|Mastery of professionally appropriate interactions requires a lot of repetition--and language classes are a great place to build those skills.
Language educators know the value of repetition in acquiring a language.
Repetition is similarly important in the acquisition of professional skills.
This is why I deliberately build repetition into class session I teach and workshops I lead.
Here are a few examples--some of which will undoubtedly be familiar, but others might offer something new you can try to help students build professional skills:
1- Basic networking skills.
In workshops, I emphasize the importance of three key elements of networking: names (find out names, remember names and use names), body language (smile, offer your hand to shake with medium firm handshake, don't cross arms, control tics) , and listening (be a good listener, ask follow up questions, have concise pitches ready to use when talking about yourself).
Knowing these tips and knowing that they are important doesn't do much good without practice. Comfort comes with repetition. In group settings, people are reluctant to try this. They feel sheepish and awkward. But I make workshop participants stand up and introduce themselves to others. It is awkward and contrived--at first. But then I ask participants to switch interlocutors and repeat the networking exercise. After the third repetition, I have to raise my voice to regain everyone's attention so engrossed are they in the activity.
At this juncture, I point out how quickly most participants became comfortable with the networking exercise. After a few repetitions, everyone relaxes into it and starts to engage in exactly the kind of organic conversations we'd hope for in a networking context. The goal in these casual conversations should simply be to find something you have in common: a place, a course, a professional goal, a mentor, a friend or colleague...
To conclude, I emphasize the importance of "getting all the awkward out" now--while the stakes are low. It should be second nature by the time our students are in the high stakes situations of job fairs, networking events and interviews. This comfort will give them a competitive advantage over their peers who are still entirely uncomfortable with basic networking.
The type of activity I describe here can be easily layered into already-exisiting language courses. Students should know how to use polite networking gestures and expressions in the target language / cultures--and get opportunities to repeatedly practice them as they assemble to do pair and group work in class.
As you build in repetition, add culturally and linguistically appropriate content: any unique physical greetings, use of eye contact, practice initiating greetings, expressions such as "I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name; I'm Darcy--what's your name again?" "Good morning, [Name]; nice to see you again" [offer hand to shake] "How are you today?" "How did it go with [that thing you know about because you're a good listener]?"
Over time, point out to students how these professional networking activities are becoming second nature to them--in their second language (imagine how they'll stand out in their first language!)
Also, remember my mantra: always be explicit. Tell students that this is a professional networking experience designed to make them comfortable in important professional contexts so that they will excel compared to their under-prepared peers. (You don't want them to wonder why you're the whacky prof who always makes students shake hands in class!)
2- Introducing people to each other.
This is really another example of a networking skill, but an important and often-overlooked skill in the American professional context.
A few weeks ago with a group of Spanish students, I created a repetitious networking activity out of "I would like to introduce you to..."
It's always surprising that even advanced language students don't know these basic niceties that can be mastered quickly and easily simply through repeated application of one or two fixed expressions.
I opened the session by having students get in pairs and introduce themselves (see item 1 above).
We quickly moved to combining pairs to form groups of 4 and had students take turns introducing two people to each other using this expression: "Te quiero presenter a..." That expression does not come naturally to English-speaking Spanish students (and the verb that would seem to be a cognate for the English "to introduce" is inappropriate in Spanish so there's an important cultural element conveyed through this activity as well).
Finally, I assembled the whole class and made each person stand up and introduce someone else to the whole group
the expression "
a..." It started out as an entirely awkward
with nervous students standing and turning their heads to read the expression from the board in stilted Spanish. Five minutes later, when the last person stood up, that individual was able to quickly and fluently introduce a classmate to the rest of us. I pointed out the increased comfort level which grew and grew with the whole-group repetition activity. And I was sure to be explicit about the importance of that activity and its repetitive application to their own professional networking.
3- Presentations as practice for job interviews.
Repetition is important for any kind of presentation--whether in-class, at a professional conference, in a board room, or in an interview context.
Over and over I engage with clients who resist practicing for any kind of presentation. They are nervous to practice. They don't want to seem scripted. They don't like to see themselves on video or hear their recorded voices. All of those anxieties are precisely why it's important to repeatedly practice! Just as with the above networking examples, repetition will lead to comfort, which results in a more relaxed, authentic presentation of key information when the stakes are high.
This requires more time and effort than the relatively simple networking activities described above. First, you have to prepare the information you want to share, making sure that it is appropriate to the audience, engaging, clear and concise. Then you have to make sure it fits within an appropriate time limit--by repeatedly practicing with a timer (repetition rules!)
The key to being fully prepared is practicing so much that you cross over from sounding scripted and stilted to having the content so internalized that it comes across as entirely spontaneous and authentic.
Build this into your courses by:
1-shortening time limits. Start with 30-second in-class presentations that illustrate the importance of repetitive practice (see networking activities above for ideas that will illustrate this perfectly for students).
2-requiring students to explain something only they read or viewed that is related to class content. Set this up so that 4-5 students present repeatedly to small groups. For complete lesson plans and rubrics for this "personal reading and mini-presentation" assignment that came to me from Martha Chamorro at the University of Tulsa, who presented at a CIBER conference in 2011, send me an email: email@example.com
3-building up to formal in-class presentations. Require students to filter all their questions about presentations through this question: would you do this in a job interview? Can't read. Can't bring note cards. Can't recite. But you can and should practice & prepare. Require 5-7 minute presentations. Allow for visual support if relevant (assertive statements and visual support for those using PowerPoint or Prezi, but no text-filled slides). Adapt your grading rubric so that it severely reduces points for any reading, reciting or evidence of lack of practicing & preparing.
The beauty of all the possibilities presented here is that you can do as little as one isolated networking activity during the first week of class or as much as fully integrated repetitive practice of professional networking & presentations throughout your course and curriculum.