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Students Connect On New Level in Laverne McKinnon’s The Power of Persuasion and Pitching Class

By Alyssa Holcomb

 There may have only been four day-long sessions, but the twenty students in Laverne McKinnon’s “Power of Persuasion & Pitching” Fall 2018 class received a course full of styles, techniques and tips to deliver stellar presentations and pitches.

At first, the smaller group size and intense, shortened timeline seemed like a daunting way to begin a graduate degree. However, from the very first class, the open and encouraging atmosphere that Laverne maintained became a haven for a mesh of strangers to become a connected, caring cohort. By the end of our four sessions, many students described the group as a “family” where vulnerability was met with reassurance and honesty was thoughtfully praised.

Over the course of the quarter, we participated in a number of personal and team exercises to practice concepts from our readings and lectures. Many of these exercises allowed us to get to know our classmates better and learn more about what brought them to Northwestern and the MSLCE program, as well as what their goals and dreams were. In addition, we were assigned a pitch to deliver at each class – whether it was planned or spontaneous – to put those skills to use.

One of the most insightful opportunities in the class was during our very first session. As a way of making introductions, we sat in a close circle while Laverne called on each student individually and presented them with an in-depth topic about life, challenges, and goals for the future. While unexpected, we learned a lot about our classmates (and ourselves) that day, setting up the overall atmosphere of the class as a safe space to be as open as we wanted, and often needed, to be.

As a teacher and a leader, Laverne was great to work with – she made a point of establishing a connection with each student through individualized sessions and topic reviews. She guided us step by step through our final pitch ideas, helping us formulate our lofty dreams into actualized ideas that we pitched to our classmates.

By the time we got to our last session, we were all so in tune with each other that we knew how to tailor our critiques and suggestions just like Laverne did for us from the beginning. All of us, Laverne included, were in sync with each other. That feeling was unlike any that I’ve ever had in a classroom.

I’ve never felt so connected to people in a course, let alone in a graduate program. It was a refreshing, rejuvenating class to take in our first quarter as grad students. I know that we will take what we learned not only into our future classes, but also into our future careers and life paths.

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