Millennials are addicted to speaking through devices, often sending an email in lieu of in-personal conversation, and do not place as high a value on professional face-to-face communications as generations had before them. Hiding behind devices, however, can cause serious client-company relationship problems in the advertising world where effective communication is king. Knowing this well as a more than 30-year veteran of the industry, President John Martorana of Oxford Communications, a New Jersey-based marketing firm, saw the talent in his motivated, young staff but needed the right program to bring out the confident speakers he saw inside each of them. Realizing that potential can get pricey, however; companies spent $702 per employee in 2015 on professional development, according to the 2015 Training Industry Report. So, what is a small business to do?
“The big insight for us was realizing that we already had rich resources for training right under our own roof,” explained Martorana.
One of these in-house resources, Sean O’Grady, Oxford’s Communications Strategist, brought to the table a program he conceived that synthesized effective communication ideas and techniques from authors Dale Carnegie, Stephen Covey, Norman Vincent Peale, Don Riso and Don Miguel Ruiz, as well as TED Talks, Toastmasters, and the Myers-Brigg and Enneagram Assessments. Oxford launched O’Grady’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) in 2015, which immerses small cohorts of 8-10 employees drawn from every corner of the agency in a limited run of weekly classes. Core topics are designed to help employees discover, embrace and employ their speaking and management style. The course utilizes interactive public speaking activities, two personality assessments and leadership training exercises to enhance self-confidence, mindful communication and service-oriented work ethic.
On the surface, LDP participants learn the finer points of public speaking, communication, conflict resolution and collaboration. The underlying mantra of LDP is that everyone has a voice and deserves a respectful audience.
From the first cohort – consisting entirely of Millennial-aged employees who fidgeted, turned red, stumbled over their words and could not speak clearly for even a minute without getting flustered – it was clear why a program like LDP was necessary, especially in an environment that values close contact with clients. What was even more clear was the dramatic effect the program had on the group after only a few weeks of sessions. The messy “uhs” and “ums” of the past were gone, and their voices became steady, confident and clear as they spoke intelligently about any topic thrown their way.
“Standing in front a group and speaking was daunting to me. I used to go to extreme lengths to avoid it in school and at work,” said Communications Content Specialist Colleen Morrison, a member of the first cohort. “After a few meetings, though, I felt myself getting more comfortable and electing to stand up and talk as opposed to hiding in a corner like I had done for so many years. I’m now able to confidently get up and make my presence known and heard without nerves choking me; that’s an invaluable skill to me as someone just starting a career and wanting to earn respect.”
This is a sentiment shared by Millennials in and out of the workforce as made evident by the popularity of The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) class born out of the success at Oxford and taught by O’Grady. An innovative alliance was forged when TCNJ, hearing about the effectiveness of O’Grady’s LDP program, joined forces with Oxford to enrich its curriculum and create the course, Confident Communicating. While four-week mini-courses have become popular in the Department of Interactive Multimedia at TCNJ, the response to Confident Communicating was unprecedented, according to TCNJ Professor John Kuiphoff. “It’s our most successful mini-course, always the first to fill up. Several students requested that it become a full-time addition to the curriculum and we’re excited to make that happen in 2017.” For young, eager students at TCNJ, that communication training might just help them ace their first job interview or portfolio presentation.
And while LDP continues its success in and out of the office and started the trend toward bettering Oxford’s communication skills as a whole, Oxford Communications University (OCU) – an ongoing initiative that cultivates the agency-wide sharing of knowledge from staff members, as well as select agency partners and vendors – has kept it going strong.
OCU classes are held on Wednesday afternoons, and all agency employees are incentivized to attend through quizzes that reinforce the learnings of the subject matter, which can be as specialized as a primer on search engine optimization (SEO), to general business topics like how to run more effective meetings, to subjects of personal interest like office recycling. Participation counts positively toward each employee’s annual review and development goals for the year. All presenters are required to put together a PowerPoint in advance and provide a short quiz after the class.
Morrison, the same once-fumbling Millennial in the first cohort who had always avoided speaking, orchestrates OCU, using her fine-tuned communication skills learned in LDP to effectively organize and introduce presentations made by employees and outside partners who want their voices heard in the agency.
“We felt the best way to share know-how and encourage employees to recognize themselves as potential subject matter experts was to give them the opportunity to share their unique POV with a familiar and interested audience,” said Morrison. “Just like in LDP, presenters are expected to speak accurately, briefly and clearly on a chosen subject with the added element of presenting well-informed ideas that will ultimately benefit our internal communications and our clients.”
Oxford launched OCU with a degree of uncertainty as to how it would be received, especially by the timid Millennials who would rather write an email than stand up and speak. Those concerns have proved to be unfounded as there is currently a two-month waiting list for employees (especially the Millennials) and partners wanting to become presenters. Every class has been met with enthusiastic turnout. Most importantly, the initiative is succeeding in meeting the overarching goal of cultivating cross-department knowledge and continuing the practice of effective communication started by LDP. It certainly helps that presenters and those in attendance share a common understanding and interest of the agency’s culture, clients, challenges and opportunities.
Between the OCU group presentations and LDP cohorts, Oxford’s Millennial staff members are seeing dramatic results, going from mostly silent email addicts to enthusiastic face-to-face communicators.
“Our company trades on communication,” stated Martorana. “We have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership, and quality communication certainly pays dividends each and every day. The fact that we recognized that we already have the talent to further our development is empowering for all of us.”