Over the next few weeks we are going to be sharing a series of blogs from the winners and runners up at the National Societies and Volunteering Awards 2023. This series is giving a platform for the students themselves to share more about what they have achieved in 2023, their motivations, and the lessons they learned. First up, the runners up for the Development Award: Strathclyde Speakers at the University of Strathclyde.
It is an incredibly rewarding experience helping others to develop their professional skills, equipping them with the vital attributes needed to thrive in their future careers. It has therefore been an immense honour to place runner up for the National Student and Volunteering Awards in The Development Award category for the creation of our professional public speaking programme.
I am a passionate advocate for professional development and encouraging students to enhance and complement their academic knowledge with practical skills such as networking, negotiating and navigating the world of work. Fundamental to each of these is confident communication and this is what my work with Strathclyde Speakers has involved over the past three years.
I am currently completing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde and having been through both an undergraduate and a masters degree, I know that essential skills such as public speaking are not explicitly taught as part of most programmes. The only time that students gain exposure to this skill is when presenting as part of their course work and here, most of the focus is on the content rather than the delivery.
I first got involved with Strathclyde Speakers in 2020 after being introduced to the society by a colleague. I enjoyed the sense of community that was derived from a shared passion for self-improvement. It was also fantastic to see even those who were at the beginning of their undergraduate degree, reflecting on their own strengths and weaknesses and using their time at Strathclyde to attain the skills that would allow them to become exceptional graduates.
We started to run a number of workshops with an emphasis on the delivery of high quality presentations and found them to be in high demand. Our focus was usually on helping students to succeed in their end-of-year presentations which was excellent in allowing them to achieve that short-term goal but we wanted to be doing more to provide them with the skills to succeed beyond their degree.
When I became president of Strathclyde Speakers in 2021, I started to reach out to various departments throughout the university and in true PhD style, I conducted research into what services were available to students looking to become more competent public speakers. I contacted our Career’s Service who agreed that there was a clear gap in the elective courses offered out with degree programmes and that there was a demand for a dedicated public speaking programme.
Following these conversations we were determined to generate a change and with the help of an award-winning public speaking coach we designed a comprehensive programme that students from all faculties and year groups could participate in.
In 2022, we opened applications and received an overwhelming response from the Strathclyde community and in October, we launched the programme with our first session. We wanted to be accessible to a wide audience of students and so took great care to ensure that we included participants from a variety of degree programmes and those with a range of existing public speaking abilities. We were also highly conscious of creating an inclusive culture where students could meet new people and so we selected participants from a broad range of countries across the world with different experiences and backgrounds.
Over the course of three months we ran sessions focused on story telling in presentations, body language, nerves and confidence and voice and tone, to name just a few. The sessions were highly engaging including a mix of teaching and practice where students can quickly implement what they have just learned. At the end of the programme, participants were invited to deliver a 3 minute presentation on the topic of their choice which incorporated elements from each of the sessions.
We also included a competitive aspect to the final presentations offering a prize for the winner and runner-up which proved to be a great success!
Throughout the duration of the programme, we asked participants to complete surveys so that we could quantitatively measure the impact we were having. A few months later, we checked back in with participants to see how they were using the skills they had learned.
Some said that it had helped them provide more structure to their presentations allowing them to focus on engaging with the audience rather than looking at their slides. Others said their confidence has greatly improved while some said it helped them to understand how they can bring their most authentic selves to presentations through the use of gestures and body language.
All of the data we have collected as part of our public speaking programme will be used in an upcoming academic paper. This is a really important part of the process to us. To have our work peer-reviewed and published allows us to prove the effectiveness of the programme, taking it from a pilot study to a course that can be offered by all universities to increase student engagement and professional development.
Continuing to build on our success, we have just secured funding to offer the programme again in the next academic year and we are delighted to be able to open up even more spaces to those students who are keen to improve their public speaking skills.
We are incredibly grateful to have been shortlisted for the 2023 NVSAs and to be a runner up has only helped to motivate and drive us to continue our work at the University of Strathclyde for many years to come.