Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’

Back from the PhD Experience conference in Hull. There were three days of themed sessions with about 100 people in attendance.

It was a pleasant surprise to find so much common ground in the emotional states of people doing their doctoral studies, despite differences in subject matter (though I think most people were researching in the social sciences). The topic of procrastination and of “imposter syndrome” were discussed, but there were plenty of positive messages, too.

Highlights for me:

1. Giving my first conference paper, albeit a short one, was a good experience. It struck me how different this is from the type of work I do at Henley, where there is generally more of a workshop atmosphere, stops and starts and interaction. Here, I was supposed to talk, and they were supposed to listen. I learned that a good (and rehearsed) start is important.

2. Feeling that the central messages of my slot made people think. These were: that we reflect through telling stories, that stories only have meaning when they venture out and bump up against other people’s stories, and that a good model for reflection(or reflective learning in Personal Development) needs somehow to acknowledge the “inward-outward” necessity.

3. Spending time with several fellow travellers, and hearing about their research experiences, helps me in my own.

I also got a lot out of Ann Cunliffe’s session on research perspectives, and thoroughly recommend anyone looking for direction in social research to read some of her stuff.


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I’ve been watching the full version of President Obama’s speech in Tucson on YouTube. Two things struck me.

One was that, in order to understand it properly, it is not enough to dissect the rhetoric or the orator’s performance (both of which are no doubt being studied by students of that kind of thing already) but the fact that those elements only come into their own because of the wider and grander discourse of the occasion. There’s something in the “air” in the auditorium, a sense or emotion that wishes something important to be said and to be said with feeling. It’s more like this particular speech is sucked out of the speaker. There is frequent applause and almost as frequently the ovation is made standing.

The other thing which I noted was how Obama used narrative as a device to make his connections between the act, the players and the audience (and not just those in the hall). Elements of the bigger discourse (is this the American narrative?) with its reaffirmation of certain values or beliefs, which I guess were used to hearing, these were certainly there. But then he did more than mention or just pay tribute to each one of the six fatally wounded victims, he created a story around them. And because the wish for this, or need for this, it’s almost impossible not to connect and not to be moved during the speech, and the quotation (repeated three times, each time with more feeling) from the President in the title of this post kind of summarises the micro and the macro contexts of the speech.

I mention this only really because I thought it significant in light of the narrative intent of this month’s postings here. I’d be interested in hearing people’s opinions.

As for today, I wanted to reflect and review the previous eight entries, which collectively make up a section of this self-research, to see whether anything of a pattern is discernible, either in detail of content or in study of the process of writing them at all. What I find is something which came to be today – that one personal theme which might connect my choosing these particular episodes over the last eight days occurred to me when I found a small black and white photograph of myself to illustrate the kibbutz posting. It was taken in my last week there, can’t remember the exact context, but I think I was planning to apply for a visa for somewhere.  As I looked at it I found myself thinking of that person I was and how poorly qualified he was. Qualified in the sense of formal qualifications, that is. Is this my “thread”? And does this, in part, at least drive me to occupy this space working for a PhD?

Another thought is that generally it was not always possible to be sure of the voracity of the story details, which the mind tends to supply you with when you reflect on your own. The more I thought through a particular episode the more I seemed to want to fill in (or manufacture?) gaps. I found that I was often less certain of the peripheral details than I had thought I would be. Was one of the police officers who came to our door in Deal that day really a policewoman? I’m not sure. Does it matter? Probably not. Not as much as noting in myself that my mind wants to fill in the details.

Finally, I took a look again at the Atkins and Murphy model for reflection. When I referred to it with one of the MBA groups in a workshop this week, someone in the group spotted that what made this model different to, say, Kolb was the requirement to describe emotions and feelings, not just facts. I’m not sure I have been doing this, nor am I sure it’s an easy thing to do, though I think this may be the key to developing this reflective practice as an ongoing aid to learning.

So a short pause on the narrative trail today. Tomorrow I’ll return to the McAdams list of things to do, and select for discussion and description of four “significant people” who have had an impact on my life.

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Last Friday we held a special supper to mark Intake 30’s final scheduled workshop on their Henley MBA programme. These events are invariably held in a private dining room, away from the main restaurant, and the intimate atmosphere leads to some really good conversations, where the personality of the group loosens its tie, relaxes a little and compares notes on what’s what.

We usually invite either the Principal or a member of the Senior Management Team along to speak during coffee, and they usually are only too happy to accept. Hearing about the history of Henley, combined with the ‘horse’s mouth’ version of our future strategy is always appreciated and is part of the glue that will stick our alumni to Henley. However, this time and for a host of unforeseen and unforeseeable circumstances, foreign travel, and prior engagements, all my usual speakers were unable to make it.

Which left…me!

But then I thought, well, you’re the Director of Studies, you should be able to step up to the plate and deliver at least part of the Gospel according to Henley. I don’t find it difficult standing up in front of a group, but when I do so, it’s nearly always as a trainer or facilitator of learning. As a speaker, in that setting, the dynamic was quite different and I have a new-found respect for those who can do it well. I know that I can learn how to do it well, too, I merely hope that this intake will forgive me practicing on them.

I’ve noted that in order to gain the space to improvise and hold your audience, you actually need to be quite formulaic in your preparation. There really is, for example, a rule of three, and you really can elicit a reaction by keen observation of several other conventions.

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