May 2009 Archives

The Importance of Public Speaking

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I was an engineering student in college during the '70s. My engineering professors never thought it was important to teach me how to give presentations or how to speak in front of groups. Thirty years later, this seems like a quaint notion to me. Effective communication is important no matter what career you pursue.

One of my first jobs after graduation involved helping to sell computer systems to other engineers. I had to participate in sales presentations almost every day. I was pretty bad at giving presentations and was nervous speaking in front of large groups. My lack of skill wasn't surprising--I had little past experience with public speaking. My boss took pity on me, even though I wasn't helping him reach his sales goals. Instead of firing me, he sent me to a sales training course where we practiced speaking in front of groups. As a class project, I once had to give a surprise fifteen-minute sales pitch to a room full of total strangers about any object I happened to have in my pockets at that moment. I wound up spending those fifteen minutes standing in front of a group talking about how wonderful pink rubber pencil erasers were!

Amazingly, I survived this experience. After several positive experiences in class, I even began to enjoy the adrenaline rush of speaking to groups. I felt like I could talk to anybody about any subject. After my class ended, I could give sales presentations to army generals and company executives with confidence. I could give speeches to large conventions without breaking into a cold sweat. That one sales training class I took probably did more for my career than most of my engineering courses.

At Thinkwell, we've heard from lots of students who have used Thinkwell's Public Speaking course to overcome their fear of speaking and to give them the skills to convince others of their point of view. Watch these video clips of students describing their fear of speaking to groups: Student Voices: "Let me tell you...". Then, watch a sample lecture from Thinkwell's Public Speaking with tips for dealing with these fears: Physical Management of Speaker Anxiety.

It's never too late to learn skills like these. Learn the techniques for effective communications, even on your own time, and then go try out your new skills to get what you want in life.

Thinkwell Stars: Steven Tomlinson

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I find myself repeating words over and over when I write about the talented people who I have been lucky enough to work with at Thinkwell, people like Ed Burger and George Wolfe: great teachers, outstanding scholars, and terrific people! Our Economics professor Steven Tomlinson is all of those things. Watch and listen to Steven teach and you will be astounded at how clear, concise, and meaningful each of his words is. I am fond of saying that Steven talks with more precision and elegance than that found in most people's writing. And this is not only true when he is teaching or lecturing. He is that way at dinner--never a bad sentence or misplaced word. Just cogent and interesting English.

But that is not what I want to talk about. Steven is the most creative person I know. He can look at a situation or set of data and come up with innovative ideas and new notions. He is an accomplished playwright, an arena in which he displays both his communication skills and creativity with great insight and emotion. His one-man play, American Fiesta--about a man's obsession with dinnerware and life's lessons--left me laughing and crying and thinking about my family in a completely new light. Ever since that night, every time I see Steven I want to hug him!

On Election Day in November 2000, I was driving to visit some folks at Texas State University; Steven was on the local public radio station. He was talking about the economic lessons to be learned from parables in the Bible. Having grown up the son of a minister I was pretty familiar with the parables, but Steven's wonderful insights and conclusions opened a new window for me. It was a tour de force and I admit I was late to my meeting because I couldn't pull myself away from listening to the entire segment on the car radio.

I am aware that Economics is often referred to as the "Dismal Science" and most of us would rather not listen to folks talk about the study of scarcity. But I can listen to Steven talk all day. See if you can resist.

Professor Burger Up For Esteemed Cherry Award

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Our very own Professor Ed Burger has been named a finalist for Baylor University's 2010 Robert Foster Cherry Award.

"The Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching honors outstanding professors in the English-speaking world who are distinguished for their ability to communicate as classroom teachers. Individuals nominated for the award should have a proven record as an extraordinary teacher with a positive, inspiring, and long-lasting effect on students, along with a record of distinguished scholarship."

Read more about the award here, and we'll keep you posted on the results. Congratulations Ed!

The High Cost of Textbooks

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I frequently have conversations about the high cost of textbooks. That's my job, and those who make decisions on textbook adoptions for students have also given this topic a lot of thought. There are plenty of articles free for the searching on why textbooks have increased in price over the years, and the reasons documented seem to be largely accurate. Some of the factors do not reflect well on the publishing industry or on the textbook adoption process that occurs on college campuses and in our public school systems. Identifying the complaints is the easy part. As my thesis advisor would say, this is where we insert an unworkable recommendation and call it a day.

I propose that there is a bigger problem with textbooks than their high cost: it's their lack of efficacy. Textbooks are a poor value proposition to today's students. For valid reasons, textbooks are too often unused by students. Warren Buffet is credited with saying "price is what you pay; value is what you get."

Try this analogy: Purchasing a one-day ticket to Disney World for $75 is not fun, but nobody complains about the price when they are exiting the park after having a great day. If the price of textbooks could magically be cut in half, but students still didn't read them, the number one complaint about them would continue to be their high cost.

At Thinkwell we endeavor to build a "textbook" that delivers a good value. Sure, we typically cost less than a traditional textbook, but our surveys consistently show that more than 90% of students prefer Thinkwell over a traditional book. A funny thing happens when a student is successful in a course and enjoys using the learning materials: the issue of cost disappears.

Our Newest Hire

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Scout Dog here.

I'd like to officially welcome our newest canine cadet-to-be to Thinkwell. Please meet Emma!


Emma comes to us from a family of wonderful dog lovers in Stephenville, Texas. Her parents, Sue and Bullet, had a litter of eight brown Labrador Retrievers back in March. Emma is currently being trained in Basic Puppy Administration 101 and we expect her to receive full Thinkwell Canine Cadet status in about a month.

EMMA !.jpg 

Thanks for reading!

You can send both Scout and Emma treats at

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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