What can experienced speakers can learn from college students?

As neophytes in the work world, college students are constantly learning from teachers, mentors, advisers, and supervisors. But, they can also teach some powerful lessons to professionals for whom the ivory tower is a distant memory. As someone who has taught hundreds of undergraduates at the George Washington University (GW) over the past 12 years, here are a few public speaking habits and attitudes that mid- and senior-level professionals should consider borrowing from the college set.

1. Just do it

For communication majors and students in many disciplines at GW, successful completion of a public speaking course is a requirement for graduation. And once enrolled in a class, students are required to give speeches. And they do. In my classes, they can’t reschedule, avoid, or delegate public speaking to others. As a result, they gain experience and build confidence.

Lesson: Don’t put off public speaking. Rip off the Band-Aid and start doing it on a regular basis. Join Toastmasters if you don’t have regular opportunities to speak

2. Do the best you can with the time you have  

My GW students have myriad commitments with classes, student activities, internships, jobs, volunteer work, study abroad, etc. Frankly, it’s a bit much. Like so many experienced professionals, their schedules are demanding and they have constant deadlines. Their busy lives coupled with the requirement of giving speeches in class regularly means that college students have honed the ability to complete assignments with limited time and less-than-ideal effort. And, they generally are at peace with the fact that some presentations are a rush job and not their finest work.

Lesson: Give the best presentation you can given the circumstances and don’t let one half-baked speech undermine your self-confidence.

3. Be willing to try new things

College students generally are open to taking advice – after all, they get it day in and day out from their parents, friends, professors, academic advisers, and supervisors at work and internships. When I ask students to consider opening their speech in more compelling way, changing their stance to improve their posture, speaking in a louder and lower tone so listeners can hear easily, they aren’t resistant. They’re willing to give the suggestions a try. They have less ego and fewer entrenched habits than some seasoned professionals. As a result, their improvement as speakers can be more marked and rapid.

Lesson: Seek the advice of experts and give their suggestions a shot. Ask yourself, “What would be the worst thing that could possibly happen if I try this once?”

4. Fake it till you make it

Some of my students give really amazing speeches. Despite a near complete lack of professional experience, these top performers in class exude the kind of confidence that many of my seasoned clients work hard to achieve. There is value in being able to conduct solid research, do thorough preparation, and deliver a presentation with poise even though you are newer to a subject or issue.

Lesson: At many points in your career, you will have to master new material. Speak with conviction and confidence even as you are learning it.

For professionals who have long since graduated from the days of $1 beer specials and wearing pajamas to class, you might be surprised by how much more effective you will be as a presenter if you adopt these public speaking attitudes and behaviors from college students.