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Columbia Business Monthly

The classroom is a great place for leaders to share their industry know-how

By Carole Sox, Ph.D., CHE, DES
Director of the Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management Program, Columbia College

While professors have been trained to research and teach in specific areas and disciplines, many see great value in hosting guest speakers within their classrooms. These guest speakers—industry experts in the topics being reviewed within the classroom—offer current and real-world information to both the student and the professor. 

I have been teaching at the college level since 2007 and take pride in preparing young adults for the real world. It is not uncommon for my students to hear from two to five guest speakers each semester. While this can be a challenge to fit in as we cover the curriculum for the courses, I believe these opportunities offer an invaluable experience for my students. This addition to the curriculum also offers a refreshing change from the typical lecture or classroom routine. 

Industry experts update students on cutting-edge information and bring in life stories that enrich the classroom and the student experience. Students then engage with these leaders and ask questions about their presentation, careers, and hiring expectations. Most who come into the classroom even offer their business cards to those students who are interested. In fact, I have had guest speakers hire students directly out of the classroom.

As industry experts, I encourage you to seek out speaking engagements within the classroom of the many learning institutions within our area. Many of the speakers I have engaged in this experience are adept at speaking to students, but for some, this is a new experience. For those who may be hesitant, I offer a few helpful tips and greatly encourage you to share your wisdom as these students begin to formalize their transition into their chosen careers. 

First, allow students to hear your perspective and engage in a collaborative learning effort. Once connected with an opportunity, however, make sure you prepare for the most effective presentation possible. If not shared, ask the professor what the objectives of the class entail. Are there learning goals that are currently being covered that you can touch upon or reinforce? If you have access to a copy of the syllabus, you might see what has already been covered and where you can best add in pertinent information. I have even had speakers ask to see the textbook beforehand.

The professor should work with you on determining the length of your presentation. Classes vary in time so you may have longer in some courses than in others. You may be asked for a brief bio so the professor can connect your experience with the learning objectives and generate excitement about your presentation. I often ask my students to research the speaker before they arrive in the classroom and have two questions prepared, but every professor handles this differently.

When speaking to the students, try to engage them in the presentation if possible. Many of my speakers begin with an icebreaker of sorts. They ask questions of the students, which often makes the students more comfortable asking questions of the speakers. Remember that the students are usually excited to hear from someone currently working and engaged in the area they are learning about. There will also be, of course, some students who are not interested. Just be ready and aware.

As a professor, it is a privilege to have you in the classroom. As an industry expert, if you have not had this experience but feel you can offer some valuable information to students seeking careers in your area, I encourage you to connect with a professor and offer to visit the classroom. We all learn so much when industry leaders share perspectives and experiences. You too can help in preparing students for real world success.

Carole Sox, Ph.D., CHE, DES, is the director of the Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management Program at Columbia College.
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