I recently spent a few days in Washington, DC, meeting with alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School to learn about what they’ve done since graduation.  I had a lot of lunches and coffees and also attended events sponsored by the HKS Office of Career Advancement: mostly panel discussions organized around interests or fields (international development, security, education, etc). I went to most but not all of the sessions and it was great to see so many familiar faces on the panel, since I’ve worked at the Kennedy School for almost six years now.

One question the moderators asked of all the panelists at all the discussions was the following:

“What are some of the tools you learned at the Kennedy School that you use in your job today?”

Without fail, nearly all panelists stressed the importance of communication skills – writing, speaking – which they either studied at the Kennedy School or wished they had, because of how frequently they use these skills on the job. The importance of giving persuasive speeches, of using PowerPoint effectively, of writing with purpose and clarity – all of these were important skills which they used frequently.

I even received a few shout-outs from friends and fellow students who saw me in the audience and had attended my public speaking workshops at the Kennedy School or the Harvard Toastmasters Club.

Not only did these alumni stress the importance of communication skills in their own professional development, they also stressed the importance of strong communication skills in the employees they now seek to hire, making a strong case for current students in the audience to take a communication course when they returned to school to register for classes.