Around the Table with Scott Talan

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. In this edition, our summer intern, Ruby Werckman, interviews one of their Communications professors. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Scott Talan

Occupation: Professor at American University

Where to Find You: LinkedIn

You have held many different roles working in many different realms. You were the mayor of a small town in California. You wrote for Good Morning America and reported on-air for multiple news stations. You’ve worked with organizations such as the United Nations and March of Dimes and have been a professor at multiple universities across the globe, including as my professor at American University. What influenced your decision to work in so many different fields and organizations before settling into academia?

I think part of it is having a plan, and then being willing to part from that plan. So, my initial plan was to get into politics and I did, then I sort of fell into TV news and got into that field. Then that took me across the country and into grad school, which I hadn’t planned on. But interestingly, every job that I’ve had since grad school has been directly or indirectly related to grad school. And then when I moved to D.C., a grad school classmate was working as a teacher, and I said that seems interesting. So again, I had some plans and then I altered my plan. I think teaching combines all the things I’ve done before into one area and it also forces me to keep learning.

One memorable lesson I’ve learned from you is the importance of cultivating yourself as a brand. How would you describe your personal brand?

At this point, teacher and traveler. Thinker, reader, and coffee drinker.

Is there anything you have been working on recently or anything coming up soon that you would like to talk about?

I’m thinking about going into or learning more about the field of professional coaching…I’ve thought about it for years but recently I’ve been thinking more about it.

But right now, I’ve traveled so much abroad and in America that even though I’m about to get on a plane, it’s not to a new place so it’s sort of like enjoying life without having those “go, go, go, get ‘em” goals right in front of me.

I know you’re a big fan of travel and have worked and lived all over the place. What is the biggest lesson you have learned through your travel experience?

America is great, but there is a whole lot more in the rest of the world.

What is your favorite place you have visited?

Oh boy… Well, I’m headed to Vancouver for, I think, my fifth time. I’d definitely say that’s one of my favorite cities. If you went strictly by data, and this is a little bit of a two-edged sword about data, I’ve been to China about eight times so the data would say, “Hey that’s the country you’ve been to the most.” But part of it sometimes was work, part of it was just circumstance or an invitation. That said, China is such a huge country, with huge forests, and culturally so fascinating, I think it’s a mandatory place to go if you consider yourself any sort of traveler or citizen of the world.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?

It’s tough to say, because in high school I didn’t have a career yet. My auto shop teacher, he knew I wasn’t going to be an auto mechanic or fixing engines. And one day, he came to the back of the class where I was standing and watching everyone else working on their cars, talking to a buddy. And he said, “Do you know what I see?” He didn’t look at me, just looked straight out at the class the same way I was looking and said, “I see wasted potential,” and then he turned and looked at me and then walked off. Sometimes you can’t always be sensitive and wrap hugs around every word. Sometimes you have use straight talk, and that was straight talk. And I very much appreciate it, it kicked my butt into gear.

What advice would you give someone just starting to think about their career?

Go for it. Don’t sweat it. If it doesn’t work out, change it into something else.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?

Movies, just saw the new Indiana Jones. I love to watch the Tour de France, I watch it every day when it’s on. I like meeting and talking to people. Reading the news — I subscribe to six different newspapers — and just sitting in a café having coffee.

What is the best movie/TV show you have watched recently?

Well, I just saw, on Netflix, Unchained, it’s a documentary about last year’s Tour de France. I was actually in Paris for the final stage and there were so many riders I didn’t know about, so many backstories. It was an amazingly well-done documentary and I hope they keep doing it. I am also looking forward to seeing the new Mission Impossible. As long as you get what you expect from those franchise movies, it will be okay.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you bring?

Coke Zero and pretzels.