By Brandi Hunter-Davenport 

For the last few years, I have taught an oral communications course at Messiah University. In my class, I teach the basics of speech delivery and preparation. I work with students on posture, poise, positioning, pronunciation and projection. I like to think that the foundation laid in my course for public speaking and presenting helps them in other courses throughout their collegiate careers and in life.  

So, in my mind, yes, I’m a good communicator because I teach communications.  

Regular Triadvocate readers may know that our firm has developed a list of 30 fundamentals that constitute “the Triad way,” and that we carve out a few minutes during nearly every workday to discuss the fundamental of the week. This week’s fundamental is be a lifelong learner. In being a lifelong learner, we look at getting beyond our comfort zones, working to increase our skill sets and being willing to learn from others, including those whose views may differ from our own.  

I had the honor of being named to the 2020 10 New Leaders Project class. A program through Dame Management Strategies, the 10 New Leaders Project is a pay-it-forward initiative. After a very competitive application process, 10 individuals were selected to participate in a very intense executive training and coaching mentorship program for a two-month period.  

When I first applied, I expected some executive coaching and development and a chance to take my own leadership game to the next level. I did get that, but I gained so much more. This year’s cohort was introduced to The Communication Gym©. Led by founder Dale Fallon, we embarked on a journey which took each of us out of our comfort zones and seriously made me question whether I really had this communication game down pat. 

Over 11 weeks, we explored how we communicated versus what we communicated. Working through the DISC model, we explored our own communication styles and how they entwined with the four segments of the DISC map: 

  • Dominance 
  • Influence 
  • Steadiness 
  • Conscientiousness 

Each week, we recorded a series of videos where we’d work on our message delivery, speaking to each of the four DISC styles. We even got to the point where we’d have to show the variation between the multiple styles in the same recorded message. While that may not sound difficult, imagine preparing to deliver a message and then knowing you need to flip a switch to transition between styles and do so effortlessly.  

You can get caught up trying to deliver the perfect message. Yes, the goal was to improve my delivery style and technique while further understanding my own views on leadership, but I was also constantly wrestling with the idea of Dale and my fellow cohort members reviewing my messages and critiquing them.   

I always thought if I were alive and direct and punched that I would engage my audience regardless of the topic being conveyed. Yeah, I learned that’s not necessarily the case. While the immediate thought may be to come out high-energy and charged, some messages may need to be delivered in a more subdued manner.   

I have often said I want to stretch, be stretched, become comfortable with being uncomfortable. The act of stretching beyond my comfort zone, putting myself out there and the risk of failure terrifies me to an extent. My body has a physical reaction to these moments – ones where my muscles begin to contract, and I can feel my heart racing.  

When my students feel these nerves moving in themselves, I encourage them to use these nerves to help them present, to tell their stories. Using these nerves is so much easier said than done. But that’s because as Dale reminded us in our first New Leaders Project session, communication is a physical skill, one that requires practice over time.  

The exercises we engaged in each week meant making time to practice. And what may have felt silly or awkward to me in recording these weekly presentations translated to messages that connected with my audience.  

As we concluded our time together, I realized I had learned a few things along the way:   

  • I’m still peeling back the layers of the onion in determining what is going to fulfill me in life. And whatever decisions I make for the long-term need to be what’s right for Brandi.     
  • Yes, I can teach speech and communications, but I need to remain teachable. I can never stop learning. 
  • Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice just makes better. There is no perfect presentation. But there can be perfect connection with priceless moments. 
  • I can prepare for my message delivery as long as I want, but it’s the way that message connects with the audience and reaches them that matters. My audience members aren’t all going to receive me in the same way, and that’s ok. 

I learned a lot in my time as a part of the 2020 New Leaders Project. Now, the real work and exploration begin.