“I can’t believe the school year is coming to an end.” The M.B.A. students I coach issued that refrain as they prepared to launch into their summer internships in places like Bangalore, San Diego, Beijing and Center City (in Philadalphia).
These are the ones who’ve made it. They excelled enough in grade school, high school and college to gain admittance to a world-class business school, and they are off to make their mark in the global boomtowns of commerce. Why would they require coaching at this point?
Simple. They missed important stuff along the way. With kindergarten graduations and college commencements ramping up, this might be the time to review the gaps, the experiences that are essential to success but too seldom placed before our highest achievers.
I’ve taught and been a principal at the secondary level; I’ve been a graduate and undergraduate instructor at five different colleges in business, communication, philosophy and religious studies. I have been a management consultant for more than 30 years. If a parent asked me, “What college should my kid strive to enter?” I would say, “The one that best suits your kid.”
If that parent asked me what educational experiences will best prepare her kid for college and career, then I have more detailed answers.
First, let’s dispose of the usual. Yes, take college prep classes, Advanced Placement courses, and some extracurricular somethings that show your well-roundedness and interest in social impact. Now, what else?
Did you know that the most selective colleges require your child to interview with someone, often an alum, as part of the admissions process? The TV show “Modern Family recently did a hilarious take on this feature, but it has a real impact on the admissions decision.
From high school on, your prodigies will present themselves, in person, to strangers with the power to say yes or no to their dreams. Professors will get them up before the class to show what they’ve learned, and those few minutes will leave a lasting impact. When they intern in Bangalore, they will seek to create networks of allies willing to lend a helping hand along their paths to success.
The request I and my fellow coaches receive with startling frequency from top-notch grad students is: How do I present myself? There is nothing abstract in this question. They want to know how to make their face look leaderly yet inviting, how to make their voice sound authoritative yet accessible, how to make their body seem poised and assertive and calm.
They want to know how to be taken seriously when face-to-face with decision-makers and potential bosses.
So, here’s my advice: The path to success in the cutthroat world of international trade among all those nasty capitalists is theater. That’s right. Get your kids into a drama troupe at school or outside school.
I help run a summer performing arts camp, and the most frequent comment I hear from parents is that they never thought their children could get before an audience and present themselves so fearlessly.
Well, a lot of kids never thought they could get before an audience without terror constricting their throats, turning their legs to water, or creating amnesia. That is, until they learn to face the fear and use their voice, face and body to convey their story to one or a hundred.
College presentation workshops or courses are, frankly, remedial; they cover competencies that should have been developed many years before. Yes, it is ironic that we live in an era when the arts are seen as a waste of time that could be better spent adding a hundredth of a point to your child’s GPA.
But walk up to the high-powered M.B.A. students I coach and ask, “How important is it to your success to present yourself effectively?” When you hear the answer, I promise your next move will be to sign your kid up for summer theater camp.
(Orlando R. Barone is a writer in Doylestown, Pa.)
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