Student Resources

As future business leaders, your communications skills in a global and changing world must be effective and dynamic. The three resources here represent a sampling of the wider library of CBC resources available to you as AU students. When you make an appointment with us, we'll give you the link to our Kogod Style Guide for Research, Writing, and Public Speaking, plus show you how to access our LinkedIn Learning collection to enhance your knowledge of teamwork, public speaking, and data visualization. For now, please enjoy our guide to Inclusive Language in Business Communications, our Tips for Student Professionalism in the Virtual Classroom, and our guide to Delivering Class Presentations Virtually. We look forward to providing you with resources that will help you become even better.

As our world constantly evolves, it’s critical we use language that reflects our progress in striving for tolerance and equity. Researchers from Handshake have found that over 70% of students prefer to work for companies that value diversity and make people feel included and respected regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, socioeconomic status, or appearance. To be a successful business professional, you should strive constantly, both in speaking and writing, to communicate with language that is fair and inclusive.

Ability

In general, only refer to a person’s situation, medical condition, illness, or injury if it is relevant to the content. Then, refer to "a person with disabilities," "people in wheelchairs," or "a person with a learning disability".

If a reference is central to the message, be as specific as possible and avoid inserting value judgments or victimizing language. Descriptors such as disabled or handicapped, or verbs like afflicted, restricted, stricken, suffering or unfortunate place too much emphasis on disability rather than on ability. Instead, neutrally state that a person has Parkinson’s disease or is vision-impaired.

Some people prefer person-first language (a person with autism) and others prefer identity-first language (an autistic person). It's best to check with your subject to see which they prefer.

Ability Language
Instead of….. Try using…..

 

crazy, insane, psycho
erratic, illogical
dumb, stupid, retarded
slow, simple
blind spot, tone deaf unseen area, inconsiderate

Age

If age is relevant to your topic, mention it. Otherwise, avoid referring to someone’s age. If a reference is central to the message (for example, when referring to benefits that are available to people of certain ages), use a neutral term like older person rather than senior or elderly to describe someone. These terms can be viewed as pejorative.

Nationality

Remember that citizen is not a generic term for people who live in the United States. Many government programs serve non-citizens and individuals with a wide range of immigration and visa statuses. How you refer to the public is largely dependent on context. It’s often more accurate to use more inclusive terms like people, the public, or users. Use citizens for information related to US citizenship, for example, when describing who is eligible to vote in federal elections.

Be as specific and inclusive as possible. Depending on the situation, you may want to say something like people who need child care services or people who want library access.

Race, Ethnicity, and Religion

Words, images, or situations that reinforce racial, ethnic, or religious stereotypes, even stereotypes that may appear to be positive, should be avoided.

When referring to a person’s race, ethnicity, or religion, use the term as an adjective descriptor, not as a noun to substitute.

For example, refer to someone as a Muslim person, not a Muslim.

Be as specific as possible. When writing about a group, refer to the specific group: People of Korean descent rather than Asians; Dominicans rather than Hispanics.

Hispanic is commonly used to refer to anyone from a Spanish-speaking background. The term implies an association with ancient Hispania, the contemporary nation of Spain, its history, and culture; a native of Spain residing in the United States is Hispanic.

The terms Latino/Latina/Latinx are used mostly in the US to refer to US residents with ties to Latin America, including Brazil.

In general, refer to an Indigenous group as a people or nation rather than as a tribe. In North America, we use the collective term Native American, or you can specify the nation or people if possible (e.g., Cherokee, Navajo, Sioux).

Keep in mind that the word "minority" may imply inferiority. An alternative might be historically marginalized people. If avoiding "minority" is not possible, qualify the term with the appropriate specific descriptor: religious minority.

Remember that whiteness should not be the default. Instead of using a term like non-white, use Black, indigenous, people of color, or its acronym, BIPOC, instead.

Capitalize racial/ethnic groups. Asian, Native American, Hispanic and other similar terms should be capitalized. Depending on context, white may or may not be capitalized. In 2019, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) began capitalizing the word Black in its communications. We now see the word capitalized in news coverage and reporting about Black people, Black communities, Black culture, Black institutions, and more.

Use a hyphen when two or more words together form an adjective but no hyphen when the words join to form a noun:

African-American culture (adjective)
Many African Americans migrated to northern cities (noun)

Inclusive language avoids phrases with historically racist legacies such as grandfathered in or grandfather clause; gyp (or gypped, jip, or jipped); or blacklist, black mark, or black ball.

Gender and Sexuality

Make content gender-neutral wherever possible, and strive to use gender-fair language in your writing.

Irrelevant descriptions of appearance can contribute to gender bias and should be avoided.

Use descriptors of gender identity or sexual orientation as adjectives, not as nouns. Use terms as adjectives that describe the whole person, as in a transgender person or a lesbian woman, rather than referring to someone as a transgender or a lesbian.

Avoid guessing sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. When in doubt, either reconsider the need to include this information, or ask the person you’re referring to how they identify and what terms they prefer.

Use different sex instead of opposite sex in order to recognize gender as a spectrum, rather than a binary construct. Use sexual orientation instead of sexual preference to affirm that it is a part of someone's identity, not a choice.

The seventh version of APA has approved use of a singular “they,” so if you’re writing about a hypothetical person or if you’re unsure of the person’s pronouns, use they or them instead of he or she.

It's more inclusive to refer to a mixed-gender group with terms like all or folks rather than guys.

Use gender-neutral terms like spouse or partner instead of husband and wife; use parent instead of mother or father.

Gendered Nouns

“Man” and words ending in “-man” are the most common gendered nouns in English. These words are easy to spot and replace with more neutral language, even in contexts where many readers might expect the gendered noun.

Ability Language
  Instead of….. Try using…..
 

 

 

Man

Person, individual, human

 

Freshman

First-year student

 

Man-made

Artificial, synthetic

 

Chairman

Lead, Coordinator, Chair

 

Mailman/Policeman/Fireman

Mail carrier / Police officer / Firefighter

 

Steward/Stewardess

Flight attendant

 

Manning/Manpower

Staffing

Gender and Sexuality

Alternatives to gendered pronouns

Even when making a choice to use neutral terms, gendered pronouns can sometimes be an issue in writing. Here are some options to avoid gendered pronouns that don’t sacrifice specificity.

Use a plural form

If it works for your particular sentence, using plural forms is often an excellent option. Here’s an example of a sentence that can easily be rephrased:

A student who loses too much sleep may have trouble focusing during his or her exams.

Students who lose too much sleep may have trouble focusing during their exams.

Use the pronoun "one"

Sometimes the word “one” can substitute for s/he.

A teacher in California earns more than he or she would in Nebraska.

A teacher in California earns more than one in Nebraska.

Use the relative pronoun "who"

The relative pronoun "who" can sometimes be substituted, though it may require rephrasing the sentence.

If a customer is not satisfied with the store's policies, s/he can ask for a refund.

A customer who is not satisfied with the store's policies can ask for a refund.

Additional Resources

Disability Language Style Guide from the National Center on Disability and Journalism National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Style Guide; AARP.com

Remember that language is constantly evolving and context-dependent. When you're unsure what words or terms to use, consult your professor, classmates, and current academic readings in the discipline. Send your suggestions or comments to us at cbc@american.edu.

At Kogod, we strive to build engaged and respectful learning communities that maximize instruction, promote your relationships with faculty and staff, and enhance your student-to-student connections. Consider the tips below when presenting yourself in classes and meetings now and in your bright business futures.

Courtesy and Respect

  • Be punctual - Prepare yourself for class in advance, and arrive early to be "on time".
  • Put your video ON/audio OFF - Seeing faces in a virtual setting builds a sense of community, but be sure to mute background noise until those times you contribute your ideas.
  • Use names when addressing others - Click on your photo on Zoom to change to a preferred name with your face and photo; refer to others' names during discussions.
  • Dress appropriately - Wear "business casual" attire. We've all heard about the focus on nice shirts, tops, and other "waist up" attire, but just remember that if you suddenly stand up, you're 100% visible, so plan ahead. Hats or caps may keep others from seeing your face.
  • Sit up and lean in - you're more engaged when upright in your chair rather than reclining on a sofa or your bed. Or consider standing with your computer elevated!
  • Minimize distractions - Try to keep pets, siblings, TVs, and other intrusions away. Turn off or silence your phone, and close browsers that may be open so you can stay focused. Plan to eat before or after, as eating can be distracting or noisy.
  • Participate respectfully - Your professors will likely set participation norms. They may ask you to use the hand-raise function or to ask questions in the chat box. If a family member or friend needs you on your end, turn off your video briefly to respond to them.

Connect and Engage

  • Speak slowly and clearly - Technology screens create an extra communication barrier. Help others understand you by slowing your rate of speaking, projecting and enunciating clearly.
  • Minimize body movements - While facial expressions and hand gestures help communicate your ideas, try to keep most of your body still.
  • Maintain eye contact - When speaking, look directly into the camera lens above your screen to connect with others eye-to-eye.

Technology Check

  • Keep the camera still - Place your computer on a desk, not on your lap. Shaky cameras can disorient the viewer.
  • Place your laptop at eye level - We like to use a stack of books as a platform, and this also works great to create a "standing desk".
  • Double check that your audio works - If we can't hear you, adjust or uncover your mic, or sign off and then sign on again.
  • Frame yourself - Position your face and tops of shoulders in the center of the video box.
  • Lighting - Make sure any lights or windows are in front of you or at your side, not behind you.

Minimize Distraction

Appearance ✓
Workspace ✓
Background ✓

Your audience might see glimpses of your workspace, so having a neat and tidy personal appearance and background is desirable. Minimize other websites on your computer desktop in case you need to share your screen. While books, photos, and art show your personality, uncluttered and organized backdrops are best. Find a quiet corner, or download a Kogod virtual background.

The Rise of Virtual Presentations

With today's focus on public health measures, virtual presentations are more important now than ever. Your professors expect you to pre-record and send your final presentations to them or to present virtually during class in Zoom or Blackboard. Where do you start? How do you organize and plan what you'll say with your team? How do you voice-over your slides to create a dynamic presentation? Delivering your ideas without the advantage of face-to-face cues can be challenging. Here are a few tips to make it easier to get a polished and professional result.

Technology Tips - If you're pre-recording an individual presentation on powerpoint

  • If you have one, use a headset with a microphone

    • Minimize background noise

    • Keep voice levels steady

    • Minimize pop and hiss with a foam shield on your mic

  • Unplug your laptop charger

    • This reduces noise from the power outlet

  • Place your laptop on a stack of books to bring the camera to eye level

    • Steadies your computer

    • Avoids tilting or shaking

  • When you're ready to record a file to send your professor

    • On the PPT Task Bar, select Slide Show, and then Record Slide Show

    • Pro tip: PPT lets you pause after a slide and then begin again with the next slide, so you don't have to start over if you make a mistake

  • Do several test runs to check the sound

    • Don't have the mic too close to your mouth

  • When you're finished, select "Play Narrations." Then, under "File" select "Export" and then MP4 as your File Format

Pre-Recording Tips for Using Zoom

  • PRO TIP: Zoom is a better choice than PPT for pre-recording
    IF YOU'RE PART OF A GROUP PROJECT

    • Sign into Zoom. Instructions are provided at the end to set up your American University provided Zoom account.

    • Send your teammates the Zoom link and meet in Zoom at the date/time you want to practice.

    • The host opens the PPT slides on their desktop and selects "Share Screen" from the task bar so all team members see one screen. The host also advances the slides for all members.

    • Select "Record" and then "Record to the Cloud." Zoom will send a link to the host when the meeting ends that you can send to your professor.

    • Be aware that you are visible on the recording even if your thumbnail photos are minimized, so be professionally dressed, don't fidget or frown, and ensure you're correctly "framed" (see tips below under "Prep for Presentation Day").

    • Mute yourself if you're not speaking. If the audience is using the speaker view, you can suddenly become the "speaker" if you cough or shuffle papers.

    • Record rehearsals. Your team should rehearse together, as well as individually. Record a rehearsal to see how you really look and sound on screen.

Speaking and Slide Design Tips

  • Prepare a shared script for your team narration.

    • If wi-fi connections fail and a team member drops off, other team members can easily fill in - you'll know all parts of the presentation and not just "your" slides.

    • PRO TIP: Outline talking points for each slide (don't write down every word), but do script the final line of each slide so the person advancing the slides knows when you're finished. Professionalism is increased when you don't have to say "Next slide".

    • Write practice questions and answers to prep for Q & A.

  • Speak slowly and clearly, avoid "filler words" (uhhs, likes, and umms) and know it's okay to pause briefly between sentences.

  • Practice your timing and animation clicks to fit the time allowed.

  • Your voice is critical in virtual settings, so vary your pitch.

    • Put a little 'music' into your voice.

    • Your voice should rise and fall conversationally as you speak.

  • Your slides are visual aids and not speaking notes.

    • Use the Rule of Five: No more than five bullets per slide and only five words per bullet.

  • If you're using Zoom - download the presentation to your desktop for a more stable experience. Zoom can lag if you're using Google slides.

  • If you're using Blackboard Collaborate - do not animate slides, and download as a PDF. Collaborate can garble your slide spacing.

Prep for Presentation Day

  • Find a quiet space from home to join your team online.
    • Sit up straight at a distraction-free, with a tidy desk.
    • A light, clean, clear background behind you is best.
    • Dress professionally and neatly.
  • Pay attention to your distance and position from the camera.
    • Aim for the camera to catch your shoulders, neck, and head.
  • The camera should be placed to promote eye contact.
    • Place your laptop on a pile of books so the camera is at eye level.
    • If you film from above or below we'll see mostly your neck or your hair - and you will look out of proportion.
    • Talk to the camera lens not the gallery view. Our natural tendency is to want to make "eye contact," but your audience will feel more engaged with you as a speaker if you're talking to the camera above your screen and not to your screen display.
  • Avoid lighting that falls directly above you (creating harsh shadows) or light positioned behind you - people won't see your face, just an outline. A lamp or window in front of you is best.

Picture of how to frame with neutral background.

Picture of how to frame with a background

Configuring your Zoom Account

All AU students can sign up for a free Zoom room to practice individually or in teams.

  • Visit https://american.zoom.us.
  • Configure your account by clicking the Sign in button.
  • After you've logged into the website, you can download, install, and launch the Zoom application.
  • Choose Sign in with SSO to log in with your AU credentials.