Public Speaking Class Offers Real World Application

Students in Kyle Reynold's Advanced Public Speaking role-played in KO’s annual "Public Speaking Symposium" in the Conklin Library. The class’s final unit had been The Art of Communication: Leadership, Negotiation, Team Building, and Conflict Resolution. Putting these skills to use, the class recently read Patrick Lencioni's "Five Dysfunctions of a Team," a leadership fable where a new CEO has to use his or her public speaking and communication strategies to save a failing company. 

Using a real-world application, the KO faculty acted as "disgruntled and conflicted employees" so the public speaking students could practice their new conflict resolution skills as they delivered unfortunate news as the head of a school or business. Each student was given a specific issue that they had to contend with as a principal or leadership position within the organization. The students drafted talking points to address the concerns of their ‘employees’. There was a lot of animated aka heated discussion between the employees and the beleaguered boss as the students try to remain cool, calm, and collected in a crisis situation. 

The faculty and staff members, including Becca Benavides, Fritz Goodman, Nancy Solomon, Sabrina Puzinski, Graham Hegeman, Ron Monroe, Jackie Rubin, Beth Scully, Cathy Schieffelin, and Carolyn McKee, were placed in a number of "team meetings.” The faculty and staff responded accordingly to the prompt. For instance, in one case, a non-plussed, cool-as-a-cucumber Luke Kollen ’24, acting as the CFO of a small school shared with his ‘employees’  that the school had spent the employees’ benefits package to offset the school’s financial ruin. Needless to say, the employees were distraught, and Fritz Goodman demanded answers and wanted accountability! (Great acting, Fritz!) Another admirable star turn included Nancy Solomon who was aghast at the price increase of her health insurance premiums and asked the unflappable and empathetic Nidhi Bhat ’25 if she could move in with her because the increase won’t permit her to afford her monthly housing mortgage.

The tense exchanges found the students exhibiting grace under pressure, a life skill that will certainly come in handy as they deal with uncomfortable conversations in the years ahead

Below are the various scenarios given to the students:

Scenario One: You are the CFO of Queensbark Bullfard, a day school located in East Lungferd Connecticut. During a financial crisis, a financial firm has been hired to assess a 25 Year Financial Success Plan for the institution. The firm has found that the only possible way to keep the school afloat without doubling or even tripling tuition cost, is to allocate all employee retirement savings plans to pay for the day-to-day operations of the school (teachers, facilities, utilities, etc.) Through your research, you agree that this plan is the only successful way to continue a successfully operating institution. In the afternoon of May 25th, you will meet with a few employees who have heard rumor of financial difficulties, but nothing regarding their retirement savings loss. As the CFO, it is your responsibility to meet with the employees, explain the situation at hand, your action plan and a future preventative plan. Your final responsibility is to maintain retention of all employees and professionally ease their concerns. 
Scenario Two: You are the head of Human Resources at a small day school, Aceville Frogtown, located in upstate New York which has approximately 432 employees. It is time for our annual “Health Insurance Open Enrollment” period. It is your responsibility to announce the new health insurance plans to all of Aceville’s employees. This year, with the rise of health costs, many of the premiums have increased. Upon investigation of the three plans that work best for your school, you (the head of HR) accidentally choose the most expensive plan for every employee. This deal has locked each of your employees into a five-year commitment. In previous years, the most expensive plans have ranged from $29 to $184 per monthly health insurance plan. Within this new plan, the only option is for each employee to pay $914 dollars per monthly health insurance plan. At this time, the school cannot (in any way) assist in fronting the cost or helping pay any portion of these health insurance costs. As the head of HR, it is your responsibility to meet with the employees, explain the situation at hand, your action plan and a future preventative plan. Your final responsibility is to maintain retention of all employees and professionally ease their concerns. At this time, losing any employees would be devastating to the school - retention is your number one priority. 
Scenario Three: You are the CFO of a small paper distribution company in Scranton, Pennsylvania called “Dunder Mifflin”. Upon reviewing salary increases for the following fiscal year, you accidentally email the entire document (containing very confidential monetary information) to the entire branch. Your employees are furious to find out that they are making far less money than their colleagues. Suzy, a senior administrator who has been with the company for 30 years, is making the same salary as the receptionist (Billy) who has only been with the company for 4 years. In addition, the only salary that wasn’t included in the document was YOUR salary. Your employees are furiously asking for your salary information as well. Your employees are demanding for a pay scale renegotiation which means that in order to be equitable, you may need to lower Suzy’s salary – which she finds outrageous. However, these salaries have now been locked in for the next two years- and you do not have the capability of changing them until after this time passes. You are responsible for meeting with the employees, addressing the situation at hand, your action plan and a future preventative plan. Your final responsibility to professionally ease their concerns. 
Scenario Four: You are the principal of a large public high school in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In May of 2019, the stomach bug hit your high school – affecting a large majority of your student and faculty/staff population. Students missed a number of weeks (some even months!) of school. Your budget has far exceeded the limit due to the amount of substitute teachers you’ve had to hire to cover the sick/faculty and staff members.  The Department of Education for the State of Massachusetts has issued a letter for you to read to your community explaining that the senior students who were affected by this illness cannot graduate this year as they missed far too many days of school to meet the state education requirement. Those seniors, although some already accepted to collegiate programs, will have to repeat their senior year. The worst part is that you also received a letter from the head cafeteria coordinator, confessing that the illness/stomach bug was due to an oversight in food safety/contamination. You need to communicate both matters (letter from the state and confession letter from cafeteria worker) to your community (made up of faculty, staff, parents, and students). You are responsible for meeting with the community, addressing the situation at hand, your action plan and a future preventative plan. Your final responsibility is to professionally ease their concerns. 
Scenario Five: You are the president of the board of a prestigious boarding school, Laffe Choomis located in Roate, California. The Head of School has recently resigned and you’re in the process of hiring for this position. You have two candidates in mind but are torn on which one to pick. On the afternoon of May 23rd, you are leading an important meeting to gain an understanding of who your colleagues would like to hire, although you need to announce your decision by the end of the meeting. Your first candidate, Gill Willyard, is a devoted employee of Laffe Choomis and has been for the past 14 years. While Gill is a kind and passionate educator, this would be his first role in administration, let alone within the “Head of School” position. Some of your colleagues are rooting for him as they believe they will be able to “get their way” under Gill’s leadership, however, this is concerning to you and you certainly have your reservations about his lack of experience. Your other candidate is the former mayor of Roate, Hillary Flinton. While Hillary did a splendid job of leading the town of Roate, she has zero experience when it comes to school administration. Upon receiving the position, Hillary has casually mentioned that she would feel comfortable donating 1 million dollars to the school in their efforts to build a new “community commons” for the students, which she would like to be named “Commons on the Hill”. You question how ethical it might be to offer a position to a candidate based on a potential donation. Some of your colleagues are rooting for her as they would heavily utilize this new space on campus. Your job is to present both of the candidates' qualifications to your team, lead a calm discussion of both of them, present your decision and then field questions and concerns in a way that does not lead to losing anyone on your team. 
Scenario Six: You are the CFO of a local middle school in Westerly, Massachusetts - The Bridge School. It is no secret that a recent global pandemic, COVID-19, has greatly impacted the financial success of your school. Each year, your employees typically receive a four or five percent raise. This year, the inflation rate is 7.2% and your colleagues are expecting a seven or eight percent increase to combat this inflation. While you have some options, none of your options equate to an increase large enough to compete with the inflation rate. 
  • Option #1: Offer a 1% raise to all employees 
  • Option #2: Offer a 2% raise to all employees. As a result, you will need to completely cancel your basketball program. 
  • Option #3: Offer a 2% raise to all employees. As a result, you will need to completely cancel your basketball program. 
  • Option #4: Offer a 3% raise to all employees. As a result, you will need to completely cancel your basketball and band program. 
While the majority of your employees would be happier with the highest raise possible, it is clear that the students, the heart of your school, will suffer because of it. On the afternoon of May 23rd, you must present these options to your team, lead a calm conversation with them regarding their feelings, and present your decision. You are responsible for meeting with the community, addressing the situation at hand, presenting your action plan and a future preventative plan. Your final responsibility is to professionally ease their concerns without losing any employees. 
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Located in West Hartford, CT just steps from Blue Back Square, Kingswood Oxford is a private school inspiring co-ed day students in grades 6-12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Empowered students become clear confident communicators, resourceful problem-solvers, and ethical leaders. KO: where unlimited potential meets endless opportunities.
Copyright 2018. Kingswood Oxford.