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Neal Ruhl engages his audience with energy

Fri May 14, 2021 at 01:23 PM

Neal Ruhl can talk sports. In fact, he is the Director of Broadcasting for Oakland University’s Golden Grizzlies, where he calls just about every sport that is broadcast on the radio, TV-20 Detroit and ESPN+. When he isn’t providing the play-by-play for the Grizzlies, he also works or has worked with the Detroit City Football Club, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls and he used to do sports talk radio. He estimates that in an average year, he calls roughly 125 games. When the stay-at-home order took hold in March 2020, Ruhl even gave a play-by-play of getting his mail each day. He knows what it’s like to talk about a topic to an audience he can’t immediately see or hear. He has one piece of advice for faculty members who are trying to reach students remotely: Do it with passion. 

It started on the field, pitch, diamond, court and track

Ruhl said he recognizes just how lucky he is in life. While his parents worked in the automotive industry making car parts, he said it wasn’t their passion. However, Ruhl, who has loved sports since he was a kid, said he gets to share his passion with other people daily. 

“It sounds cliche, but every day I go to work, I think about that,” said Ruhl. “There is a finite amount of time for us. I’m not going to get to do this forever and every day of doing it is truly a gift.”

Ruhl said growing up, he played just about every sport he could. He has a baseline understanding of all the sports, the objectives and what the athletes have to do to achieve their goals. 

He said recently, he called a track meet for OU and he was able to apply his real life understanding of running, which he does a hobby, and how things like wind speed would impact those on the track. 

“All of my experiences gave me a baseline understanding of what those guys and girls are going through. They gave me experiences that I could draw upon. I think people who didn’t participate in those sports would be at a severe disadvantage,” said Ruhl. 

However, it isn’t just about sports knowledge. Ruhl said much like professors, he has a passion for a topic and he talks about it every day. 

“You have to be passionate about what you are doing,” said Ruhl. “I do basketball games on the radio and I have to find a way to connect with you even though I can’t see you or hear you.”

His tips for making that connection:

Energy and authenticity. 

Bringing it to the classroom

Ruhl’s wife has been a teacher for 20 years. During the stay-at-home period, he was able to watch her teach her students remotely. 

“I think she’s very high level at what she does, because she cares, and I think that’s what comes across,” said Ruhl. As the learning coach for his kids, Ruhl said he saw a broad range of teachers who could pick up on the cues and energize the students and others who didn’t.  “Energy makes people pay attention. You get energy because you like what you are doing and you are very knowledgeable about it.”

Ruhl said with the energy comes the authenticity and the need to be relatable to an audience. He said he was once a manager in a pizza restaurant--not because he was good at accounting, but because he could relate to people. 

“The greatest leaders that I worked for had relatability,” said Ruhl. He said as employees get tired or disinterested in the work, it was his job to motivate them. “I would tell them, ‘I would rather be anywhere else right now too, so let’s just do it. We’ll have some fun with it, make a couple of jokes and find a way to get through it.’” 

Ruhl said it can apply to those in the classroom as well. 

“If you aren’t teaching the most exciting curriculum, you have to level with people. Say, ‘if this topic doesn’t get you pumped up, that’s OK, we just have to do it. I’m not asking you to run a marathon, let’s just find a way to get through it together,’” said Ruhl. 

Draw on experience

“We all experience pretty much the same things in life. That’s something you have to draw on. Whether you are in a classroom or sitting on a bar stool next to your friend. Draw from your experience,” said Ruhl. 

That’s what he did almost a year ago when, during the stay-at-home order, he decided to document his trip to the mailbox, and it’s contents, nearly daily. 

“We all get mail and we all get mad when the bills come. There was nothing fake about what I did with that. We were staying home. The little things like getting the mail, I thought that would strike a chord with some,” said Ruhl. 

And it did. He said after a few days, fans would check in each afternoon to see what the mail held that day. If he didn’t post it, viewers asked for it. He said it’s much like being a sports broadcaster or teaching a class, if there is something relatable to it, there is a greater chance of a connection. 

“I know people don’t love sports as much as I do. I have to bring them along. I try to be goofy and funny and have catch phrases. The sports fans are always going to be there. I have to catch the people that aren’t diehard sports fans,” said Ruhl. 

Ruhl said he also makes sure that he delivers every broadcast with confidence. 

Control what’s in your box

Ruhl said when attending a meeting or taking a class online, it’s important to only worry about what is in your Zoom, Google Meet or YuJa box. He said just as he can’t control what his audience is doing during his broadcasts, instructors can’t control what their students are doing either. 

“Jimmy Johnson was the coach of the Dallas Cowboys in the ‘90s and before that, he was a coach at Miami and his team would beat other teams really bad. During press conferences, reporters would ask, ‘why are you doing that?’ And he’d respond, ‘I can only coach my team,’” Ruhl said, adding that it’s the same with teaching or meeting. He said not everyone is going to pay attention. “Take care of your box and let everyone else figure it out.”

To hear more from Ruhl, tune into Golden Grizzly athletic events or follow him on Twitter