Monday, March 1, 2010

Classes, Workshops, Conference Presentations: When You're the Teacher

I'm giving a 90-minute Social Media for Beginners class tonight (Monday, March 1st) at the Northern Colorado Writers Studio in Fort Collins from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM. Focusing on Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook, we're going to discuss why social networking sites are important to writers and small businesses, then view the projected screens of each site while I do a show-and-tell from my own accounts on my laptop.

A 90-minute class doesn't seem like a big deal, but putting together a couple of these classes has given me a new respect for those who present at conferences and workshops. Researching materials and assembling handouts take a lot of time. Preparing the presentation itself is time-consuming, especially if you want to tailor the talk to the needs and expectations of the attendees. This often requires a last-minute change in focus, format, and time spent on questions and answers.

The best presenters know their material inside and out and could talk about it for hours without notes. They realize this knowledge could result in a rambling talk if not properly organized. And they're flexible. These seem like contradictory qualities, and perhaps they are.

Back in my working days (out there in the real world), I put together handouts, user manuals, and training sessions for users of newly developed accounting programs in accounts payable departments. Flexibility was not required. Everyone needed the same information, and everyone needed step-by-step basic how-to lessons.

When working with a small group of individuals who have varying levels of experience and training, however, it's a challenge to keep the more knowledgeable attendees interested without leaving the beginner confused and frustrated. Here are the things that help the presenter do the best job possible:

1. Have each attendee introduce himself and answer a couple of questions about his experience and what he hopes to learn in the class. If you know your material, you can shorten or lengthen parts of the presentation without destroying the overall structure. If someone with tons of experience shows up for a beginner class, be open to additional input from that participant.

2. Watch the faces of the attendees during the presentation and look for signs of boredom or confusion. Knowing a bit about body language helps, but most of us catch the usual signals (sighs, eyes glazing over as the mind wanders, a furrowed brow, doodling, weeping). If participants begin to fidget, take a break so everyone can stretch, then begin with questions.

3. Allow questions at various intervals during the presentation, and again at the end of the class. I've arranged natural breaks by beginning with a short introduction followed by separate sections on Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook.

4. Put the most important material at the beginning and the least important at the end. Include as much material as possible in your handouts. If some of your handout materials or resource lists contain url links, send the material to the attendees as an e-mail attachment. It's easier to copy and paste a long url than it is to type it in. If you run out of time, the class still has the material. Provide an e-mail address so attendees can ask follow-up questions.

I'm looking forward to tonight's class. It will be the first time I've taught using my laptop with a screen projector. I'll let you know how that goes.


Karen Walker said...

Most people don't realize how much time and effort go into presentations. You'll be wonderful. Wish I could attend.

lhenk said...

I'm doing my homework and I'm looking forward to the class tonight. No laptop, no phone that tweets, just me, my pen and a pad of paper. See you this evening.

Linda Henk

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Karen -- I wish you could be here too.

Linda, thanks for stopping by the blog today -- you'll be seeing some of its inner workings this evening. I'll look forward to seeing you there.

Kay said...

You forget making faces at the teacher. I'll assume all your attendees are civilized enough not to start a fight.

(Comment courtesy of my son's complaints about teaching in inner city New York.)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I wish I could attend, too! To me, it’s usually obvious after the first ten minutes whether the speaker is prepared or has no clue and is just hoping for the best. I think many participants appreciate the amount of time and effort good speakers put into their workshops, especially when they leave feeling like they learned something new. Have fun tonight.

Jemi Fraser said...

I hope you have a great time at the seminar - I bet those in your group will love it.

Presenting is such a lot of work! Getting organized takes forever :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I think you've got it down to a science now! Hope you have a fun time.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Brian Kaufman said...

Your list of suggestions for presenters was spot-on. You also targeted a major challenge - identifying varying levels of experience with the topic. I copied this blog and added it to my teaching files. This is solid, usable information.