Sunday, June 15, 2014

In Praise of the Instructional Skills Workshop

Well, I'll be . . .

 . . . someone who can give a presentation after all!

I tell you, I learned something in just a three-day course that could change the way I present information. And, no, I am not being sponsored for this post -- I just can't get over how good I feel about public speaking after taking the Instructional Skills Workshop.

So what did I learn? What did I want to learn? I said in my previous post that I wished to be less of a scared robot and more a TED talk-style of speaker when I am in front of a crowd. I wanted to lose my nerves and gain some guts to fly without notes (I do know that I know my stuff!) I also wanted more information on learning styles as well as lesson planning.  My teaching is much more informal than instructors at a university, but it is still instruction that should have a purpose. And so I learned about the (duh) importance of engaging the learner/student/audience by putting them first, before the instructor.

We had to present three times over three days, and each lesson would be videoed. We'd also review lessons as a group (four other learners, one facilitator) immediately after our presentations. We were given guidelines for giving constructive feedback, plus information on learning models (we used BOPPS).

The first day, my goal was to present without PowerPoint. There were no podiums but I asked for a table where I could rest my photos to hand out plus have a place for my brief notes. I also engaged my audience by letting them know there would be a treat if they were able to answer a 'skill testing question'.  I tried, oh I thought I tried, but the results felt much the same -- too nervous to enjoy the moment, too much note-reading, not enough true engagement in the lesson. I also was very short and so I filled the rest of the presentation with an answer-question session on history of the site.

In the review, a video clip was brought up. As soon as I finished my formal presentation, I put down the notes, came away from the table, and sounded much more authentic. It was a bit jarring, actually, the difference in how I acted and sounded at the front there! I also clearly was able to speak to the questions being asked.  And so, with this feedback, I decided the next day I should fly without a script, to see if I was the same on stage.

Well, I thought I would die during that second presentation. My brain told me I wasn't making sense, I was stuttering, I was shaking, I felt like a mess, and I was pretty sure I was goofing up every PowerPoint slide going. I had stop and apologize for my nerves, for I thought they were really distracting. I survived, but I didn't feel very good about it. And the feedback? It was, "Why did you stop?" "You were fine!" and "Don't ever let them see you sweat!" And then someone said to me something that changed the way I looked at nerves forever: they said that they feel bad knowing about my nerves. She very gently and kindly said it seemed like being up in front of the group was a burden to me, and that I couldn't wait to be done. That hit me -- I really don't want to make anyone who takes the time to see me feel awful or that I didn't want to be there!

I took that notion with me when I reviewed the whole video that night. Know what the most shocking revelation of the video was? I didn't look or sound nervous at all, I am talking well enough. And then there's this random stoppage where I stop and literally wring my hands before I get back to things. *I* felt nerves, but my inside perception was nowhere near the actual fact without all those inside emotions ruling the roost. I was floored. Why had I not really watched myself before this opportunity?

On the third day, I was determine to use my nervousness for good. A colleague told me that nerves were just excitement and should be channeled as positive energy and not fear. Right before my talk, I was told to prepare by doing a Wonder Woman stance - hands on hips, legs apart. Do so for a minute. Or perhaps hold my arms straight above my head - whatever made me feel better - for either position has the potential to help tap physiological strength. Well, I am not sure what it was, but it worked and I was very happy with the presentation. I had spruced up the Day 2 PowerPoint with a couple of moving parts -- I incorporated some music as well as video -- and I felt like I was present in the room. I was there to be receptive of my audience's needs and questions, and the presentation was not about me, or my notes, or how many butterflies I had dancing in my tummy. And know what? This focus on those in the room, and their willingness to be there to listen and participate, made all the difference in connecting to those who came to engage.

So what's the bottom line here? It's pretty cliche, but I really would say it's good for me to get outside my comfort zone, and to get out there and talk with people about what I know best. I hope to have another opportunity in the near future to present or teach so I can build upon these lessons earlier rather than later, but writing down my lessons here is another way for me to remember the instructional experience I had at ISW. You should try it out if you get the opportunity.

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