Something to Offer and Something to Learn: Becoming a Better Communicator

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

At its heart, communication is about letting down barriers, listening, and sharing. But speaking in front of others – whether addressing a large audience or talking with one person across the table – can make us feel vulnerable. Simply making direct eye contact can be a major challenge – if I can see you, you can see me. Fear, misconceptions, and projections can close us off, from both sharing ourselves, and seeing and hearing others.

How do we take the focus off our fears, and connect? How do we come to understand that in every presentation, informal talk, group discussion – every conversation – each of us has something to offer and something to learn? Through a progression of exercises and presentations, you will practice successful oral communication on two tracks. The first track addresses practical skills: developing an engaging presence, ease in the body, and clear content organization, for example.

The second track allows for rediscovery of why we communicate, tapping into our natural curiosity, and our foundational desire to be listened to and understood. In an environment which encourages empathy and support, you’ll have multiple opportunities to take your space and use your voice; listen actively and openly; give and receive constructive feedback; and engage in important, sometimes challenging, dialogues which emphasize respect and a desire to learn from each other’s experience. The goal is to gain self-awareness and confidence as an ever-maturing communicator by recognizing and respecting your worth and value, and that of each individual with whom you verbally interact.

A story takes us into an individual’s experience from their distinct perspective, and active, engaged listening is both a tool for understanding, and a demonstration of support. Telling our stories can allow us to feel that support, and, in turn, encourage others to trust that their stories can also be heard and honored. Listening with openness and respect is a rich source for knowledge; it’s an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate diversity, as well as the commonality of human experience; listening may even be considered an act of love.

Here are short descriptions of some of the course assignments, with a few words about how each helps cultivate trust in the group, hand-in-hand with building communication skills.

Pair Interview
Students interview each other, gathering material that highlights the unique individual, and develop engaging presentations that introduce their partners to the class. This exercise sparks curiosity – and, for a first talk, it’s often easier to shine the light on someone else.

Most Prized Possession or Personal Lore Talk
Students develop a talk about either their most prized possession or a personal experience or piece of family lore, i.e., a turning point, a moment of understanding or transformation, an event, or an adventure. These stories allow students to share deeper aspects of themselves; for listeners, it’s an opportunity for understanding, and appreciation for individual formative experience.

How-to Demonstration
Students teach a specific skill or brief lesson, choosing a topic or activity in which they are “the expert in the room.” Both choosing and teaching are empowering. The class learns a lot, has a ton of fun, and bonds in new, active ways.

Reflection Circle: Experience of Bias/Discrimination/Racism/Stereotyping
Students write a short paper about an incident in which they were the subject of, a witness to, or a participant in: bias, stereotyping, prejudice, and/or racism. These might include personal experiences based on gender, class, nationality, sexual orientation, age, political affiliation – any instance where judgment was made about a group one is perceived as being a part of instead of being seen as a unique individual.

With permission, we use this material in a sharing exercise to foster communication around subjects that may be challenging, and are important, to talk about. This is a key opportunity to be heard, and to be exposed to experiences and viewpoints that are unfamiliar. The honest sharing within this circle can open hearts and minds.

Students can expect to hone their active and attentive listening skills; become more aware of their personal communication styles, strengths, challenges and goals; and feel more empowered to verbally engage clearly, openly, honestly, and confidently in a variety of contexts.

College students have many opportunities for verbal communication. There are presentations, group projects, class discussions. Talking face-to-face, more authentically than on most social media, is so valuable in creating real relationships with roommates and friends. Exchanging stories, sharing knowledge with people from a range of backgrounds broadens the mind, expands the spirit, and can be a source of lasting joy.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course – please come as you are.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CETA0926
  • Length: 3 weeks

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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