Blogpost: Latinos and Education in the United States

By Amicia Bowman

Latinos are the fastest growing population of non-whites in the United States.  To be a Latino is to be a person of Spanish descent who is born in the United States.  The term “Latino,” however, is understood by most people, both Latino and non-Latinos, to be a term for “anyone who is of Spanish descent.”  This understanding is a misconception.  Further, the misconception that the role of Latinos in the United States, citizens or not, is to do physical labor rather than seek an education is a myth and a stereotype.

Dr. Marta Moreno Vega came to visit the University of Michigan two weeks ago to speak about the books she has written and to relay a very important message.  Dr. Vega is a professor at Hunter College in New York City, New York and is also Founder of the Caribbean Culture Center African Diaspora Institute.  Dr. Vega wrote The Altar of My Soul: The Living Traditions of Santeria, When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing up Nuyorican in El Barrio, and Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora.  As an Afro-Puerto Rican/ Boricua feminist, author, and activist, Dr. Vega strongly believes that it is important for Latinos to embrace their cultures and the African influences that lay within them.

In her speech at the University of Michigan, Dr. Vega spoke on the importance of being a Latina intellectual and firmly advocates that education is the key to being successful.  She truly believes education is the solution to all oppression.  She also challenges the misconceptions that Latinos are just of Spanish-descent and the role of only doing physical labor.  She believes Latinos are a combination of many identities and are heavily influenced by African cultures.  She also dedicates much of her time promoting that it is the responsibility of Latinos to educate others about our cultures, our struggles, and the art that develops from the lives lived in these ways.  Intellectuals and speakers like Dr. Vega are valuable role models for the continued educational and professional success of Latinos.

Blogpost: Does Media Play a Role in Shaping a College-Going Culture?

By Amy Puffenberger
Man Watching TV So often, our perceptions of reality and the world that surrounds us, our very culture, is formed and influenced by the messages we see in the media.  Some may argue that these messages are harmful, others helpful, some educational, but most often so many messages are, at the very least, impactful.  Media may very well affect the things we purchase, the stores we shop at, the news we pay attention to, the trends we seek to follow— but can it shape a college-going culture?

First, we have to define two very important phrases here: media and college-going culture.  I’m always a fan of using a very standard, basic definition of media. So, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition, media would be defined as:

: a means of effecting or conveying something: as a (1) : a substance regarded as the means of transmission of a force or effect (2) : a surrounding or enveloping substance (3) : the tenuous material (as gas and dust) in space that exists outside large agglomerations of matter (as stars) <interstellar medium> b plural usually media (1) : a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment — compare MASS MEDIUM (2) : a publication or broadcast that carries advertising (3) : a mode of artistic expression or communication (4) : something (as a magnetic disk) on which information may be stored

At the National Forum, we have worked for many years to try and define what a college-going culture actually means.  Although significant research has been written on this subject, we can broadly and succinctly say that a college-going culture is:

The aspiration of children and families to get a college degree and the presence of the institutional, societal, and environmental support systems necessary to achieve it.

With these definitions in mind, can media play a role in shaping college-going culture?  Though this question is yet to be empirically answered, I would argue from the surface level that media does, in fact, play a role in shaping college-going culture.

First, we must look only to the messages that media sends about societal norms.  We can look to these messages in episodic television and movies, to name a few.  So often, we see that the characters in these mediums attend college, are college-educated, have attempted some college, or are thinking about college.  When we consider that episodic television series’, for instance, are intended to mirror a portion of our society, I would argue that the viewer of these shows sees the college-going culture as a societal norm, which in turn pushes them to believe that a higher education is important in their life as well.

Secondly, let us consider the many advertisements for colleges and universities on television, the Internet, and on radio.  These forms of media present an interesting messaging structure, where so much of the advertisements are for what I would consider to be non-traditional higher education in the form of for-profit colleges and institutions.  I suspect that it is highly likely for a viewer to bear witness to an advertisement for a for-profit institution simply given the fiscal and guiding principles of the organization; where education is a goal, but not necessarily the overriding, not-for-profit mission of the institution.  The primary function of these institutions is to make money, that’s why they’re considered for-profit.  To that end, they likely have larger budgets for recruitment and advertising, as this is a primary source of capital for them.  What do these advertisements tell us about college-going culture?

So often, they stress the personal and economic benefits of obtaining a college degree.  “Get an education and make more money” or “Get an education and get a better job.”  They contribute, in one way or another, to the creation of a college-going culture by appealing to the individual by means of appealing to the economic and personal benefits of a higher education.  They tell us in their messaging that getting a higher education degree is in our own best interest, and that we shouldn’t wait to do so.

These are just a two of the many ways that media can influence and help shape a college-going culture, but there’s more work that can and should be done to fully examine these effects.  For example, how do these messages affect student perceptions and expectations of a higher education?  At what age do these messages begin to affect someone: middle school?  High school?  Younger?  Is the message showing up in a particular time slot or event, and is thus targeted to a specific audience?  Should higher education be advertised through mass media at all?

The next time you’re flipping through the channels, or scanning the dial, or on a Pandora commercial break, think about what message it is you’re getting when higher education is advertised. Is it advertised as a social or personal commodity?  Does it stress the benefits (social, economic, personal) benefits of what a higher education can offer?  Does it sell you on the values of a particular institution?  Do you value a higher education more because of your interactions with the media?

Stay tuned.



Blogpost: Strengthening the capacity of college students as future leaders and agents of social change

By Lara Kovacheff Badke, Doctoral Candidate – Higher Education

Higher education plays a major role in shaping our society’s leaders.  College students spend a considerable amount of time engaging in both explicit (classroom experiences; service-learning) and implicit (team projects; holding down a job while juggling school responsibilities) forms of leadership development during their college experience.  These opportunities empower students to nurture talents and attitudes that contribute to making positive changes in society.  The philosophy and forms of campus leadership development vary considerably from school to school, even program to program.

Different philosophical approaches of leadership development might include an emotionally intelligent leadership design that focuses on consciousness of self, others, and content, or a critical thinking model that centers on developing the skills required to evaluate claims, distinguish high quality arguments, and advocate beliefs.  Increasingly, campus programs explicitly express an interest in enacting social change from multiple perspectives, often adopting the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996. Guidebook for a Social Change Model of Leadership Development. Los Angeles, CA: Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California) to do so.

At the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good, we are both committed to the leadership development of our students and staff, as well as consciously engaged in projects containing an explicit leadership focus.  One of our current projects has our Community Engagement Team examining best practices in undergraduate leadership development programs.  Moving beyond traditional models, our team is addressing the understudied and emerging area of academic-community partnerships that focus on the leadership skills necessary to advance urban community change.  While college students have numerous opportunities through selective courses, general education immersion, extracurricular programming, and mixed mediums for student leadership development, little rigorous scholarship has examined leadership development intended to improve social and economic outcomes within urban communities.  Through an examination of scholarly validity, pedagogical application, and community engagement, our team is researching current practices across higher education and analyzing the effects of leadership development on social change.  In doing so, we have learned much about leadership programs and its assumptions.  As future generations of college students continue to be exposed to leadership initiatives designed to produce effective solutions to social problems, we are excited to be on the forefront of advancing scholarship and practice designed to help faculty, students, administrators, staff, and community partners increase their abilities to connect leadership development with meaningful urban community change.

By Sarah Erwin

giant checkOne of the core foundations of the United States is the idea of “the American Dream.”  This American Dream is something that I recall being pounded into my head every year in elementary school.  After a course on philanthropy, my opinion of the American Dream has changed quite drastically from the one that is presented in elementary school.  Coming from a low socioeconomic household, I felt that I would be able to move up in class, achieving the American Dream through education.  I hold firm to that today, however, I can now see that the opportunity to obtain that dream is not available to every person coming from a low socioeconomic household.  To those that are able to execute a plan to obtain the goal of achieving the American Dream, education is almost always the method through which this must be accomplished.

Prior to this philanthropy course, I attributed my educational successes to myself, and to the hard work that I put in to it.  I can see now that much of my success also needs to be attributed to philanthropists.  According to Giving USA’s Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2011, thirteen percent of philanthropic efforts went toward education in 2011, for a total of 38.87 billion dollars; it is clear that education is important to philanthropists throughout the country.  The overwhelming majority of educational philanthropic dollars goes toward higher education.  My understanding of this is that many of these donors are repayers, giving back to an institution that enabled them to be successful. In doing so, these philanthropists are enabling future generations to achieve their goals and potentially move up in social class.  Allowing for this opportunity in the life of a young adult is transformational for many students; the rest of the life of that young adult will be changed by the opportunity they are allowed through higher education, and the giver is often changed by the impact that they are able to have on another’s life.

Many non-profit agencies work to serve these populations throughout the country.  Our class was given the opportunity to work with non-profit agencies in Michigan that serve low socioeconomic children through educational initiatives.  The parameters were set by our class, and we were given the opportunity, through a foundation out of Texas, to donate one hundred thousand dollars to a non-profit agency or agencies of our choosing.  Over the course of the semester, our class worked together to give the money to two deserving organizations that met our agreed-upon parameters.  The process of making these philanthropic efforts was enriching, fulfilling, and rewarding.

After the tedious task of narrowing down over thirty organizations to just a handful, the task of choosing just two became very difficult.  In the end, two wholly worthwhile and promising non-profit organizations received grants.  The Baldwin Promise Zone and All the World’s a Stage both work toward enriching educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth in Michigan.  It is my belief that the organizations which myself and my peers selected will make an impact which has the potential for making a transformational change in the lives of youth who are truly in need.

The process of giving a large sum of money to worthy organizations is one for which I will always be grateful.  Being part of a contribution that can make an impact on a need that exists for so many people throughout our state and country has been rewarding in a way in which is difficult to put into words.  The privilege that I have by being able to attend a school like the University of Michigan is not lost upon me, and after this course and the opportunity that the foundation in Texas has granted, I am better able to understand why it is so incredibly important to give back to others, allowing them the same opportunities that I have been given.


National Forum Presents at ACCU on Undocumented Student Access

By Dan Parrish, C.S.C.

Cardinal Dolan and Dan Parrish CSC at ACCU Conference

Cardinal Dolan and Dan Parrish, C.S.C.

To anyone who follows the National Forum online it is no secret that we have been substantially engaged in studying undocumented student access since 2007.  I recently had the privilege of presenting some of our findings at the annual conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) in Washington, DC, February 2-4, 2013.

My presentation was titled “Developing Resources and Networks: Solutions Grounded in Research.”  I reported on some powerful resources the National Forum team has been creating, in response to some of our interesting research findings, especially as they relate to Catholic higher education.  As I was preparing for the presentation, I met with several of my colleagues at the National Forum to hear what they felt was most important from our research.  They were happy to report some compelling findings about Catholic institutions.

A current research project funded by the Ford Foundation includes a series of five case studies which explore the experiences of universities who have engaged the issue of undocumented student access in different ways.  One of the five institutions is a Catholic university that has been vocal in its outreach to the undocumented.  While it is fairly uncommon for university leaders to speak out publicly in support of undocumented students, our researchers were even more surprised about how outspoken the leaders of this university were.  As they dove more deeply into the case, they found that the institution’s leaders were drawing clear connections between the institution’s mission and history and were highlighting Catholic social teaching.  It is certainly true that private institutions are freer than many of their public peers when it comes to admissions decisions–they can basically admit whomever they wish.  It is nevertheless noteworthy that some leaders in Catholic higher education are rooting their advocacy for the undocumented in deeply held historical and religious principles.

We find ourselves at an interesting crossroads regarding immigration policy in the United States.  Though the DREAM Act has failed to pass numerous times, we are hearing renewed calls for comprehensive immigration reform from both the right and the left.  The Catholic Church does not have a universal policy regarding immigration reform, and it does not support any one approach.  The magisterium (the bishops, when acting together as teachers) has, however, repeatedly endorsed policies that care for the poorest in our communities, including the undocumented.  Especially in the U.S., where the Catholic Church has been composed largely of immigrant populations, there is an added historical perspective that informs modern immigration issues.

The Ford case studies, in conjunction with earlier National Forum research funded by the Texas Guarantee Student Loan Association, have informed the creation of an exciting new resource, the uLEAD Network (the case studies will be posted to the uLEAD Network when they are complete.)  This website has been designed to be a repository of various types of research regarding contentious issues in higher education, especially the current issue of undocumented student access.  Three of the key features of the site are:

1. Data repository: The website will be the National Forum’s primary repository of data regarding undocumented student access.  This will include (but not be limited to): case studies, articles, videos, testimonials, policy briefs, learning modules, reports, and bibliographies.  Others will be encouraged to share resources by submitting them to the National Forum to be uploaded to the site.

2. Network: The site will allow for networking between users, on a one-to-one basis.  While we initially considered the possibility of the site serving increased social networking (chatrooms, discussion boards, etc.), our research showed that moderated social connections would be more useful to our target demographic (administrators, faculty, and staff of universities.)

3. Safe and secure: To provide for maximum security on the site, we are implementing a number of measures.  First, all user accounts will be confirmed by phone call.  This will help us personally verify all members of the uLEAD community.  Second, only National Forum researchers will be able to upload resources to the site (users may forward resources to us if they would like it uploaded.)  No sensitive (personal) information will reside on the site, so there is no danger from hacking.  Third, all networking will be moderated on a one-to-one basis, meaning that those interested in connecting with another member of the uLEAD community will work through National Forum researchers.  We will then connect them with others who have offered to be contacted.  This will ensure that any connections will be limited and meaningful.

The uLEAD Network is scheduled to go live by March of 2013.  It represents years of research into the issues leaders in higher education are facing, especially regarding undocumented student access.  Stay tuned in the weeks to come as we will be excited to announce when this new resource is ready to go live.

By Kyle Southern

Nearly all Americans believe in the importance of higher education to enable social and economic mobility, but they carry deep concerns about its affordability and the ability of people with jobs and families, but no postsecondary credential, to complete their degrees.  These findings are included in the recently released report by the Lumina Foundation and Gallup, America’s Call for Higher Education Redesign.

Lumina and Gallup surveyed more than 1,000 Americans in late 2012 to gauge their attitudes and beliefs about the importance and accessibility of higher education.  Selected findings include:

  • Two-thirds of respondents indicated improved job prospects as a very important reason to earn a certificate or degree beyond a high school diploma
  • Most respondents who did not have a postsecondary credential at the time of the survey indicated they would feel more financially secure if they had earned such a credential
  • More than a quarter of respondents felt American higher education has declined in quality in recent years
  • Only 26 percent of respondents agreed that higher education in this country is affordable for any student who desires to pursue a postsecondary credential

These findings tell us that Americans know that education beyond high school is important for enhancing an individual’s success, but they are simultaneously conflicted about whether the investment of time and money is worth the investment.  Policymakers at the state and national levels are concerned about the rising costs of tuition and fees, and recent economic turmoil has altered the way many Americans think about their job prospects and whether going back to college would improve their employability.  Further, a survey of young people last year found three-quarters of 14- to 23-year-olds had “some” or “major” concerns about their ability to pay for higher education.

Americans of all ages are rightly concerned about the costs of higher education, and they are right to believe postsecondary credentials can serve as gateways to improved job prospects.  However, pursuit of higher education cannot only be seen as a benefit to the individual degree seeker.  Higher education also serves to enable a more engaged and well-informed citizenry. Institutions of higher education play essential leadership roles in the production of knowledge and the provision of care across the country.  The perception of higher education as an economic benefit to individuals, rather than also seeing it as a broader social benefit, risks further enabling a policy structure that reduces public support for the field.

Only considering the personal benefits of higher education, therefore, can lead to reductions in public support for higher education that lead to the increased costs of postsecondary programs to which so many Americans point as a barrier to entry or degree completion.

By Esmeralda Hernandez

Whether it is the community of Detroit or communities of higher education professionals, university-community partnerships is an important part of what we do here at the National Forum.  While much of our community engagement and many of our external partnerships come naturally, we should not underestimate the value of grounding our partnerships in theory— or at least learning from the experience of others doing university-community partnership work.  Suarez-Baltazar et al. wrote a chapter in Participatory Community Research: Theories and Methods in Action titled “University-Community Partnerships: A framework and an Exemplar.”  The chapter gives a review of the literature on university-community partnerships, and outlines ten characteristics of those partnerships that are successful.

The ten actions of successful university-community partnerships are to:

1)    Develop a relationship based on trust and mutual respect— Trust is essential in order to commit time and effort into a partnership that may involve several stakeholders with a diverse set of interests.

2)    Maximize, use, and exchange resources—Recognize that partners have a diverse set of resources and strengths that need to be valued.  Access to resources may create and unequal balance of power and control which needs to be addressed.

3)    Build two-way learning relationships— Each partnership must be ready to learn.  Do your best to challenge and eliminate the boundaries and pre-conceived notions of university knowledge and community knowledge

4)    Establish open lines of communication— This is at the heart of partnerships.  Keep in mind what is being communicated, how it is communicated, and be sensitive about the style and language used to communicate it.  Communication is involved setting goals and making sure everyone understands the process.

5)    Respect and celebrate diversity— Recognize that people have the right to be different from one another.  Respecting this difference is essential to partnerships, especially when the community is also diverse.

6)    Learn about the culture of the organization— Pay special attention to how people relate to one another.  Listening is key to developing understanding and respect to the cultural features of any particular setting.

7)    The research collaboration is based on the needs of the community—The research agenda should be guided by the community members’ concerns.  For the partnership to work, it must meet a need for the organization and be beneficial.  Understand that there are needs on both sides.

8)    Understand the multidisciplinary nature of partnerships— Partnerships involve engaging individuals from different multidisciplinary backgrounds.  Understand that even community members can bring their own extensive experience and views to the table.

9)    Use both qualitative and quantitative research strategies— Using a diverse set of research methodologies keeps partners continually involved and provides a diverse base of knowledge.  Not only do we need numerical data to describe populations, but we also need to have rich voices that give the numbers a story.

10) Share accountability of partnership success and opportunities- Just as power and leadership is shared in a partnership, so should responsibility for the successes and failures.  Just as successes are published in collaboration, so should the partnership share responsibility for problems, misunderstandings, and conflicts that may happen throughout the process.

The National Forum continues to engage in these partnerships with the understanding that they lead to an array of positive outcomes for all those involved.  We as a center would benefit from continuing to ground or work in theory that supports it.




Suarez-Balcazar, Y., Davis, M. I., Ferrari, J., Nyden, P., Olson, B., Alvarez, J., … & Toro, P. (2004). University-community partnerships: A framework and an exemplar.


The National Forum proudly recognizes the achievements of Legendary Musician, Nick Bowman.  Nick was presented the ASHE Promising Scholar/Early Career Award at the 2012 ASHE Conference.  Congratulations, Nick!

What is the ASHE Promising Scholar/Early Career Award?

The award recognizes a significant body of scholarship, a single extraordinary research achievement by a higher education scholar, or a potential for future research.  The Early Career Award, called the Promising Scholar Award in 1989 and 1990, is reserved for individuals who are no more than six years beyond the receipt of the doctoral degree

What was the basis of your presentation at the ASHE Conference?

I gave two presentations at ASHE this year — the first examined the curvilinear relationship between college diversity interactions and student outcomes, and the second explored the link between various college experiences and prosocial behaviors, attitudes, and self-perceptions.

What do you do now? 

I’m an assistant professor of higher education and student affairs at Bowling Green State University.

What was your focus at the National Forum and how did your work here influence your career and the work you do today?

At the Forum, I worked primarily on research and assessment for the Access to Democracy project. I also co-edited the Rising Scholars monographs and book.  Today, most of my research still examines some aspect of the “public good,” including the educational outcomes of diversity engagement as well as the experiences and outcomes of religious minority students.  Through my various involvements at the Forum, I bolstered my research, assessment, and grant-writing skills.

By Kelly Finzer

With new years come new classes, new assignments, and – most importantly – new opportunities.  The year 2012 ended on a high note at the National Forum, including bringing home a few new grants to continue our Access and Community Engagement work.  While our teams are excited to focus on the work associated with these new projects, I am starting to think about what comes next and which grants will best support our upcoming initiatives.

Prospecting grants is both a fun and challenging process.  While I am still perfecting my strategy, here is what I have learned so far:

1)    Gather information – I try to start my research by talking to my team members about topics that interest them.  From their interests, I can gather a better sense of what type of grant to search for and the dollar value to try to find.

2)    Research with a search site like or PIVOT – is a government site (as the name suggests) that allows you to search all types of government grants in one place.  Through, you can search National Science Foundation grants, National Institutes of Health grants, and many state and regional grants.  It’s a one-stop shop that can make your life much easier.  PIVOT allows you to search for grants applicable to a specific topic or from a particular foundation.  It also has a tracking feature that will save your list of topics and foundations to watch, and sends emails whenever PIVOT’s records for that grant or foundation are updated.  While PIVOT is a subscription service, U-M students receive free access.

3)    Analyze available information and collect details – Once I have found a grant that seems to fit my team’s goals, I read the current funding agenda of the organization along with past projects that it has funded.  Looking at past projects can be a useful way to determine what type of research the organization likes to fund.  For example, some organizations are more interested in funding surveys while others want to fund interviews.  Finally, I check the list of board members and staffers of the organization to see if the National Forum has any connections to anyone working for the organization.

4)    Note where your team’s interests connect with available opportunities – At this point in the prospecting process, I look for matches between my team’s interests and the organization’s current funding priorities.  The more matches that I can find, the better proposal my team will be able to write.  If our work does not connect with a potential funder’s current funding agenda, I rule out that funder.

5)    Touch base with old friends – By this I mean that we try to reach out to a peer who has worked with the organization in the past to share ideas for prospective funding.  Their coaching can help us make contact with the potential funder or provide tips to strengthen our proposal.

These are just a few tips to get you started, but with practice, anyone can become a successful grant prospector!

5 Tricks to Avoid Becoming a Longtalker

By Dan Parrish, C.S.C.

Who among us doesn’t enjoy listening to a splendid speaker?  Especially if she has a unique perspective on something we care about, we will go to great lengths to put ourselves in her audience.  History is full of stories of great orators inspiring listeners throughout time: from the Parthenon to Gettysburg to the Lincoln Memorial.  Though each of us has certainly attended numerous inspiring presentations, we have also unfortunately encountered that most frustrating and bewildering of phenomena: the windbag who won’t shut up.  Or, to put it more politely, the speaker who runs over.

In a recent blogpost for the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Perlmutter considered “When Professors Profess Too Much” (  He asked, “So what explains the phenomenon of ‘speaker runover?’  Why is it so common?  What can be done to stop it?  More perplexingly, should it be stopped?”  

Because I sympathize with Mr. Perlmutter’s helplessness, especially in being held captive by audacious academics, and due to what can only be described as a personal mission to evangelize longtalkers (not-so-distant cousins to closetalkers), I am sharing 5 tricks for avoiding the longtalker pitfall.

1. Scholar, know thyself.  In the Gospel of Luke we read a pericope (which is a fancy scripture scholar word for ‘story’) about Jesus teaching in a Nazareth synagogue.  Those gathered to listen to him expect him to perform some of the miracles they have heard he was doing in other places.  He replies to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum'” (Luke 4:23).  Jesus claims he is unable to perform miracles there because he is not accepted by the people (who lack faith), and thus illustrates an important point: good speaking and presenting begins with good self-knowledge.  The audience that gathers to listen to you believes that you have something important to offer (or they may be hostages hoping to receive course credit after a semester being subjected to your longtalking.)  Non-longtalkers know themselves well and work with their strengths and weaknesses in preparing appropriate talks.  This allows them to structure their presentations to take up only the allotted time and no more.

2. Just say no.  Nancy Reagan was onto something with her anti-drug campaign for children.  Though I cannot comment on the slogan’s effectiveness for keeping kids clean, the ability to say no has a clear effect for individuals and organizations.  Saying no is one of the most important management principles for the most successful electronics company of the present day, Apple.  In a 2010 Q&A session, then-COO Tim Cook told an audience, “We say no to good ideas every day in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small.”  Apple makes well over $100 billion annually with a portfolio of products that all fit on one table.  Is it any wonder why LG and Samsung mobile phones have historically been so miserable to use, when they are made by companies that also sell microwaves and refrigerators (these companies have only recently begun producing more elegant phones by copying Apple’s design principles.)  No speaker can cover everything in any one presentation.  Effective speakers keep saying no to possible ideas until they have pared their presentations down to the appropriate length and focus.  Longtalkers . . . well, they just don’t know how to say no.

3. Stay on target . . .  Though he didn’t know it at the time, Davish “Pops” Krail–probably better known to you and me by the call sign Gold Five–a pilot involved in the final assault on the Death Star in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, was actually pronouncing one of the most important tricks for being an effective speaker: stay on target.  One of the main reasons so many fall victim to longtalking is that they simply get off track and end up wandering about in the wilderness of their minds.  Most academics are bright individuals and have thoughts and opinions on a broad range of topics (probably a broader range of both topics and opinions than is warranted by their training . . .).  But for all of their expertise, many scholar-presenters forget the basic fact that each speaking opportunity is bounded by factors such as time, topic, audience, and location.  Tangents are almost never helpful to the listener, and they usually disrupt whatever consistency of message the speaker had worked up.  It takes some humility to recognize that you don’t have all day (and neither do your listeners!) to comment on every topic that occurs to you.  Good speakers know that by sticking to what they have prepared they will stay on target and deliver a much more meaningful (and much shorter) message. 

4. Practice, practice, practice.  Practice is not only the only way to get yourself to Carnegie Hall, it is the way to prepare well for a presentation of any size.  I have found over the years that when I speak without notes I get many more compliments afterwards.  I can only guess that I connect better with people when I am not tied to a text or hiding behind a podium.  And I enjoy speaking without a text much more.  However, I think most people misunderstand how much work it is to free oneself from a written text.  The reason it looks effortless when someone speaks without notes is probably because he or she is either a) simply brilliant and able to recall information at will, or, much more likely, b) well-rehearsed.  In my own case, if I am speaking ‘off the cuff’ it means that I have rehearsed the completed talk from start to finish at least 5-7 times.  This results in something very close to memorization–I know where I am in the talk, I know what is coming next, and I even know which words will get me from here to there.  During the intense preparation I also time the talk so that I can make appropriate adjustments.  Good speaking doesn’t just happen–it is only achieved by rolling up one’s sleeves and working on it.

5. Be flexible.  If you have read this far, you can probably tell that I attribute most of the sin of longtalking to the lack of preparation and discipline of the longtalker himself.  If he had simply put a bit more effort into his presentation, and if he just stuck to his notes, we wouldn’t be sitting next to him on the dais wondering if our turn to speak will ever come.  So, where is the room for flexibility in my argument?  Mr. Perlmutter states it well, “I wish I could have it both ways: Great trains that always run on time, and creativity unfettered.”  While I will always err on the side of preparation and ending on time, it is thrilling to be in the presence of someone who is passionate about her work and excited to share it.  And there should be room for flexibility and creativity in a presentation.  To the passionate and creative speaker: I will be happy to give you my undivided attention . . . but only until the bell rings.