Some practical tips for those of you preparing for your first conference presentation and some valuable reminders to those of us who have been in the "game" for a while (and need a refresher):BEFORE THE SESSION Think about the “best” training session you have been to – ask yourself: What worked? What mattered most? What did the presenter/facilitator “do” and how did that make you feel? – DO IT! Also, think about the worst session you ever went to – ask yourself: How did I feel? What got in the way of my learning? What stopped my engagement? DON’T DO IT - EVER! Establish a clear “planning and preparation timeline” – and remember that a good 1-hr session will require (1) 30 hrs of prep, (2) 10 hrs of “practice” (with a critical friend, a video recorder or a “teddy-bear”). Try to get the session ready at least one week before you run it – share it, ask for help, improve it! Once you have established your “big idea” and broken this down into the various chunks that will form the session, look at your “input components” and ask yourself “How can I turn these into activities that my participants can do together”? Remember, you will engage your “crowd” more if they learn “by doing” (not only “by listening”). Balance your input sessions and your activities across the whole session and remember (a) keep any “input chunk” to a maximum of 5 minutes, (b) for every input chunk, try to have an activity, and (c) vary the types of activities (Q&A session with you, quiet writing and reflection, sharing activity with a partner, a group discussion, a team problem-solving task, an individual mini-reading task, a whole crowd debate, or pull a (willing) volunteer up for a demo, etc). When you think about using different types of media (and do!) ask yourself: (a) How will this song/movie enhance the learning of my participants? How do I know? (b) Does it work on screen – can people see or read it easily? (c) What is the best place to use it – background or focal point / warmer, midway or wrap-up? Plan breaks – you may be superman/woman and can go for hours but most participants will need a break after around 50 minutes. Remember “content is NOT king” – you are there to help people learn and learning is about people and relationships. Content comes and goes – relationships last a lot longer. Your focus should be “How can I best expand and improve the learning of those people who are giving up their valuable time to come to my session”? If you use a PPT slideshow – try to avoid long lists of bullets. Try to keep to the formula of “one idea per slide” (preferably with 2/3 key words) and a powerful or relevant image (for the “brain” and all your more “visual” participants). This will help you avoid the “trap” of reading aloud from the screen! Three words - PRACTISE, PRACTISE, PRACTISE! DURING THE SESSION Be yourself – your participants do not want to watch a “performance”, they want a real learning opportunity and they want to be part of that experience. True – we do have to “win the crowd” but we can do this best by not playing the role of “teacher”, not asking “demonstration questions” (that we already know the answers to) and not “faking it till we make it”! Remember you are a “role model” for all those teachers who will come to your session. Most of us will touch on issues of learning-centred practice, so we need to “walk our talk” – use a group format instead of rows, limit your PTT (presenter talking time), “be with” your participants, move around and "work the floor", look at everyone (and smile)! If you are using a PPT or other presentation software (Prezi, Beamer, MindManager, Keynote, HavenPoint), buy and familiarise yourself with the “toys”. You wouldn’t watch TV without a remote, would you? A wireless remote control device (or PowerPointer Pen) gives you the freedom to move around and “be with” your group, a laser pointer helps you focus attention to details on your slides, images and keywords – both of these “toys” give you confidence (and look “cool”)! Humour is your best friend – learning is a serious business but we learn more when we are thinking pleasant thoughts (and the brain works best in “happy mode”). Of course, you are not a stand-up comedian – but all the research tells us that “engagement” and “smiles” go hand-in-hand. Keep a bottle of water (not a cup or glass) handy – and drink when you need to! A bottle is easier to pick up and far more “accidents” happen with wide-necked and slippery glasses! Wear something comfortable – most of the time you will not have a “stuffy” protocol row in front of you, take your jacket off, “roll your sleeves up”, and loosen your collar! Workshop participants like to know that you are one of them and they know when you look and feel uncomfortable. Gentlemen - if you want to wear heels, use the lower variety! Watch your body language – try not to fold your arms when talking to your people, be careful not to fiddle with your glasses or jewellery, make sure you have empty pockets (so you do not play with your keys or change) and don’t “hide” behind your desk. “Read the crowd” – you can learn a lot by watching how your participants react to you, your session and your topic. It’s OK to stray from your plan and people recognise and respond to spontaneity very well. If you are going to be working with the same group over time, this will give you more "intelligence" for your next sessions. Remember also to have some "benchmark participants" - the more "traditional grammar-based teacher" in sessions on project work, the "technophobe" in the session on blogging or smartboards - if you can "impact" the way they feel and act, you are on a winner! If you have a “mentor” or observer present – forget about them! Try not to “speak” to them or look at them too much – you have more important “customers” to worry about. The mentor / observer is there to help you – not trip you up or only look for your "soft spots". If you still have trouble forgetting about them, imagine them sitting there “naked” – that should soon put a smile on your face (or make sure you avoid looking in their direction too much) :-)
Good luck and REMEMBER...have fun!