Okay, I attended a highly respected national education conference recently to build upon my own knowledge and expertise. I recognized a presenter's name from some terrific articles I'd read. The topic was one that interested me, and the session was positioned at a favorable time (after the morning coffee kicked in; before the crash that followed my two apple fritters). So off I went, prepared to be mesmerized in a whirlwind of fabulous information and practical ideas to help me lead my school.
Fifteen minutes into the presentation: Zzzzzzz.
We've all been there, haven't we? We're excited about a workshop, only to be left nodding, doodling, and texting while a well-intentioned professional drones on without the least amount of acknowledgement that there's an audience in the room.
For the attendee and the presenter, I have two pieces of advice:
1. Attendee, get up and leave. Show some respect for your own professional learning, your time, and the money you spent to be there. If it's that bad, it's okay to get up and find something better to do; chances are you're not learning anything anyway. Exiting is preferable to slumping into your chair and writing grocery lists.
2. Presenter, get your act together! Show some respect for your colleagues' professional learning, their time, and the money they spent to be there. Lectures and monotonous ramblings do not further our profession. Spend a couple minutes reading the rest of this column to help your presentations shine.
What do we know about presentation skills? Well, from a participant's point of view, we know a lot. We want to be engaged. We want relevant information. We want to relate to our presenter. We want to enjoy our learning. And we want some time to reflect and create a plan of action. We want presenters to utilize Best Practices in presentation skills.
There are enough captivating presenters out there to use as models -- look up individuals such as Marcia Tate (a master of engaging adult learners), Betty Hollas (a veteran educator who uses her flamboyant personality and stories to teach adults), and Alisa Simeral (whose enthusiastic, high-paced presentation style leaves us wanting more).
What can we do to engage our adult learners (in convention seminars, staff meetings, professional development workshops, data analysis sessions, or any other gathering at which we'd like to tap into our people's energy, inquisitiveness, and effort)? Let's start here:
Relate to the audience. Don't picture them in their underwear; that's just inviting trouble. Instead, recognize them for who they are and the experiences they bring. Refer back to comments they've made, crack jokes about their attire or home state, and value their contributions. This is professional development geared to deliver learning opportunities, after all. It's not an exercise in professional boring. If it's just lecturing experience you need, go to Al's Hammer and Anvil Barn and practice with the miniature goats out back.
Have a sense of humor. There just isn't enough emphasis placed on the importance of comedy in professional development sessions. Laughter is the best medicine, and learning doesn't have to be a stressful, tedious event. Sometimes jokes (even lame ones) can lighten the mood and allow for a more relaxed environment. You don't have to be Gallagher smashing watermelons to be funny, either.
Engage the participants intentionally. Keep the participants involved with activities, give them opportunities to exchange ideas, provide time to manipulate thoughts, and offer chances to make the learning relevant through experience. Ask them to sing, to dance, to mime, to role-play, to switch places, to team up, to learn the ASL signs for vocabulary, to draw, to create a mind-movie, or to design a banner with key ideas. Recruit the participants to more actively participate in the learning.
Tell stories. We know from all the research on Best Practices in schools that providing examples, making connections, and bringing the learning to life will help it settle into the participants' brains more efficiently. Plus, stories are fun and don't even necessarily need to be real to be remembered. Got any good parables? Use 'em. Allegories? Fables? Tall tales? Priceless tools for the well-equipped presenter.
Be personable. Uncle Walter Cronkite explained once that he delivered the news broadcasts like he was talking to his mother in the living room. We're all regular people, and we'd like our key presenter to be a regular person, too. It builds credibility, it strengthens relationships, and it increases the respect so vital to receiving the message.
Rein in your PowerPoint. You know the rules, don't you? I read a commonsensical piece of advice on a Web site this afternoon: You are the presenter, not PowerPoint. With that in mind, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) me.
Give time for reflection and planning. John Dewey said so: It's not the doing that matters, it's the thinking about the doing. We need time to consider, evaluate, analyze, and construct meaning. Then, once we've come to grips with the ideas, we could use a little bit of time to figure out how they're going to fit into our current reality. All too often we get good information, then whisk ourselves to the next task, and the good information sits in a fancy steno pad awaiting the inevitable trip to the recycle bin. Plan it, and it will happen!
Professional learning is vital. We cannot improve if we do not learn and do more and better than we know and are doing right now. We need help from our professional developers, no matter what role or arena they take. This list ought to get us rolling towards a day in which we can learn, grow, and develop with vigor, zest, excitement, and good cheer.
Always strive to be a better you,
Article by Pete Hall
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