Learning Effective Communication Skills at Stanford

I attended Stanford, and while it was certainly a place of intense study and high level learning that required enormous amounts of work, it was still a college where students were looking for “easy” ways to get credits and finally get a degree.  Not every class was the most difficult class in the world, and certainly Group Communication was one of them.  Group Com was an interactive class devoted to public speaking and effective interpersonal communication skills.  While other classes at Stanford required long problem sets, complicated term papers, heavy reading lists…Group Com?  You had to show up and talk to people.  That was it.  No homework.  Easy, right?

Suffice to say that it was a very popular class for the above reasons, but once the class began, every student taking the class was blindsided with how hard the in class drills were to make build effective communications skills.  What seemed like a lark, and easy A or pass/fail, all of a sudden took on serious importance.  There were your peers at Stanford listening to you talk extemporaneously – basically, a bunch of geniuses that sounded like idiots.  Leaders, it was taught, are people who can communicate effectively.  Group Com, to many, became as important a class as a chemical engineering class, and in many ways more challenging, too.

We talked to many engineers and scientists and academics during the making of SPEAK, and all talked to us about the importance in their job to have effective communication skills.  Isn’t it more important to be a good engineer in black and white, on the paper, building effective models that can achieve amazing feats of practical construction?  Of course those are important skills.  However, the leaders of the projects, the ones who made it happen, were always the engineers who could stand on their own two feet and communicate effectively to engineers, executives, construction workers, programmers, you name it.  It didn’t always come easy for these people.  They’re techies after all, and the nature of that training requires long hours of thought and problem solving.  But those who could talk the talk and walk the walk, those were the ones who changed history.

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