3 Tips for Helping All Students Become 21st Century Communicators

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3 Tips for

The STEM revolution will be communicated.

You did it! You helped your students design amazing innovations or create powerful STEM-based projects. But when it comes time for them to verbally present, you are underwhelmed when most of your most tech-savvy and forward-thinking students look at the floor the whole time with their shoulders slumped fumbling through slides they are reading word-for-word from their presentation screen.

A true STEM education is incomplete without effective verbal communication. As a Computer Science graduate, tech professional, and intellectual property attorney, I’ve seen the struggles that highly talented STEM students (and even STEM professionals) experience when they have all of the best ideas and innovations, but lack effective communication skills. So after applying several public speaking best practices in my winning pitches for the Shark Tank: One Day and Nevada Governor’s Business Summit Pitch competitions, I’m happy to share 3 concrete tools and strategies teachers can use to help your STEM students effectively use their voices.

  1. Study and analyze the greats and the soon-to-be-greats

Steve Jobs was a nerd’s nerd, but he still knew how to be a showstopper in his pitches for new products such as the 2007 IPhone release. And you don’t need to focus on established tech moguls, since there is plenty of other examples of young people pitching their ideas on the internets. This gives students a powerful model showing why specific strategies like strong openings, dramatic pauses, and surprise twists work (in Steve Jobs’ IPhone announcement, he lead the crowd to believe he was releasing 3 new products, a brand new touchscreen IPod, a state of the art web browser, and a top-notch phone, and surprised them by announcing that the IPhone is just 1 product with these 3 innovations rolled into one).

  1. It’s not a presentation, it’s a story

As Daniel Pink notes in his bestseller To Sell Is Human, every movie pitch in Hollywood goes the same way:

Once upon a time ____________________________. Every day, _______________________. One day ________________________________________. Because of that, _________________________________. Because of that, __________________________________. Until finally, ___________________________________.

Using this framework to set up the story around an innovation is a concrete strategy to help students find interesting ways to create a narrative around their technical creations. See what this looks like using the game-changing online math resource Khan Academy as an example.

Once upon a time students struggling with their math homework had few places to find help. Every day, students tried working with their confused parents or paid lots of money for expensive math tutors. One day – Sal Khan’s younger cousin needed help on his homework, so Sal started tutoring her over the internet and over the phone. Because of that, more of Sal’s cousins and his family friends started asking for help, but Sal was too busy to help all of them so he created online videos to help them. Because of that, word spread, and more and more students started using these videos. Until finally, Sal created Khan Academy, which now gives over 15 million people each month access to free educational resources.

Students do not have to use this format in their actual presentations, but the simple process of understanding the narrative nature of their innovation should make these communications much more natural for them.

  1. Don’t Just Practice: Use the Design Process for to Improve Their Presentations

We teach students to use the design process to create their innovations, so why not use the same strategy to help them communicate these ideas? Instead of having students practice in front of a mirror, have them deliver draft presentations to audiences, way before they are ready with their final products. Asking their test audiences what parts of the presentation connected with them, confused, them or offended them and gaining additional feedback about body language and delivery will give students the information they need to improve.

These are just 3 strategies you can use to help your students match their 21st Century STEM skills with 21st Century communication skills, so please share this post and feel free to add your ideas for helping students improve their presentation skills.


Colin Seale, Esq. is the award -winning Founder and CEO of thinkLaw (www.thinklaw.us), an innovative curricular and coaching program that helps educators teach critical thinking to all students using real-life legal cases.