Viva Voce! Now Doesn’t that Sound Nicer than “Oral Defense of your Thesis?”

Businesswoman Addressing Delegates At Conference

When my children were toddlers and getting rowdy I would certainly set limits and reprimand bad behavior – but I did it in Italian.   I found that especially in public it sounded so much more pleasant and was in fact much more effective to warn, “Non toccare!” instead of “Don’t touch that!”  And “Sta’zitto” said with emphasis sounded much more polite than, “Be quiet!”   Somehow my kids understood my admonitions more clearly and reacted faster and more favorably to them when stated in Italian.  And it didn’t put them on the defensive.

Turns out, the same thing is so when it comes to degree candidates who find it the time of year to schedule “the oral defense of their theses.”  Yikes!  Just the sound of it makes my stomach hurt and my heart race and I “defended” my thesis thirty five years ago.  Sounds like you’re going to the dentist and need to grab your sword and put on your armor.   And it begs the questions, “Defend it from what?”  “Defend it against whom?”

Doesn’t it sound kinder and gentler to say, “viva voce?”  In Italian this means “in live voice” and in Latin something akin to “with living voice” or even “by word of mouth.”  In fact, viva voce is what most of the world outside the United States calls the oral defense of one’s thesis.  Europeans call it viva for short and it connotes a live and lively exchange in good spirit between the researcher and the attendees.   And this makes sense because it better describes both the process of preparing for, and objectives of, this very special face-to-face meeting between researcher, faculty and community.

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Let me be clear that I mean in no way to diminish the significance or implications of this catalytic academic event.  Instead, I offer this fresh perspective to ease the unnecessary stress that seems to accompany the scheduling of and preparation for this occasion.   By thinking “viva” instead of “defense” you can begin to orient yourself to your role as teller of the story of your thesis.   You can begin to prepare excitedly your viva to be the best it can be for what it is.  And simply put, your viva is the sharing of your story as  1) a researcher 2) motivated to explore an unchartered area 3) using a particular approach 4) that produced certain findings.  Yes, it’s a story you tell in four parts.

“Simply” is a useful notion for preparation of your viva insofar as people outside your area of expertise attend and may make use of your findings.  We present our theses findings to a wide audience so those outside our disciplinary expertise can also benefit.  We will see that it is helpful to regard the “other” audience at your at your viva – the lay audience – even before your supervisors and the experts in your field.  Why?  Because for the experts there is the written document, replete with details and composed in the lexicon of the field or discipline.

So let us not make more – or less – of your upcoming viva voce.  Schedule your viva.  Finish writing-up your thesis.  Then we can focus on translating the written work into spoken English that all in attendance can understand and appreciate.  Then we can focus on telling your unique story clearly and comprehensively so adults in and outside your area of expertise can make use of your findings as you earn your place among experts.

Make sense?  Good.  Check-in next month.  I’ll begin sharing my step-by-step guide to preparing a viva from Introduction to Q&A.  Write me if you have any specific questions that can’t wait.

LisaBernardBarnardCollegeDepartmentOfNeuroscience

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels, in their places of worship and as keynoters.  She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college-level courses on oral communication.  She has slowed down fast-talkers, turned “uhmers” into smooth-speakers and moderated accents from Brooklyn to Beijing – all to develop confident communicators.  Lisa has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and today fuses her first and second careers at Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a consulting firm that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at (203) 293-4741 or LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net and like her firm at www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.

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Do U have a Signature “Textyle” 2?

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Yesterday morning my daughter called worried that something happened to me.  Why?  I didn’t respond to her early morning text. We routinely exchange morning greetings via text. We’re both early risers and get a lot done at dawn percolating right along with our coffee. So when her screen was blank she noticed. All was, in fact, well. My cell phone was simply charging after being drained of battery after a long day the day before. Her worry was palpable and got me thinking about how much we have each developed patterns in our texting which I call “textyles.”

Some themes are resonant of other channels of communication. Take silence, for example. If we normally speak on the telephone with someone at a particular time of day, say after work or before bed and there is no call, we feel the absence and the silence sends a message. It may be ambiguous but it is a signal. Anger? Danger? Mishap? Same seems true for texting. When we exchange texts with someone at the same time each day and there is a break in routine, we feel the absence and it is conspicuous. We keep checking for that little blinking light. Are they okay? Is our relationship okay?

And like other channels of communication, our interpretations and responses are often person-specific.  When a guy I once dated didn’t text hear from me for a while, my “silence” would prompt him to respond with his signature blend of curiosity and humor. He’d text me something like “Knock-knock.”  In similar circumstances my daughters would likely write, “Everything okay? xox.”  Different approaches but one thing in common: Each of them always uses proper grammar and spelling if it is at all possible. If, in fact, I see my daughter’s text with a typo in the middle of the afternoon and no correction in the next text, I know she’s very busy at work and texting hastily.

One’s textyle is so distinct that it becomes obvious when there is an imposter using someone’s phone. My heart stopped for a nanosecond when a text came in from my daughter’s phone number but it was not her textyle. It read, “Hi there Mom.” Creepy. “Hi there” is not her parlance. Nor would she include the “Mom” specification. Then I recalled that her roommate likes to play practical jokes and suspected she was behind the prank text. I was correct. That alien textyle was my first clue.

Like hearing someone’s voice, the “tone” of a text can suggest attitude as well. I texted my daughter twice this morning each time in a different mood. My first message was spirited and fun and communicated my pride in a job well done. It had a salutation, a photo and a lot of exclamation points: “Hi sweetie, I painted the banister all by myself!!! xox” The next was serious and reflected my business persona: “What’s your student ID number? I need it to send in your tuition check. Xox” Both had my kisses and hug signature but each reflected a different mood. My guess is that if either of my daughters received a text from me without my signature “xox” they’d sense something was off—either with me or between us.

When we first text folks and don’t know their textyles we may be surprised at the difference from their face-to-face, phone or email styles. One of my warmest, most affectionate gal pals stopped me in my tracks the first time she texted me back to confirm a get-together. I was so excited to see her and about our plans that my text included my signature “xox” plus an exclamation point and a ;). She wrote back, “KK.” KK? Uh-oh! Was this subtext? I do catch myself sometimes trying to “read between the lines” of texts. It seems to be about as accurate as translating poetry from one language to another –hardly a science. Of course, when I saw my girlfriend she was smiling, tactile and as receptive as ever and all was indeed well between us and with her. Her “KK” shorthand was just her “work-day textyle.”

I imagine the above applies 2 u 2, 2 some DgrE. Do you ever read between the lines of texts? Does it work 4 u? It B Gr8t 😉 and works 4 me if u write and share. Lol! xox

Lisa Bernard has prepared and represented people from all walks of life to speak publicly at meetings, on panels, in their places of worship and as keynoters. She herself has addressed audiences as large as 2000 and designed and delivered over 500 workshops, seminars and college-level courses on oral communication.  She has slowed down fast-talkers, turned “uhmers” into smooth-speakers and moderated accents from Brooklyn to Beijing – all to develop confident communicators.  Lisa has a Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and today manages Lisa Bernard’s SecuritySpeak, LLC, a consulting firm that makes available experts on national, global and cyber-security for distinguished lectures worldwide.  You can reach her at (203) 293-4741 or LisaBernard@SecuritySpeak.net and like her firm at www.Facebook.com/PodiumTime.