Think it's nerve-wracking accepting your degree at convocation? Try being a presenter

In a place like the GTA, it can be a humbling exercise for profs trying to correctly pronounce names of thousands of grads, from hundreds of different cultures. Which is why two University of Toronto professors annually hold what they call a convocation boot camp.
U of T offers boot camp for beleaguered presenters at grad ceremonies (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Mark Felix, File)

For thousands of post-secondary students, the pinnacle of their academic careers is just around the corner: the convocation ceremony.

But it's also a big day for another group of people: the professors whose job is to read out the name of each grad.

In a place like the GTA, it can be a humbling exercise, trying to correctly pronounce names of thousands of students, from hundreds of different cultures.

Which is why two University of Toronto professors annually hold what they call a convocation boot camp.

Linguist Christina Kramer specializes in pronunciation; Michael Albano, U of T's Resident Stage Director of Opera, teaches stage presence. Both spoke with CBC's Metro Morning on Monday.

What's the secret to ensuring you pronounce every name spot-on? Realizing that there is no way you will pronounce every name spot-on, says Kramer.

"It's a little intimidating because you really want very much to get it all right. So you have to know you're not going to get them all right," says Kramer. "You're going to botch somebody's name in their big moment."

Practice 'problem names'

Most presenters will be given a list of the 250-400 names they'll have to pronounce during the ceremony, she says. The trick is to practise reading those names out loud and understand that a small percentage will be "problem names."

Do some homework, she advises, prior to the ceremony to find out what the correct pronunciation is.

Even if you do mispronounce a few names — which she says is inevitable — it will be evident that you've made an honest effort to get the name right.

The key is to recover as gracefully as possible.

That's where Michael Albano comes in. 

"I came up with The Three Bs: breath, body language and be wrong with flair," he says.

"If you see an actor playing Hamlet and they goof a line, they don't stop and apologize. They go on. And that's hard for people who are unused to public speaking to do."

Both boot camp instructors agree that another key is understanding that each grad deserves to feel special at the moment they approach the stage.

"It's a celebratory occasion," says Albano. "So you try to give that moment to every single graduate coming up there, as you look at them, as you smile, as you read their name.

"They need that moment in the sun."

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