Incorporating Guest Speakers Into the Classroom

I teach a required Introduction to Business course at Villanova University’s School of Business (VSB), which has multiple objectives.

Besides the basic objective of exposing students to the various business disciplines such as accounting, finance, and marketing, the course also has a professional development component, written and oral communications components, and a teamwork component.

The textbook that we use has a strong set of online-based learning tools that allows me to incorporate somewhat of a flipped classroom approach. Doing so frees up class time to talk about real-world applications of what they’re learning, often using The Wall Street Journal to do so.

This approach also enables me to bring in a variety of guest speakers who can offer their unique perspectives on what the world of business is like, what their career paths look like, and to offer some words of advice along the lines of “this is what I wish I knew when I was a freshman.”

Guest speakers add variety to the classroom.

This past fall I had five guest speaker sessions in my classroom, for which I’m very grateful. I taught three sections of the Intro course, and all the speakers volunteered to speak during each of the three sections, which essentially meant they committed to giving up an entire morning of their work week to share their thoughts with my students.

One speaker is a senior manager at one of the Big 4 accounting firms, another is a manager at a large pharmaceutical firm (which generously paid for our students to take the Gallup Strengths Finder Assessment), another is a manager at a boutique investment advisory firm and an aspiring artist, one speaker left the Big 4 and now works in student life at Villanova, and the final group of speakers was a team of financial professionals, including the CFO, from a large homebuilding firm. (I also want to note that last spring I had a guest speaker come into my classes to offer a session on guided meditation.) All of the speakers were Villanova alumni, except for the CFO.

So what are the benefits of having guest speakers? Besides the obvious that it breaks up the monotony and gives me a break in a full day of teaching, I think that question is best answered by looking at it from the perspectives of both the students and the speakers.

Guest speakers support student learning.

For the students, the speakers serve as great role models, and the students can imagine themselves in such positions in the not-so-distant future. There’s also the chance that one of the speakers might pique their interest in a particular industry or company.

Here’s a sampling of the student comments:

Engaging and eye-opening.

I enjoyed the fact that yesterday's presentation was not related to accounting. I think it is easy to get tunnel vision while in college and prioritize your major course more than others, so it was refreshing to learn a little bit about something that is not directly related to the business world but could still be beneficial.

Have to admit that I was skeptical of this at first but I really had a great time today. I've meditated in classes before but never had a great guided experience like that before. Really opened my eyes to how beneficial meditation really can be. Thanks for a great day!

The importance of work-life balance.

I really enjoyed his discussion about being a well-rounded professional, which is having more than just technical skills. It is very nice to see how devoted he is to his job, family, and alumni. A well balanced life is a key to a happy life. Thanks for bringing him in; it was great.

I really enjoyed this presentation and found it interesting how she was able to balance her business career with her creative art side. It allowed to realize that in the future it is possible to balance your hobbies with a fast pace career. Furthermore, it made me understand that you don't have to quit something that you are passionate about.

I was in awe that someone could combine pursuing a career in finance and still be creative. I also enjoy the arts such as art history or classical music and I found it interesting that she was able to discuss this with clients. I will keep in mind to continue to learn more about the fine arts and be well rounded to be able to connect with clients because I hope to have a career in finance one day.

Finding happiness in a career.

One of my doubts/ concerns while pursuing business was that I would not be able to chase my other endeavors to make a difference in others' lives and give back to society.

Even though I had great interest in business, I thought that it would ultimately take up too much time and prevent me from doing so. She demonstrated that this was possible and it was very inspiring to hear what she had to say.

I found the topic of finding happiness outside of the stereotypical "Corporate America" to be both fascinating and refreshing. I believe his story is important for freshmen in particular to hear because it reminds one of the importance of finding happiness in a career. I also liked learning about the different roles within the one company a person could have.

A roadmap to potential career paths.

I've heard about the company and accounting but I really didn't know too much about either. His presentation gave me some insight into both of these, which I found not only interesting but also helpful as I consider what major and career path I'd like to pursue and might be best suited for.

I thought his incorporation of the necessity of "soft skills" was the most relevant, especially because accountants are not typically known for these skills. Also, it was great that he included his entire career path and ideas of what we should be doing as freshmen to find our personal paths.

I had some interest in real estate before, but this along with the Professional Development event I attended later that day really accelerated that interest. Because of this, I am considering a finance/real estate co-major. I like the fact that the result is tangible and involved a great deal of creativity. Overall, the presentation did a great job of stressing all the benefits and features of the industry.

Guest speakers enjoy giving back.

For the guest speakers, it’s a chance to share their perspectives on what the world of business is like, their passion for what they do, to make some connections with potential employees, and to offer their well-earned words of advice.

Here’s a sampling of what the guest speakers had to say about their experiences:

Energizing, refreshing, and rewarding.

Connecting with current VSB students is both energizing and rewarding for me as a professional, but even more importantly, I feel it has benefited the students.

It is well worth my time out of the office to be able to connect with students and to help enhance their classroom learning with real world experiences.

I find the opportunity to talk to your classes to be energizing and refreshing. It gives me a chance to reflect way back into the previous millennium when I was in school and it is also an opportunity to observe the latest and greatest in university teaching and learning.

The guest speaker role is a two-sided engagement. We can share with the students the skills and experiences that cannot be taught in the classroom. More importantly, we get to experience and then understand the perspectives and preferences of the incoming "class" of professionals.

A springboard for networking and recruiting.

From a business perspective, it’s an opportunity to sell my company to prospective product purchasers / employees and for me to evaluate some of the students I interact with for potential employment. When I speak as part of a group of others, it also enhances my network.

As a guest speaker, I have been able to forge relationships with students, helping them to understand the benefits of networking – and networking early – while providing them with insight into a career in corporate finance.

One of the common traits that we look for when bring on new employees is their understanding of the mission of the institution they are about to enter. As a guest speaker, I was able to share this insight. It is never too early for students to think critically of why they are studying what they are studying. It is never too early to be intentional and form relationships on campus that will benefit their potential long-term plans. Students can start being intentional now to obtain the rewards later in their career.

As you can see, including guest speakers in the college classroom is a win-win-win, and so I highly recommend it.

I’m sure my students will soon forget much of the technical content of the class, but will long remember the words offered by these speakers.

Jim BordenAbout the Author

Jim Borden is an associate professor of accounting at Villanova University. He was recently featured in the Kuder Blog in an article about his 1975 Kuder assessment results. Borden also shared his experience in his blog post, "High School Career Survey Turns Out Surprisingly Accurate 40 Years Later." 

  1. college and career readiness

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