Theatre and Speech Department alumna Janet Elsea '64, M.A. '66 recently returned to the University of California, Davis to speak to theatre students. She emphasized using their passion and strengths creatively to make lasting impressions in their career field. Her advice is especially significant as many Aggies approach commencement and begin to enter the job market for the first time, and it may also be helpful for Aggies making a career change.
Elsea led a successful consulting business and became a renowned authority and international expert in communication, working with prominent corporate and political figures – including Janet Napolitano, then governor of Arizona and current president of the UC system. Elsea authored First Impression, Best Impression, translated into three languages.
“It is wonderful to be back and see what this institution has done for peoples’ lives,” she said.
Establishing a Creative New Direction in Her Field
Elsea held many leadership positions throughout her studies and career, paving the way for women to pursue higher degrees in the arts and tenure in academia. She was the first woman to earn a master’s degree in UC Davis’ theatre department, to receive her doctorate from the University of Iowa in over a decade and to become the first female associate professor at Arizona State University’s Department of Speech and Theatre.
“[As alumni], it’s important to speak to students today so that we have people of color, women, men, transgendered, young people, senior people, communicating with us. This is what life is all about.”
When asked about some of the major highlights in her career, Elsea mentioned a proud moment at Arizona State University:
“I’d been a feminist, founder and first President of ASU’s Faculty Women’s Association,” she explains. “I leaked salary studies to the local Phoenix newspaper, proving the salary disparity between women and men of similar rank. Administrators said ‘Give her tenure because otherwise she will sue, but let’s find a reason not to promote her.’ It was a great challenge – I was proud to stand up to them – and to go on to prove I could make something of my career without them.”
Elsea successfully used her theatre knowledge from her time at UC Davis to change directions and eventually launch her consulting business.
Communication Tips for Being Confident in Your Field
“Communication is the sharing of meaning,” Elsea explains. “What is on your face, the tone of your voice, the words you choose, and how you put them together is all meaningful. It is why communication is at the root of nearly all interactions. No matter what field you are in — you are expected to present your ideas. Whether at staff meetings, in a phone meeting with a client, in a conference — it is all public communication.”
Elsea’s theatre degree allowed her to specialize in how to best communicate and find an authentic voice — whatever your chosen field. She recommends four key tips for mastering your communication skills and making the best possible first impression:
- Dress the part. What does your appearance say about what you want to communicate? Body language and facial expressions should be consistent with the meaning behind what you are saying.
- Project your voice. Does your sound quality tend to fade at the end of your sentences? Or does it remain strong to the end of the sentence or section?
- Frame your ideas. How do you tie the points you are making together? A strong framework encourages the listener from beginning to middle to end.
- Be a good listener, but be sure to get your points across. It is best to be brief, direct, and to the point.
“Keep it short and simple stupid. KISSS is my motto,” she laughs.
Facing significant health challenges not once, but twice, allowed Elsea to realize the importance of following her passion and pursuing her creative area of expertise. It’s what helped her to be so successful and creative in her career change. At commencement, the time of year when Aggies are looking to the future and reflecting on how far they have come, she leaves us with the question: Am I following my passion into the future?