Worst Presenter Ever

It’s now a few days since my presentation at TechForum Northeast, and judging by the lack of hate-mail or the searches I’ve conducted on all the available backchannels, I didn’t offend anyone too greatly.  Although, by traditional standards, I may just be the worst presenter ever.

I have to admit, and I did so to open the session, presenting at EduCon has changed the way I view conferences. The format asked for at EduCon, from the start, has been conversational; the standard role of presenter is completely changed to that of facilitator, and that changes the way you prepare. Personally, it becomes a situation in which I completely invert the presenter-presentee experience.  Instead of pursuing the traditional “I speak, you listen” model, the ruling ethos has become

The smartest person in the room, is the room.

David Weinberger

As I have prepared for the last few presentations I have given I am forced to keep asking the same question: How do you get a group of concerned educators together in a room and just deliver the message are asked to  deliver without turning them loose on one another?

Very simply, you don’t.

You ask pointed questions, and then listen, and listen very closely to what they say.

Think about where you are when you give a presentation, or view a presenter at a conference.  You are in the company of many passionate educators, those passionate enough to travel a distance to learn more about their craft, and most likely lose class time with their students.  Who holds the knowledge in that situation?  The speaker?  perhaps.  But what I am banking on when I present, and this may cancel every proposal I submit over the next few months, is that the best information you will gain from being at a conference is from the people who are there attending alongside you.

That is not to say that I have no role in the learning that goes on in these presentations.  There had to have been something in the idea I had in pitching the presentation in the first place, and there had to be some direction in which I intended the pretty slides I prepared to move in, right?

But would I have ditched all of it to have a great conversation about how to make the schools we work in into the schools we want to work in?  You bet.  My role for them was to put in place the interaction pieces so that they could construct something of value for themselves.

This model should sound familiar…but does it?

Image credits:

“January 25th 2008 – The word for the day is “knowledge”, pass it on,” Stephen Poff

“The Seven Principles of Learning,” dkuropatwa’s set on Flickr


7 thoughts on “Worst Presenter Ever

  1. There is a silent majority out there that are tired of conversational workshops and would love to sit and listen to the wisdom of a master. I was really upset last year when I traveled far to hear someone I had been following for years. Instead of hearing them, it was one of those conversational sessions. I never got to hear any of his ideas. I never was able to grow from meeting him face-to-face. Yes, the power of a group is awesome. But what I find is that the conversation sessions I have attended just go through the same “conversations” that I have already been apart of on the web virtually, and at some conferences with many of the same people I have previously “met” virtually.

    I have no problem sitting silently in the presence of a master.

    Wonder what a good analogy would be…
    Going to a Springsteen concert and he didn’t sing but you had to listen to the crowd sing?

    Do you think in education we seem to be moving to a place in which we don’t want to admit that there are above average people and not everyone is in that group?

    1. Paul – I agree 100%. I have become used to thinking about planning workshops and presentations with this “conversational” model in mind, but not everything has to be hands-on to be engaging. For lots of us, “active” learning also takes place by just reading a good book, or listening raptly to someone who has some really great ideas. It explains the continued existence of lecture series – which are still relatively popular. TED Talks are essentially lectures – and we love ’em!

      1. Tracie,

        Thanks for the comment. If only some of the keynotes I heard only adhered to the TED twenty-minute rule!

  2. I really enjoyed “the pretty slides” in your slideshare. Regarding PD, I think I fall in the middle between the “conversational” camp and the “wisdom of a master” camp. As with so many elements of education, balance is required. We most often go astray when we try to do all or nothing with ANY technique, process or idea. For effective PD, let’s balance these two ideas — get some wisdom from the master and process some of that wisdom through conversation or application.

  3. Paul/Blair,

    Thanks for adding to the discussion. While I would love to disagree with Paul wholeheartedly, and actually did in the earlier version of this comment, Blair struck the middle ground nicely. I, too, love a good session of “sit and get” when it is someone who I truly admire and want to listen to, but even then, we need to have some time to reflect and bat around the ideas that were laid out for us. That’s what I like to do more than anything else in my sessions is to give people a chance to construct some knowledge out of the other experience they have had during the day or days.

    To be fair, my aim was to get people talking about school change, and this was labeled as a technology conference (more on why that idea has to disappear later) so I did have an agenda, and there were times where I chose to lead the discussion rather than facilitate it. In the end, however, the session gained from having people interact with ideas rather than just listen to them.

  4. I am presenting to peers on Tuesday–I will be following your style (and stealing a slide or two–with attribution).

    I think the audience matters. I am floundering like everyone else, but i am floundering a month or two ahead of a few others, so I was volunteered to present. It will be an interesting workshop, but I think it will be successful.

    (OK, I’m just adding to the chorus here–I mostly commented to let you know I loved your slides10

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