Why Every Employee Should Perfect Their Presentation and Speaking Skills

In 2013, a study was published in Iran that highlighted the effect of communication skills training for hospital staff on job satisfaction and quality of care. The results demonstrated a positive correlation between communication skills and job performance as well as satisfaction. Staff who took the most advantage of increased training displayed a better potential for administering patient care and maintain better relationships in the workplace. The broader implications of these findings imply a similar dynamic in work settings across industries.

In delivering presentations and speeches regularly, employees become more organized, reliable, and approachable. They are also perceived as more capable and, therefore, fit to be good leaders. However, it should be noted that not all professionals give presentations or speak publicly. In fact, only department heads, managers, and executives are typically expected to. Excluding frontline managers, this constitutes less than 20% of the workforce. Not everyone has the opportunity to present or speak publicly, but research has shown that simply possessing the proper qualities for it result in better work habits. According to Speakers and Artists International founder Eric Stone, being a good speaker is synonymous to being an exceptional worker and leader in any capacity. He asserts that perfecting presentation and public speaking capabilities leads to an increased likelihood of promotion or stronger standing within the work environment.

Presentation and public speaking skills are familiar to anyone who has participated or worked in higher education. Whether through research, writing, business, humanities, or STEM courses, presenting and communicating in a collaborative setting are oftentimes an integral part of curricula. Though not all professionals utilize these skills post-graduation, there is a long-term benefit to mastering the art of storytelling that can help employees be more successful in the workplace. According to improv actor Jimmy Carrane, storytelling binds together elements of both intense preparation and improvisation. As rehearsed as a compelling message needs to be, there is no escaping the intensity of delivering it alone. However, being forced to voice your ideas entirely on your own with conviction leads to a better ability to improvise and think intuitively in conversation. This magnified confidence also inherently helps people become more eloquent speakers and have more assertive opinions in group settings. The listening and vocal skills nurtured through presenting to an audience also paves the way to being a better negotiator. Not only are arguments framed better, but better decisions are reached because the scenario feels more like a conversation and less like a transaction.

So, whether you work at home, in a cubicle, or out of an office with a secretary, being a well-versed presenter and storyteller has invaluable benefits. Not only will it shape you into a better improviser and more eloquent conversationalist, but it will also strengthen your voice in public settings, give you more confidence, and condition you into a better negotiator.

How Startups Challenge Long-Standing Power Distances in the Workplace

Giacomo Di Pasquale -- August 8th, 2020

Power distance is the degree to which less powerful members of institutions and organizations accept that power is distributed unequally. In very high power distance cultures, the lower level person will unfailingly defer to the higher level person–and feel relatively okay with that as it is the natural order.

For example, the United States has a 40 on the cultural scale of Hofstede’s analysis. Geert Hofstede was a Dutch social psychologist and Professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who is known for is work on cross-cultural groups and organization and father of the concept of power distance, together with other popular frameworks for measuring cultural dimensions in a global perspective.

Now, back to the main track. Compared to Arab countries, where the power distance is very high (80) and Austria where it is very low (11), the United States is somewhat in the middle. The US suffers from large gap between the wealthy and the poor, but, at least in theory, there is the strong belief that all Americans have the opportunity to rise in society. However, as the years go by, it seems that the distance between the haves and have-nots grows larger and larger. Then, how could startups change the status-quo and contribute to the reduction of power distance on the work place and the gap between wealthy and less wealthy?

Startups, for the way they are structured and for the culture they promote, inherently have low power distances, which is quite revolutionary, especially in countries that traditionally experience high levels of power distance. Furthermore, the startup sector has become more and more popular in recent years, representing probably the most interesting work environment for the future, with many young talents interested in either internships or permanent contracts at both established and emerging startups.

Startups are generally known for their innovative ideas and high tolerance for uncertainty. They can more easily maintain and integrate cross-cultural relations within the workplace, a workplace that is usually friendly and informal, other factors that contribute to lower levels of power distance.

How about a quick equation?

better cross-cultural relations = more diverse models and feedback = more innovation

If the equation is right, then it means that startups are well-equipped to fully integrate and motivate diverse teams with multi-cultural leadership and employees, hence reducing power distance and stimulating innovation and success across all levels.

In many startups, due to their flexibility and the promotion of an informal flat structure that values the voices of each employee and increases retention, workers from a wide variety of backgrounds can easily acknowledge their differences in expertise/interests, therefore everyone feels interdependent and valued. For instance, Seedstages, the startup where the authors of this article work, makes no difference and promotes a positive environment where multi-level feedback is constant and where a diversified culture ensures low levels of power distance.

Startups are challenging the long-standing ideas of power distance in the workplace, from both sides of the spectrum. Power distance is an idea that belongs to a past that does not represent anymore who we are and who we should be in the future; working in an environment that appreciates you for who you are and what you can bring to the table every day is a truly unique and rewarding experience that we all deserve to live.

The New Relationship Between Higher Education and the Corporate World

Over the past few years, there has been a growing discourse addressing the value of enrolling in higher education. The question is not one of preference; 40% of millennial workers obtained a bachelor’s degree in 2016 compared to 26% of baby boomers in 1985. As this percentage continues to grow with Generation Z entering the workforce, it seems that going to college is more preferable now than ever. However, it should also be considered that even though tuition rates and student housing costs have skyrocketed over the past few decades, the average starting salary for bachelor’s degree earners has increased by less than $3,000 between 1960 and 2015. Given this trade-off, it can be speculated that the decision to go to college today isn’t made from preference as much as it is necessity.

Last month, Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj asserted in one of his episodes that while having a bachelor’s degree in the 90’s gave applicants a competitive edge in the hiring process, it is now a mandatory qualification to be eligible for an entry-level salary even in industries that do not exhibit high revenue growth rates. Though he followed it with a joke about universities using endowment funds to build theme park attractions, the veracity of his statement still stands. It has become a popular sentiment in the past few years that higher education is now corporatized in an almost irreparable way.

Though enforcing harder requirements for prospective employees to have a college education is better for innovation and productivity across industries, it is unfortunately at the expense of students’ tied hands. Theoretically, higher education costs can continue to increase even as salaries for entry-level positions stay stagnant. Even if institutions begin implementing cost-cutting procedures (as is happening now due to COVID-19), faculty and department staff will be disadvantaged, which in turn limits student opportunity and learning accessibility.

Is it possible to be successful without going to college? Absolutely. But there is no denying that it will be increasingly harder to be established, especially in a post-pandemic economy, without one. The reality is that the amount of money invested into obtaining a degree may end up being more than what that graduate will be projected to earn. Though there are various parties actively fighting the student debt crisis at the civic, corporate, and legislative levels, it is uncertain whether this growing issue will have a solution anytime soon.

This ultimately means that the best decision to be made by students who intend to get a degree is to take advantage of college. It is crucial to gain work and extracurricular experience as a student not only to save time in planning for and applying to jobs after graduation, but to provide a competitive advantage in the workplace, gain networking opportunities, and, most importantly, nurture the potential for industries to advance and assure better and more accessible job opportunities in the future. 

What the Economic Impact of COVID-19 Means for Gen Z

As recent higher education graduates and household income contributors, Generation Z is rapidly becoming one of the largest demographics entering the workforce. Though (in most cases) not yet homeowners or full-time employees, our generation is increasingly contributing to our economy in more ways than we would expect. In 2013, 31% of new businesses were registered by owners under the age of 35 and are now considered the most likely to retain employees. Even though we will inevitably constitute a larger percentage of the workforce over the next few decades, there is no doubt about the impressive entrance we have already made.

Just as we are a generation of great potential, we are also a generation of massive resilience. Our childhoods have been defined by economic downturns, administrative landmarks, social movements, climate change, political protests, and, most recently, a global pandemic.

There is no question of whether we will make it out of situations like this. We will. It is, however, difficult to say when. The loss of life is by far the most irreconcilable change brought upon us by the global pandemic. However, even those who are not directly affected by COVID-19 are subjected to its effects—if not our bodies, it has taken a toll on our livelihoods. The economic impact of COVID-19 means different things for different demographics as it hits homeowners, tenants, business owners, and employees. According to last month’s data from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, it will take until 2021 at the earliest for the nation’s economy
to stabilize (contingent on vaccine development), but the unpredictable nature of communicable outbreaks could easily change this estimate.
 Presently, most of the national responses and policies that have taken effect are unprecedented. Millions of Americans have found themselves unsure of what to do next or what they can do next, regardless of what age demographic they
belong to.

Here are some of the most significant workplace changes caused by COVID-19 that impact prospective hires:

1. Budget cuts: Perhaps the most predictable effect, budget cuts to save imminent decreases in revenue across various industries led to laying off non-essential staff, restructuring management and budgeting models, and, in more severe cases, terminating certain departments altogether. As a result, many pre-COVID-19 job openings at companies that were forced to undergo budget cuts were likely removed.

2. Reskilling: as millions of employees made the transition to remote work, management structures have changed at the department level to help everyone adjust to fully virtual work. Regardless of seniority level, most firms have had to offer training and reskilling
procedures to a certain degree. Since this was done internally, potential job openings were held off or overlooked in an effort to stay time and cost effective.

3. Working around traditional hiring methods: Many companies that were in need of new employees and moved forward with their recruiting process had to find a way to channel and accommodate applications in bulk and meet shorter-than-normal turnaround deadlines. As a result, group interviews, prerecorded interviews, questionnaire substitutes, and other less common ways of hiring were implemented in relatively short time spans, with two or three rounds of interviews completed over a span of a week. Under these circumstances, prospective hires faced unusual time constraints and limited ability to prepare.

So, what does this mean for an entire generation of a new labor market? How will these changes impact Generation Z as a demographic that is largely coming into the workforce with these adverse conditions? From now until the near future, the simple answer is employment availability and qualification standards in the hiring process. Many firms are realizing what exactly can be done remotely and what can’t, and the skills and experience necessary for certain roles are bound to change in the future when recruiting teams try to balance what was accessible for prospective hires during all of this and what their company’s departments need. This leaves an opening for students or recent graduates who are ready to start working but are unsure how to navigate it, and much of the technology sector is stepping in to help. Online course services, startups, and video conferencing and online workspace providers offer ways to get connected with companies of interest (Zoom, Cisco Webex), get certified for technical skills (edX, Coursera), and find tailored opportunities based on interest (Seedstages). Though job security in the near future is uncertain, taking advantage of these resources is a good place to start.

So, a word of caution for recent graduates and those currently waiting to receive their diplomas: It’s important to keep looking. Dust off your resume and be prepared for the possibility of cycling through the job application process for the next few years, however strenuous it may be. Secure yourself however you can, both financially and experientially (and though it may not always be ideal, sometimes you may have to look for those things separately). Whatever you do, keep trying. Prepare for the worst, but always remember to hope for the best.

How the Startup Sector is Revolutionizing Social Impact

With the rise of the digital age, movements have garnered support and attention at unprecedented levels. Because of increased media accessibility, organizations like The World Social Forum and Pride and, in more recent years, Black Lives Matter and Who Made My Clothes? have grown in visibility and solidarity as people identify their own values within these entities. As a byproduct, more and more of our workforce is increasingly interested in working for companies and industries that not only maximize their salary, but their impact.

People are less inclined to work for a corporation that openly amasses environmental waste because they now know the specifics of the harm it causes, and they turn their noses at retailers that outsource their suppliers when they learn more about sweatshop conditions. The bottom line is that whether the corporate world keeps up or not, ethical business practices will hold increasing value as media and technology drives social movements. Some entrepreneurs even use impact to build their own business and drive profits, rather than the other way around. Just as passionate visionaries are at the heart of successful corporations, startups are at the heart of a system that integrates social impact into the business world.

According to AngelList’s current directory, there are over 484 social impact startups registered on their site alone, with impact investing firms collectively crossing $500 billion last year. Defined as developing, funding, and implementing solutions to social or environmental causes, social entrepreneurship “narrows the gap” between those who benefit most from existing business and markets and those who benefit the least, according to renowned impact startup investor Mitch Kapor. Impact startups are mission-driven companies that integrate their desired social effect into every step of their business plan, and they perpetuate long-term change through innovation.

These startups address a variety of causes and span many different industries, from healthcare and transportation to education and technology. One such startup is Seedstages, a mobile app that aims to democratize job search processes by helping students match and connect with internships based on their passions and interests. Some other examples include Change.org, Pathao, Khan Academy, and Narayana Health. These businesses are based on models that hope to narrow the scope of a broader issue, which in turn increases their prospects of longevity and providing continued support.

Balancing for-profit work with community-oriented resources is another way startups can make successful social impact ventures. According to a 2018 article published in Entrepreneur, these companies have dedicated teams and management to connect their business practices with social enterprise, and they put effort into working with platforms and institutions that validate and support their impact. With the help of impact investment firms like Kapor Capital, MaRS, and Big Path Capital, these startups are able to turn their initiatives into ongoing endeavors.

Social impact inherently means to even the playing field in some context in a certain capacity. Many startups approach impact efforts by using innovation to relieve consumer inaccessibility. Popular businesses like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb among many others strive to make their services as accessible and user-friendly as possible. Though these companies are not setting out to solve social issues, their social entrepreneurship simultaneously provides sources of income and easily available, affordable services.

So, by having mission-driven business models, balancing for-profit work with community-oriented resources, and relieving consumer inaccessibility with innovation, startups have revolutionized large-scale social impact. In an imperfect world, there will always be a need for social entrepreneurship. And though the future is unpredictable, startups continue to be a leading force in creating social impact and serve as a beacon for hope for lasting change. 

How to More Effectively Attract Talent From Underserved Communities

For anyone who’s tuned into the domestic news for the past several months, the discourse on race relations within American social and economic systems is emphasized now more than ever as corporations and employers are coming together to stand in solidarity with victims of our law enforcement and criminal justice system.

Historically speaking, the issue disproportionately affects minority groups, predominantly from undeserved communities with little government funding for community services. According to a 2016 paper published in Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 148, the upward mobility rate of predominantly black and brown residencies in inner cities is largely less than 15%.

At its core, the issue lies within a system that fails to support these communities. As the above statistic demonstrates, individuals with limited opportunities to improve their current living conditions are forced to maintain those conditions with increasing difficulty for generation. Therefore, the most promising solution for underserved communities is opportunity. This is where the job market comes in.

24% of the US population is made up of African Americans and Hispanics, but these communities, on average, have the lowest annual household income. Higher education institutions and large-scale firms have made great strides over the past few decades to recruit and admit students from underprivileged communities, but what can be done beyond hiring a couple employees from different backgrounds?

A 2019 article published on D!gital Magazine states that hiring a diverse workforce should come from a data-based process rather than a policy-based process. Too often, we see diversity hiring driven by meeting quotas or satiating brand reputation. Using consistent data analysis to address biases in hiring practices effectively retains employees from more backgrounds and allows prospective hires from underserved communities to stay involved farther along in the recruitment process.

Another effective way to support outreach to these communities is by casting a wider net from the beginning. In other words, it is more effective to actively seek out relationships and partnerships with entities who specifically focus on supporting undeserved communities than to organize isolated diversity hiring events.

A third and more engaging way to attract talent from these communities is to provide employees or team members with a platform and voice. Seeing employees representing a variety of backgrounds actively engaged in company culture attracts more prospective hires, outwardly demonstrates a competitive advantage, and increases overall organizational performance.

Recently, the tech startup sector has made significant progress to provide opportunities for minorities from underserved communities, from building diverse management teams to tracking and removing subjective incentive practices for employees. Apps are being built to match students to internship opportunities based on location and interest (see Seedstages). These efforts move above
and beyond token diversity hiring and ensure long-term involvement from various
groups, making inclusion not just a value to these startups, but rather an integral asset to their success.

So, why is this important? Why should we strive to attract talent from underprivileged communities? The technical answer would be that it is inevitable—46% of all employers are reporting talent shortages nationwide, mostly due to the fact that the vast majority of our labor force work low-paying jobs because of their lack of skills to give them a competitive edge. Within the next few years, companies will have no choice but to look to these communities for new talent. In general, sourcing talent from traditionally overlooked pools leads to better brand image, enhanced performance, and increased revenue (around $400 billion annually in the IT industry alone, according to CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux). We can owe this to the innovation and untapped creativity that is catalyzed when people of various backgrounds and experiences put their heads together to solve a problem. As the saying goes, strength lies in differences, not in similarities, and this concept will always hold true for any industry.