By Karen Guzman
Professor Taly Reich’s course on strategic communication is a popular elective at the Yale School of Management every year, because effective communication skills are so critical for leaders.
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced so much communication online, Reich’s course is shifting focus. This fall, she will debut an updated version under a new name: Strategic Communication: Presenting Effectively in a Virtual World.
“The world has been disrupted in a major way, but communication remains a core element of business education,” says Reich, an associate professor of marketing. The new curriculum will introduce strategies to make virtual communication as impactful as possible, and to avoid common pitfalls.
“We’ll tackle obstacles such as screen fatigue, lack of accountability, and technical disruptions,” Reich says. “Though the class is digital, we’ll be switching from lecture to practice to reflection often, so students need to be prepared to participate and develop as a skilled speaker.”
Classes will be held on Zoom. Breakout rooms and interactive software will help keep sessions interactive, dynamic, and fun, Reich says. Students will practice presenting to various audiences (small groups and the whole class) on both personal and professional topics.
To allow for interaction, enrollment will be limited to 36 students per section. But three sections will be offered in the fall semester and three in the spring semester, to give more students the chance to participate.
As she developed the curriculum, Reich enlisted the help of Aungar Chatterjee ’20 to identify the unique needs of MBA students learning online. Chatterjee has worked in education reform for eight years, in the U.S. and abroad.
“Communication, at its core, is human connection,” Chatterjee said, “and getting it right matters immensely in our personal and professional lives.”
Tips on Virtual Communication from Prof. Taly Reich
Here are some concrete and simple steps you can take that will improve your ability to communicate effectively in a virtual world.
- Eye contact is crucial when presenting online. Look straight at the camera rather than at the screen or down at your notes or keyboard. If you have to use notes, tape your notes on the wall behind your camera such that it will force you to look at the camera when looking at your notes. Looking at the camera will mimic the in-person feeling of eye contact and will help your audience feel connected.
- To help your audience stay engaged, add variation to your vocal quality. Vary your rate of speech and inflection so your audience doesn’t habituate to your speaking style and tune out.
- Set up your environment to maximize the ability to connect with your audience. The lighting source should be placed behind the monitor and directed toward the speaker at a 45-degree angle. Put the camera at eye-level height and use a reliable microphone. Clear your background as much as possible to avoid distraction—if something is there, the audience will look at it.
- Tell a story. Good storytelling is one of the most vital, and one of the most underdeveloped, presentation skills. Thinking about the story you’re telling ahead of time—even sentence starters or a simple structure like a plot line that outlines the major elements of a narrative—can help you make significant strides in clarity and audience engagement.