Chris' Spring 2012 Professional Speaking students at Carnegie Mellon. Here he writes about job interviews.

Am I ready for the job interview? This was the first question in my mind when I got the interview invitation for my dream job. I knew it was important to prepare adequately. That meant practicing interview questions and answers, dressing in appropriate interview attire and after the interview, sending thank you letters to my interviewers. Having taken Chris Labash’s communication classes, I knew that during the interview, the first impression I made on my potential employer was the most important one.

An important question to answer is what exactly makes a successful interview process and experience? I will answer this question based on four dimensions: What the interviewer looks for in a candidate, the five important questions that the candidate needs to answer before the interview, important steps to a successful job interview, and finally an effective way of mentioning your story to the interviewer.

What the interviewer looks for in a candidate?
Number one thing every employer looks for in a candidate is FIT and whether the candidate is a pleasant person. The employer asks himself or herself the question, can I see myself working with this person? This means that it is important that the employer likes you. The candidate must remember that making a mistake in hiring you costs the employer three times the cost of hiring you. The next important consideration that the interviewer makes is the VALUE that you as a candidate is bringing to the organization. The other important qualities that the employer evaluates can be summarized as: 

Tech savvy, the ability to comprehend and utilize the latest trends in technology and innovations.
Enthusiasm for the field, role and responsibilities for the job you are interviewing for.
Match expectations between you as the candidate and the employer job requirements.
Personality characteristics of the candidates.
Qualifications and potential to handle the requirements for the job.
Team player skills demonstrated from the candidate’s prior experiences.
The ability to adapt to the corporate culture and learn new things easily.
Effective Communication skills on the job.
The ability to deal with uncertainty.
Initiative when handling new projects and new opportunities.

What are the five important questions that the candidate needs to answer before the interview?
Why are you here?  The interviewer wants to know whether you really like the company or you are here for one of the 100 interviews you have been attending.
What kind of person are you? The interviewer is interested in the unique characteristics in you, such as creativity, ethics, and flexibility.
What can you do for us? Project the VALUE and the unique skills you are bringing to the company.
What makes your different? You should bring out your unique traits that distinguish you from the other interviewees.
Can we afford you? The interviewer is interested in knowing your salary expectations and whether the company can afford that salary.

What are the important steps to a successful job interview? 
Research the company’s basic facts, culture and current stories not directly visible in the media. You can use resources such as, past employees, etc.
Carry multiple copies of your resume, keep the resume one page, have a precise story for introduction, be honest to not put anything on your resume that is not true
Ensure you Get a good night’s sleep
List out the stories you want to talk about and the questions you want to ask
Don’t be late for the interview.
Be polite during the interview.
Prepare for the Introduction and remember that the last sentence is as important as the first one
Make the interview a conversation by asking the right questions. Don’t wait till the end to ask the questions. You can capitalize on the inevitable pauses of the interviewer to ask questions or you can tag the questions at the end of your sentence.
It is important to use stories to bring your asset points to the front.
Do not forget to discuss the next steps after the interview.
Post Mortem – analyze what you did right and what you can do better.
Remember to send a thank you note – you can use this to send additional information that will help you give them another good story

Is there an effective way of mentioning your story to the interviewer?
The most effective way to tell a good story to your interviewer is by use of the STAR technique.

Situation –Explain with clarity what the situation was,
Tasks – Explain what the task was
Approach –enumerate how you went about solving the challenge
Results- Most importantly do not forget to mention what the results were