students using the One Button Studio in the Frank Business Communication Center
June 7, 2018
Ruth Paarmann

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.”
– James Humes, author and former presidential speechwriter

Tailored presentations, digital communication and writing practice aid Tippie students at all levels to communicate effectively in their academic and professional careers.

The Tippie College has integrated communication skill building into the curriculum and through its support services for decades. It started with the Accounting Writing Program in 1998, which spawned the Judith R. Frank Business Communication Center by 2005. While both programs still provide one-on-one tutoring today, undergraduate, MBA, and Ph.D. students receive more opportunities than ever to learn the oral, written, and visual communication skills that will help them throughout their careers.

INTEGRATED PRACTICE & AWARENESS

At the undergraduate level, two courses lay a strong foundation for manager-approved communication skills: Business Communication and Protocol (BCAP) and Advanced Business Presentations Workshop. The required BCAP course has successfully piloted the inclusion of digital and visual communication as well as teamwork and diversity.

“Not all students are as tech savvy as you think,” states Pam Bourjaily, director of the Frank Business Communication Center. “Digital communication is not so much about the technology or about being proficient in any one platform, because that’s always going to change. It’s thinking about whom you will communicate to and how will they receive your message. And not just how they feel about it, but are they looking on their smart phone? Will it be a recording?”

This fall, all 18 sections of the BCAP course will include digital formats in the protocol training and practice of these soft skills. Modes of communication covered include mobile email, blogging, report decks, and recorded elevator pitches and interview question responses. True teamwork is necessary for the group assignments, and teams are carefully selected to maximize collaboration so students can appreciate diversity and learn to work together better as a team.

The Advanced Business Presentations Workshop is designed for a small group of upperclassmen who performed well in BCAP. Storyline, oral and physical delivery, and slide design are included, providing valuable hands-on practice.

“They can work on a case competition project, commencement speeches, appeals, and pitches. They sometimes want to practice the kind of presentations they would make in banking or finance,” says Bourjaily, the instructor of the course.

Participants express strong satisfaction with the workshop. One student wrote in a course evaluation: “Having the opportunity to dive deeper into presentations, public speaking, and graphic design has been invaluable in my academic and career pursuits. The class increased my confidence in my ability to present, deliver, and support my argument in any environment.”

The Frank Center recently opened the One Button Studio where students can also build their presentation skills through practice. Whether working on report decks, case presentations, elevator pitches, or mock interviews, students can sign up to record video of themselves using the One Button Studio. The resulting video allows students to evaluate and refine their delivery, whether for a class presentation or a job interview.

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING & SUPPORT

At the master’s level, MBA candidates receive communication coursework as well as support from the Frank Center on presentations. Nick Westergaard, an adjunct lecturer and marketing author/speaker, has taken on a new role to assist with oral communication accreditation. In 2017, he was named associate director of Graduate Business Communication, and he developed frameworks to deliver writing and presentation skills into the graduate programs.

“We realized that papers were being written and individual and group presentations were happening, but there wasn’t content dedicated to improving those skills,” Westergaard says.

Regardless of the graduate program, the framework is the same.

“We focus on written and spoken communication—how you present yourself and communicate on behalf of an organization,” he says. “The core ideas are to be clear, concise, professional, and persuasive.”

The framework has been applied to experiential learning throughout the various MBA programs.

“We developed a communication workshop for Executive MBAs because that program is more intensive,” Westergaard explains. “The Business Communication Course is a hybrid online and in-person course for Professional MBAs, our biggest group. They also participate in two days of workshops.”

The curriculum has been rolled out to the Professional MBA groups in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and the Quad Cities and several Executive MBA cohorts. This fall, the new Masters in Finance and Masters in Business Analytics programs will include three hands-on courses in communication.

Since fall of 2016, MBA students can also hone their presentation skills and more by taking advantage of the Frank Center’s assistance. Anna Bruno, communications instructor and assistant to the director, takes the lead on helping MBAs improve their storytelling and delivery. She conducts writing and presentation workshops for the Marketing and Finance academies, which include experts from other departments, such as theater. She also works with Tippie consulting and case competition teams.

“This spring, I worked with eight MBA consulting teams on the dry runs of their presentations. The stakes are high because they are presenting externally to clients who are paying for the work,” Bruno says. “It’s an opportunity for them to show off their skills and prepare for their careers.”

Tippie’s case competition teams benefit from Frank Center feedback, winning regional competitions and placing in major national competitions for the first time.

Last fall, the team of Matt Hubbell and Molly Monroe won fifth place nationally in the Eller Ethics Case Competition and took first place in the associated essay contest.

“Matt and I are very pleased with our results as we are the first Tippie team to make it to the finals,” said Monroe. “We presented a more business-centered approach regarding the ethical dilemma in focusing on the company’s stakeholders and value statement. We also relied on Immanuel Kant’s core concepts of respecting individual rights and the categorical imperative in shaping our argument.”

Bruno says, “They do a lot of hard work to prepare the case specifics in a short time frame. What they need to work on is structure, how to engage an audience, and how to choreograph the entire presentation on stage.”

While not every team wins monetary prizes or acclaim, undergraduate and MBA students value the experience.

“Many MBAs report that these case competitions are the best experiences of their entire MBA careers. They don’t get a grade, but it’s really fun, they learn a lot, and hone their presentation skills,” says Bruno. “They’ll be better presenters in whatever career path they take.”

DESCRIBING RESEARCH

“Our Ph.D. students in finance, accounting, and other disciplines need to be able to say why their research matters,” says Bourjaily. “When research universities hire Ph.D. students for tenure-track positions, they are looking for Ph.D. students who can do the research and talk about it in a way that doesn’t scare the layperson.”

Thanks to special funding by the Sharon Scheib Writing Initiative through the UI Center for Advancement, this will be Bourjaily’s fifth summer providing Ph.D. writing instruction. All six departments nominate Ph.D. candidates between their second and third years for the course, which is structured as an 8-week program, equivalent to a 2-semester-hour class. She works with students on introducing and organizing their proposals, structuring sentences, and eliminating jargon.

“We do a lot of structural work—it’s more than fine tuning,” she explains. “They’re not used to communicating what their project is and why it matters to an audience outside of their own dissertation committees.

“I also have them practice giving job talks, so they can describe their research project to someone,” she says. “They do two versions: one for family members and one for the dean of the college that might hire them. It gets them thinking, ‘How do I communicate what I do in a way that matters?’”

Interacting with Ph.D. students from different departments further increases their awareness of communicating to diverse audiences. Bourjaily offers an ad hoc advanced workshop during the semester for those students who have completed the summer program and who wish to continue working on their writing with students from related but different disciplines.

NEW LOCATION WOVEN IN

One recent move further integrated communication for the Tippie College students and staff. In January, the Frank Business Communication Center and Accounting Writing Program staff relocated to a bright hallway directly adjacent to the Biz Hub library space on the third floor of the Pappajohn Business Building.

“This is consistent with the trend of locating communication centers in libraries,” says Mark Petterson, assistant director of the Frank Center. “It encourages recursive learning of research to writing to research and back.”

Accessibility has worked—perhaps better than expected. Students instantly embraced the proximity of communication assistance and practice facilities. Statistics show that in January 2017, 30 to 40 percent of Frank Center appointment times were booked. This January, utilization was 80 to 90 percent, which would normally be expected at the end of the semester.

Staff also communicates more easily. Carl Follmer, director of the Accounting Writing Program says, “We’ve definitely collaborated more just due to proximity.”

With the ideal location for the Frank Center and thoughtful additions to the curriculum, the art of communication is thoroughly woven into the fabric of the Tippie College. The recent emphasis on communication training at all levels should ensure that Tippie graduates are desirable to employers everywhere.