That particular Sunday in February was different than most Sundays. I wasn’t a student anymore, in fact I hadn’t been one for a long time, yet I found myself stepping onto a very familiar campus wearing a completely different pair of shoes. Gathering with former classmates in a building where we’ve all spent countless hours doing group work, crafting papers, discussing theories and models of leadership, and studying for endless exams, we met again – many years later. A little older, a little wiser, and a lot more experienced, we opened the big, heavy, wooden doors to a building we practically lived in as undergraduates. This time, however, we were alongside classmates who spanned nearly 25 years of graduating classes from our alma mater, The Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. We reunited to walk these familiar halls in new shoes and with a renewed purpose: to teach our real-life lessons learned to students who were eager to leap into their careers with the right set of tools in their toolbox of professional skills.
Every year I am honored to return to the school to facilitate a workshop for current students on how to deliver a great elevator pitch. It’s part of a larger program called the Jepson EDGE Institute, and it’s run by a group of dedicated alumni who develop workshops to help students prep most effectively for interviews, networking, internships, and more. Each time I facilitate a workshop within this bigger, grander program, I love to see those ah-ha moments where the theory and practice comes together for a new generation of aspiring professionals. A side bonus: I learn so much about my own strengths, opportunities, and more.
I return to this program annually for many reasons, but mainly because I truly love to teach. I love to educate and inspire hungry learners by sharing real stories that tie to real experiences, in this case it’s how to put your professional best foot forward. Partnering with former classmates, engaging in meaningful dialogues, answering thought-provoking questions, and helping young students sort through our advice so they can make their own career choices is truly my kind of fun and quite honestly, pure delight. I love seeing the sparks in the students’ eyes when the bigger picture starts to take shape – the shape of their own professional futures.
The secondary benefit, however, is that I always seem to learn a little bit more about myself. Each time I facilitate a workshop of any format or topic, I engage in feedback and self-reflection that helps me grow personally and professionally as well. I watch myself on film, just like any athlete preps for a big game, listening to my own inflection, tone, and observing my presence in the room. I pay close attention to how I answer questions from the audience too. Am I cutting right to the chase, or am I asking meaningful and intriguing follow-up questions to spark more dialogue? When it’s the latter, I know I’ve made progress as a presenter, leader, and advocate for professional growth and development.
I never skip the feedback or self-reflection process, always writing detailed notes and jotting down key phrases that came out of the discussions. I try my best to capture these crucial thoughts, so I can incorporate them the next time I give the workshop or presentation, and I save my notes for every upcoming session. I always, always, always actively craft a plan to make the next presentation even stronger. I take those observations and tidbits of feedback into my future prepping and planning process to push myself toward continual improvement, so I can ultimately deliver the best possible product to the learners.
Honestly, I am a continual work in progress when it comes to this stuff, or anything else for that matter. I’m not perfect, that’s for sure. No one is. We should always be learning, never stale, and certainly never done with our own development or continuing education plans. If we ever feel like we’ve arrived at our absolute peak, we clearly still have work to do. It’s humbling to continually learn from what works, what doesn’t, and to always try to get better, especially when it comes to teaching and training. If we’re truly in this game to help shape the next generation of impactful professionals, then we should work on our own content and delivery to make that happen, no matter what field we’re in. Its focusing on things like staying current on key topics in our industries, while making sure our personal experiences drive the essence of where we’re headed. When I teach, reflect, and challenge myself to step out of my own comfort zone, the learning takes even greater shape for me. Most importantly, it sets the stage for what I can deliver even more effectively the next time to support others in the process.
So, here’s a look at the guest blog I wrote about my most recent experience with this great teaching, training, and learning program, and what it meant to me to be a part of something way bigger than any one presenter or alumni volunteer could ever deliver alone.
It’s truly a group effort, and a powerful, team-based experience that takes endless dedication from so many individuals to pull off. It’s an honor to work with such talented peers, faculty, and staff to be able to collectively give back to these eager and aspiring students. What I learn about myself each time is simply a little bonus, but something that speaks directly to me when we engage as a cross-functional unit in this program. Maybe it’s because I’ll always be a student and true lover of learning at heart, regardless of what shoes I wear today and what path they walk along the way.