Communicating the old-fashioned way has become passé.

Whether it be emails, texting, or a post on our social media channels, word-of-mouth communication seems to have taken a back seat to the immediacy and ease of a keyboard and screen.

Tomi Obebe

Clemson University’s MBA program has recognized this shift in how we interact and is helping students understand the value and importance verbal communication will play in their careers.

“We just don’t communicate the way we used to,” said Jamie Patterson, MBA director of career services and student experience. “I work with intelligent students who have accomplished some amazing things, but one thing many haven’t commonly practiced is exercising their conversational skills. So much of their life communications have been devoted to texts, emails and tweets.”

To sharpen those often neglected verbal skills, Patterson’s career management class includes an elevator pitch competition. Students are required to sell themselves in a 30-second pitch to a panel of recruiters and H.R. and operations managers with their 50 classmates looking on.

“These are full-time MBA students, most of whom don’t hold full-time jobs. We ask them to step outside their comfort zones for a few minutes and communicate how they set themselves apart from others,” Patterson said. “For many, it’s an uncomfortable experience, but if they can overcome that environment, they can succeed in a one-on-one interview or networking experience.”

What’s uncomfortable for some, isn’t for others. Case in point: Tomi Obebe, who won this fall’s elevator pitch competition. Judges determined the Auburn University graduate’s confident and poised presentation of her personal brand stood above all others’.

“Communication today is very different and I think it’s cross-generational, not just with millennials,” said Tomi, of Columbus, Ga. “If you’re not standing up and putting yourself out there, one’s word-of-mouth abilities can be lost.”

Tomi said a number of experiences have helped hone her verbal communications skills, including acting and improv classes her parents encouraged her to take as an adolescent.

“I used to be shy, but those classes really brought out more of my personality and gave me the confidence to put myself out there in front of a group of people or in a one-on-one situation.”

Two other life experiences also helped develop her ability to speak with confidence. She’s the author of a fashion and lifestyle blog (GoodTomiCha.com) and interned with a digital media company in New York City.

“Not only did my blog help me learn more about running a business, it also gave me the experience of pitching my content to various companies. Plus, my internship with Business Insider tested my verbal communication skills every day because it was a marketing environment.”

Patterson and Kelli Seawell, assistant director of career services and student experience, said the elevator pitch competition is one part of the MBA program’s holistic approach to preparing students for leadership roles in business. In addition to helping students verbally express themselves, the program assists students in writing resumes and cover letters, putting together portfolios and honing their interview skills.

“A common refrain we hear from recruiters is a shortfall in job applicants’ communication skills,” said Seawell. “Often times, a person’s ability to master those soft skills can be the difference between getting your foot in an employer’s door, or continuing your job search.”

In one class, Patterson requires students to do an informational interview with someone in their network who holds a position they might someday want to have. “I want to put them in situations where they are not only having word-of-mouth conversations but where they’re networking. When you consider 80 percent of jobs are not posted but are learned about through connections, that kind of an assignment can become more than an exercise in honing one’s soft skills.”

Tomi said the elevator pitch competition was a valuable learning experience and she wasn’t surprised the Clemson MBA program put an emphasis on helping students overcome any communication shortfalls they may have.

“I decided to pursue a graduate-level degree because I thought it would help elevate my career opportunities. One thing that drew me to Clemson was the environment here. It’s very welcoming, from the faculty support to the networking and collaborative learning opportunities with cohorts. Classes like career management are an example of the extent to which the program prepares you for your next step.”

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