Conversations with Western ABC Expert Speakers

Dr. Erin Paradis

Leverage your network. How often have I heard this advice? How often have I successfully done this? These questions came to mind as I waited in a webinar green room last fall at the Association for Business Communication 2020 Annual International Virtual Conference. This was my first time attending and presenting at the ABC Conference, and I was nervous. The practice of networking via screens during a pandemic still struck me as awkward and presenting work to strangers at a virtual conference was a first for me. My worries quickly dissolved when Dr. Jolanta Aritz and her team members, whose classes collaborate  on business and professional communication projects from around the world, entered the green room, started happily greeting each other, and chatted with me as if we were all old friends.

In the months that followed, I worked with Jolanta to coordinate a new collaborative venture, the Western ABC Expert Speakers Initiative. The Expert Speakers Initiative connects our network so that teaching faculty may invite colleagues to visit their virtual classrooms and/or faculty professional development meetings. Topics offered from our panel of 14 expert speakers include intercultural training, cross-cultural communication, social media, technology, leadership, gender-bias, conflict management, start-up pitches, strategic and crisis communication, public diplomacy, artificial intelligence, motivation and trust, writing, virtual teaching, and intergenerational communication. The depth and breadth of expertise of this phenomenal group of business communication experts highlights the strength of our organization and the resources we can share.

When the Bulletin editor, Sushil Oswal, invited me to write a feature article about our initiative, I spoke with Jolanta Aritz, Mikel Chertudi, and Minna Logemann about their experiences hosting and visiting other colleague’s classrooms. The following are insights they shared on our initial semester with this new program. Our hope is to expand our connections across institutions as we leverage the expertise of ABC colleagues to benefit student learning and to enhance professional support for each other.

Jolanta Aritz, PhD, is a Professor of Clinical Business Communication at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Her expertise is in cross-cultural communication and intercultural training. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in management and leadership, including International MBA (IBEAR) and specialized MBA programs. She serves as Vice-President for the Western region of the Association of Business Communication. She is the co-author of Leadership Talk: A Discourse Approach to Leader Emergence and co-editor of the Discourse Perspectives on Organizational Communication.

This semester, Dr. Aritz asked Veronica Guo, PhD, to visit her international MBA classes to discuss leadership framing.

Erin: Thank you for this opportunity to connect. What inspired you to launch the Western ABC Expert Speakers Initiative?

Jolanta: When the pandemic struck and all universities moved online, the traditional in-class teaching became a thing of the past. Online teaching became the only available medium for universities, and not by choice. With it, educators had to reinvent themselves and look for new ways to engage students. We were forced to embrace byte size instruction to keep students engaged in an online classroom. Educators experimented with breakout rooms, flipped classrooms with pre-recorded material, and digital instructional online tools to keep students active, promote collaboration and creativity.

The newly found online space brought together students located in different parts of the country and overseas. We were crossing geographical boundaries and time zones. This new reality offered another opportunity – having guest speakers join the online classroom to speak on topics of their expertise.  Having a guest speaker in a traditional classroom setting typically involves scheduling challenges, resources required to bring a speaker to campus, and limited availability of experts who are willing to make a physical visit. The new online space removed all those barriers and presented a unique opportunity.

This was the impetus for starting the Western ABC Expert Speaker Initiative. I saw this not only as an opportunity to create a database of expert speakers who are willing to share their expertise but also an opportunity to build a stronger regional network where we “visit” each other in our teaching spaces and learn about each other’s areas of research and interests. I am grateful to all our colleagues who joined the ABC Western regional expert network in any of the two capacities, being an expert speaker and/or hosting an expert speaker.

Our pivot to online teaching has taught us all that remote education has many advantages, and I don’t think it will go away even when we return to our university campuses. Most likely, post-pandemic education will have to embrace a greater variety of media in which we deliver quality education to students. Successful schools and educators will be the ones who will leverage the new reality of education. In communication classes, we teach students that the purpose of communication demands a different choice in communication channel. Same here –a successful education model will utilize different learning platforms and choose the medium of instruction based on the learning outcome. The education world just became more interesting and diverse. Those who recognize it and build on it will gain popularity and following. It may turn out to be a differentiating factor between schools and programs that will survive the pandemic and flourish and the ones that will be forced to shut down.

This round of Western ABC expert series is just the beginning.  I hope to see many more people joining the database as experts and also using it to bring in speakers to their virtual or face-to-face classroom long after the pandemic is over. 

Erin: What level and course subject did Dr. Guo visit? What was the focus of the lesson? 

Jolanta: Veronica Guo joined my international MBA class through Zoom and spoke on leadership framing in a one-hour lecture format and was exceptionally well-received by students.  The topic fit very nicely with the crisis communication experiential activity in which they participated and provided a theoretical frame and reinforcement of the skills they practiced earlier.

Erin: How did the students interact with the speaker? Were there any surprises?  

Jolanta: I am always hesitant to bring in theory to an MBA classroom. To my surprise, Veronica’s lecture was extremely well received, and students were engaged from start to finish.  I don’t think I would have gained the same engagement if I gave a lecture myself. Her deep expertise and passion for the topic were obvious, and students recognized it. Having an expert speak on the topic made a world of difference in how students responded to the material.

Erin: How did your students benefit from the experience of having an expert speaker visit? 

Jolanta: I saw two-fold benefits:

  1. It can become difficult to generate the same level of engagement throughout the entire duration of an online class. Typically, about mid-semester the energy drops and the class becomes “too familiar”, especially in an online modality. This time, students had someone else in the role of a professor besides me and it contributed to the reboot of energy in the class.
  2. It gave me an opportunity to focus more on class design and build relevance for the topic in an experiential way prior to the guest lecture. I focused on running an online simulation first to expose students to the topic and “get their feet wet”. This approach positioned and allowed students to engage with the topic first in an experiential activity and then introduced theory to help them process and make meaning of their experience.

Erin: What was the best part of this experience for you as an instructor? 

Jolanta: One person cannot be an expert in all topics. We all have our own strengths and areas of interest, and then there are topics that we are knowledgeable about, but in which we don’t necessarily possess the same deep knowledge or expertise. Having someone with deep knowledge and passion join my classroom to speak to an important topic was a definite win for everybody!

Mikel Chertudi, MBA, is a Senior Lecturer of Business Communication at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. With a background in start-up businesses and strategic marketing, Mikel has successfully taught both undergraduate, MBA, and online MBA students and won several teaching awards. He is the web design and layout Editor of the Western ABC Bulletin and Co-Author of Stand Out: Business Communication Strategies That Work, Cracking the Code: Successful Strategies for Business Writing, and The Secret Handshake: Effective Communication Strategies for the Workplace. Mikel has expertise in strategic communication, startup and small business development, and remote communication and virtual collaboration.

Mikel was invited visit Dr. Veronica Guo’s supply chain management class; this course included a unique blend of international and domestic undergraduate and graduate students.

Erin: Thank you for taking the time. It’s wonderful to have these connections from other universities. How did you frame your visit/lecture as an ABC expert speaker? What was the topic for the lecture?

Mikel: Veronica Guo gave me a very nice introduction as a colleague from ABC whom she had invited to talk about managing virtual teams. She was interested in exploring this topic as her students hail from different parts of the world. Many of them attend class from other countries and work on remote student teams in her class. On top of this, she’s got a mix of undergrads and grads in her progressive master’s class for supply chain management. So, lots of opportunities for virtual distance to be problematic. 

Erin: What was your goal for the students in this lecture/lesson?

Mikel: The lecture had four learning objectives:

  1. Explore the effects of distance on managing remote, cross-cultural teams
  2. Tackle the complexities of managing a dispersed team, which is top-of-mind in research and practice
  3. Examine the types of distance that remote teams face
  4. Leverage the benefits of inspirational leadership, individual culture, media richness, and biculturalism

Erin: What was the best part of visiting a different classroom?

Mikel: 100%, it was interacting with the students. Her students were so kind, engaged, and welcoming.  She has such a great rapport with a class that is a blend of international and domestic, undergrad and grad. They participated a ton in the discussion.

Erin: What surprised you about the experience?

Mikel: It surprised me how much her students looked like mine. I don’t know why that surprised me, but it did. It felt very much like I was addressing one of my own classes at the beginning of the semester, but with the benefit of the established rapport that Veronica had built.

Erin: What advice would you give to those interested in serving as expert speakers for our new program?

Mikel: Do one of these!  It’s so refreshing to get out of our bubble and meet students from other universities and walks of life.  It turns out that I needed the breath of fresh air as much as they did. 

Minna Logemann, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Global Corporate Communication at Baruch College. Her expertise is in managing global virtual teams and instructional design. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in communication studies at Baruch. Dr. Logemann has years of experience working in international marketing, global team leadership, and strategic communications.

This semester, I asked Dr. Logemann to visit my undergraduate business communication economics classes to share best practices for working with international, virtual teams.

The students in these courses represent eight different countries and work together on several research projects and presentations. Dr. Logemann provided a lecture, discussion, and follow-up activity to help students reflect upon their cultural profiles and communication styles.

Erin: Thank you for taking the time to visit my classes. It’s been interesting to see the students complete the follow-up activity, and I’m very appreciative of the work you put into compiling those resources for them. When you prepared for the visit, how did you frame your visit/lecture as an ABC expert speaker?

Minna:  The topic for the lecture was Global Teamwork in virtual teams. I worked in and led global teams 2004-2014, in the business, and thereafter like you know, became part of VBP and a university faculty. 

Erin: What was your goal for the students in this lecture/lesson?

Minna: There were several goals for this visit. I wanted to motivate students to realize the importance of teamwork in modern organizations. I also wanted to help them to understand that teamwork in modern organizations often brings together people to work virtually and from different cultures.

Another goal for this visit was to help students start building an understanding of core challenges and some of the core skills needed to be successful in global teamwork. Finally, I wanted to engage students in a discussion about their own experiences as a reflection of these topics. I offered a follow-up activity with various resources for them to use for reflection.

Erin: What was the best part of visiting a new, different classroom?

Minna: Collaboration with a colleague from another university was an excellent opportunity. Being online with her students, seeing a class from a different university, and receiving their insights to the topic through some questions and comments were all valuable experiences for me.

Erin: What surprised you about this experience as a guest expert speaker?

Minna: Honestly, this as one and only thing — how difficult it is to give a consistent half-hour lecture twice within a short time frame. It was different both times. However, I was so well briefed to the class about the students, their experiences, and knowledge-level, that nothing else surprised me. In fact, the class was very global in terms of attendees, and that was a great! The topic of working in global virtual teams was super helpful for the students, and the students were able to bring in their cross-cultural perspectives.

Erin: What advice would you give to future expert speakers for our new program?

Minna: Go for it! It is a fun, interesting, and eye-opening experience to visit someone else’s class!

To learn more about the Western ABC Expert Speaker Initiative, please email Erin Paradis at or call 520-621-0536. There is no cost as this is a service program. A new list of our experts will be published via email to our Western ABC members bi-annually and will include their areas of expertise and contact information.

Author Biography

Erin Paradis, Ed.D., is a Lecturer for the Business Communication program at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. She has over 15 years of experience in teaching and school leadership and has taught courses in theatre arts, research methods, teaching and learning, K-12 school administration, and business communication. She currently teaches undergraduate students on multiple platforms with a focus on business writing, public speaking, and interpersonal communication skills. She also teaches professional skills workshops for ESL students. In addition to working at Eller, Erin is involved in several community organizations in leadership, theatre arts, athletics, and service.

Recommended Citation

Erin Paradis. (2021). Conversations with Western ABC Expert Speakers. the Western ABC Bulletin, 3.1.