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Communicating across programs and borders

Professor Sharon Cannon - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business SchoolSharon Cannon has always had two passions: public speaking and writing. She knew this early on as the editor of her high school newspaper and top competitor on her speech team, but she wasn’t sure how she wanted these skills to manifest professionally.

After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis with majors in English and psychology, Cannon worked in college admissions, a job that flexed her presentation skills, but left her wanting more face time with students.

“I would recruit a class and then I was back to recruiting another class,” she recalls. “There’s this feeling that you’re doing something good for your university, but you’re not really in the day-to-day interaction with students – and I knew that’s what I wanted.”

So after earning her M.Ed. at the University of Florida, Cannon began a successful career in higher education. She worked in residential life at UNC-Chapel Hill, directed leadership development at Greensboro College and served as the dean of students at Meredith College.

After earning her PhD in counseling in 2004, Cannon came to UNC Kenan-Flagler to run the Business Communication Center and join the faculty as a management and corporate communication professor. She helped business students hone their writing, interviewing, presentation and job-search communication skills.

Cannon’s next career step took her back to her undergraduate alma mater in St. Louis, where she founded Olin Business School’s first core undergraduate management communication course and the Management Communication Lab.

“Everything was going well – except I missed UNC Kenan-Flagler!” she says. So in 2012, Cannon returned to the School, where she teaches business communication classes across the Undergraduate Business and MBA Programs and has developed curriculum for core courses and created electives, such as her undergraduate Leadership Communication course.

Having both undergraduate and graduate students is a bonus for the UNC Kenan-Flagler community. “Some schools will separate undergrads and MBAs, but there’s something to be said for the synergy that can happen when you have them learning in the same building with the same professors,” says Cannon.

She’s been delighted to share her enthusiasm for developing presentations skills by teaching an elective course for PhD students across the campus and coaching UNC Royster Fellows, Carolina’s top graduate students.

Cannon helps students conquer one of their biggest fears: public speaking. She uses different approaches to help them manage their anxiety so they can communicate effectively. Because of their prior work experience, “MBA students are savvy about audience,” she says. For undergraduates with less experience, she uses more real-world experiential learning. In one class, for example, students work on real projects for clients, writing proposals and presenting solutions to address the organizations’ needs.

Cannon also has a passion for intercultural communication which, like leadership and public speaking, must be cultivated throughout their careers. Language and culture are always evolving, so business professionals must be cognizant of the changes to succeed as good communicators, she says.

Cannon is certified for GlobeSmart – offered through the School’s innovative Global Education Initiative – and the Cultural Orientation Indicator. These online resources help students and professionals understand cultural differences and learn how to successfully conduct business in international settings. Cannon represents the management and corporate communication area as the School develops cross-cultural initiatives and teaches Intercultural Communication for the Global Workplace, an undergraduate elective, as well as Advanced Writing, an MBA elective for students whose English is not their native language.

“A lot of people can be good at numbers, but if they can’t communicate in a way that helps people understand the numbers or motivate people to follow them then they’re not going to advance very far,” says Cannon. The business communication area is “a rather unusual discipline, and it’s really nice to be at a place where there’s a lot of respect for the value that we bring to a student’s education.”