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Posts tagged ‘net impact’

Talking the Talk

March 12, 2012

Emily Briggs


It might seem a bit odd to start my sustainability skill collection with gravitas and communications. Some would argue that being a breathtaking public speaker and presenter are qualities that every professional should have. And I couldn’t agree more. But there are two things I want to emphasize:

1)    Really compelling public speakers are few and far between
2)    Sustainability professionals have a unique responsibility to foster understanding, create buy-in and engage a wide array of stakeholders

As such, an articulate, energizing sustainability communicator is a priceless asset. Whether they’re creating the business case for sustainability to the C-suite, integrating sustainability across functional areas of an organization, developing business with new clients or training employees on what sustainability means to them, impeccable communication skills are paramount. So with that in mind, I set out to collect my first sustainability skill.

The Plan
•    Step 1: Attend a workshop on public speaking
•    Step 2: Inspire myself with a little gravitas
•    Step 3: Lead my group’s midterm briefing presentation

Step 1: Attend a Workshop on Public Speaking
To begin, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on Public Speaking: Strategy and Delivery; the first in a new series offered by the Earth Institute. In an evening session packed with students, the eloquent Joann Baney took to the stage and graced us with a few insights.

Firstly, feeling anxiety before making a speech is normal. According to Joann, public speaking is considered to be the no. 1 fear in the United States – more frightening than financial problems and even death (yikes)!

When it comes to interpersonal communication, Joann reminded us that:

•    55% of what’s communicated is non-verbal (body language, stance, gestures, eye contact, dress, touch)
•    38% of what’s communicated is vocal (the sound of your voice, volume, rate, intonation, pitch, enunciation)
•    And a measly 7% of what’s communicated is the actual words you say

So how do we overcome our fears and present comfortably, professionally and with confidence? Here are some of Joann’s pointers:

•    Decouple your visible and invisible nervous symptoms. The good news is most nervous symptoms aren’t visible to the audience, so despite your sweaty palms or racing heart, you can still present with confidence.
•    Be sure not to slouch, cross your arms or place your hands on your hips.
•    Get a sense of what your natural gesturing style is by watching yourself in front of a mirror.
•    Make eye contact. We’re a very heavy eye-contact culture because we consider it a mark of honesty, credibility and forthrightness. Before you get up to speak, search for friendly faces in different places in the audience and focus your gaze on them.
•    Remember that your voice is a wind instrument. In general, lower voices tend to command more authority, so record yourself and get to know how you sound. Do you add filler words (“um, er, like, you know, sooo, okay, now, ah“)? If so, when do you do it? Do you speak quickly? Slowly? Linearly? Anecdotally? Tangentially?
•    And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS rehearse out loud before the day of your presentation. This will help you untangle any knots before you get up in front of a live audience.

Joann’s presentation was rich with helpful advice. My biggest takeaway was that being a compelling speaker starts with a healthy dose of self-awareness. Once you can develop a keen (and ideally objective) understanding of your natural strengths and weaknesses, then the hard work is done. All that remains is coming up with a customized blend of tools to help you improve and a lot of practice.

Step 2: Inspire Myself with a Little Gravitas
Later in the week, I found myself at Barnard College for a meeting with the Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. For those of you in New York City, Athena offers an impressive selection of professional workshops designed for women leaders, including one by Raleigh Meyer – a self-proclaimed gravitas guru (how cool does that sound?). Curious, I sat down to Raleigh’s presentation (see below) in which she elaborates on the six elements of creating good, gravitas-y impressions with an audience.


Above and beyond the content of Raleigh’s presentation, what I found interesting was simply watching her delivery. I noticed  that she uses the speed and tone of her voice very intentionally, she gestures often but not excessively and she smiles at her audience, almost as if she’s inviting them to engage with her.

Step 3: Lead My Group’s Briefing Presentation
All of these tips and tricks were wonderful, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding. So when the opportunity arose to deliver a presentation about my group consulting project to faculty and students at the Earth Institute, I jumped at the chance to put myself to the test. Here’s how the magic unfolded:

  • The project is technical to say the least, so the group and I distilled the key messages we wanted the audience to remember.
  • I prepared an initial draft and presented it live to my group (with my notes in hand). We all provided our feedback and edited the presentation until we were satisfied.
  • I presented a dry run in front of our faculty advisor and my group. It was very well received, although we made some additional changes to the ordering of the content and refined how some of the more technical information was presented.
  • Once everything was in its place, I practiced and practiced and practiced. I practiced in front of the mirror, I practiced in front of the video recorder and I practiced out loud on my walks to campus. I even snuck into the auditorium where the final briefing would happen and practiced to an empty room!

On the evening of the actual presentation, I felt comfortable knowing that I had mastered my content and was prepared (thanks in no small part to the support and patience of my group). When I got up in front of the audience, the smiling faces and approving nods gave me the courage to channel my inner gravatista (my new favorite made-up word) and everything else just seemed to flow naturally. And while I was still pretty nervous, all of my practice really helped me trust myself to find my words, deliver the presentation confidently and make my team proud.

Have you ever had to make an important presentation? How do you prepare? Does public speaking come to you naturally? What do you think makes a presentation flawless? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Sustainability Skill Building

March 5, 2012

Emily Briggs


Last month I shared my fondness for Net Impact’s report on Business Skills for a Changing World: An Assessment of What Global Companies Need from Business Schools. In it, Net Impact identifies some of the core skills needed by business school students to prepare them better for future employment in companies with strong sustainability agendas. If you haven’t read it already, go ahead and thank me later.

All of this talk about skill building got me thinking about a scene from a movie I watched a few years back called The Brothers Bloom. The scene features a quirky character who, inspired by those around her, puts her mind to collecting a vast array of nifty hobbies.

Confession: the break dancing bit makes me giggle every time haha.

In some ways, the scene is a great analogy for taking this year to pursue graduate studies. While I have my own ideas about what I ought to be learning, my journey is constantly guided by new insights that come to light, inspiring people I encounter and salient reports like the one from Net Impact. When combined, they represent the unique collection of experiences that are continuously informing the skills I build and ultimately who I am as a sustainability professional.

So without further ado, in no particular order, I present to you the top 10 skills that I’ll be working to add to my collection over the next few months. Stay tuned for posts detailing my adventures along the way or sign up for instant updates!

  • Life Cycle Analysis
  • Sustainability Science
  • Sustainability Indicators and Metrics
  • Green Accounting
  • Gravitas and Communications
  • Sustainability Across the Value Chain
  • Sustainability and Risk Management
  • Sustainability Reporting
  • Systems Thinking and Negotiating
  • Embedding Sustainability into Organizational Culture

Have you added any skills to your collection lately? If so, what where they and how did you go about acquiring them? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Business Skills for a Sustainable World

February 8, 2012

Emily Briggs

Photo credit:

One of the hallmarks of being a graduate student is that I get to read a LOT. And while many of my fellow classmates moan and groan about their deteriorating retinae, I’ve sought out clever ways to embrace the droves of information coming my way.  You see, when I was a working professional, thought-provoking reports and fascinating studies would pass through my inbox at a furious pace. I’d always flag them for future reading, but inevitably would get distracted with the task at hand and eventually file them away to collect dust.

But no more! With learning as my full time job, I have no trouble cozying up with the latest systematic review or trends analysis. Once relegated to the backwaters of my inbox, these reports now occupy a prominent spot on my desk and often provide much-needed reprieve when forging ahead with school work just seems too cruel a task.

One of my all-time favorites is Net Impact’s Business Skills for a Changing World: An Assessment of What Global Companies Need from Business Schools. Recognizing that marketplace dynamics, environmental imperatives, government polices and technological change are shifting the very nature of business from underneath us, Net Impact set forth to identify the core skills needed by business school students to prepare them better for future employment in companies with strong sustainability agendas. Together with senior sustainability executives, they mapped out a veritable buffet of must-have skills to be an effective, excellent sustainability professional.

Let’s take a moment, because whoaaa, that’s a pretty big deal. For a gal sitting in my seat, it was as if the skies parted and clarity poured forth. Here’s rundown of what they came up with:

Students of business sustainability need to develop skills that focus their attention both inside the company, towards daily operations and core competencies, and outside the company, towards the wider ramifications of business decisions.

  • “Inside” skill sets include: understanding of companies’ actual products and services and how they are made; the changing nature of business planning; the role of global management systems; integrating sustainability factors with research and development, procurement and supply chain management, product development, financial management, marketing, branding and other operations; risk mitigation and cost savings; the relationship of sustainability to science and innovation; the fundamentals of project management; finance and marketing; and development of newer accounting models.
  •  “Outside” skills include: comprehension of policy drivers and how they impact market demand; major trends shaping the global marketplace; the integration of sustainability reporting with financial reporting; understanding multi-cultural perspectives; and improved listening and communications skills with customers and stakeholders.
  • Additional proficiencies include: greater knowledge of the management of complexity; systems thinking; improved interpersonal skills; and negotiation skills within project teams and external business partners or stakeholders.

Easy peasy, right? What’s being demanded of sustainability professionals is a comprehensive package of competencies and skills to help create and lead organizational change with one foot firmly grounded in a keen understanding of the past, and the other visionary foot planted confidently in the future. And in my mind, there could be no better criteria for a challenging and meaningful career.

I’ll be elaborating on the findings of this report in the coming weeks and how they’ve helped guide my academic pursuits this year. Until then, what types of skills are demanded of you in your job? Are any of them surprising to you? Has the nature of what you do shifted over time? Do you have any reports you’d like to recommend? Feel free to leave a comment below.




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