Conferences

So Who’s In the Room? Moving On.

The presenter steps up to the podium, welcomes everyone to what will certainly be an awesome conference session. She segues into a typical warm-up exercise: let’s find out who is in the room.  How many of you are chickens?  Great, we appreciate the eggs. How many are cows?  Wonderful, thank you for your service—without you there would be no cheese or chocolate.  Do we have any alpaca in the room?  There you are. Few in number but mighty in spirit. Please don’t spit.

The exercise can happen in different ways, but the goal is the same: to build rapport and gather information about who is in the room so that you can better speak to them.

Or not.

At a recent conference session, some version of the above unfolded. The room was mostly filled with chickens—hard working creatures toiling hard to produce a golden egg. The presenter determined that right from the start. And then she spent the rest of the presentation speaking eloquently to an imagined audience of horses, delivering ideas and tools useful to running fast over hill and dale. Not so useful to chickens.

I sat in the audience trying to telepathically communicate with the chickens. I hoped that they were picking up nuggets of relevance between the lines. The session ended after its requisite 75 minutes. Before it did, I made some notes on how we could do this better:

  1. Know who is likely to be in the room before the session even begins. The attendee profile of most conferences isn’t a state secret, particularly for presenters who attend these conferences year after year. If you don’t know, ask the organizers. Optimize for the people most likely to be in the room.
  2. Influence who is in the room. At most conferences, anyone can attend any session, so how do you make sure your desired audience shows up? Invite them. When you write your conference description, include a clear description of who this workshop is designed for.
  3. Use your power as the holder of the microphone to connect people. Maybe you ask people new to the work to stand up so others can meet them later. Maybe you ask people to line up by years of experience and then “fold the line” to make pairs to answer a question related to what you are presenting. (I learned this from the awesome Tracy Flynn). There are many ways to connect people, and doing so strengthens your presentation.
  4. Customize in real time once you know who is in the room. By the time the presentation starts, your powerpoint and handouts are done. What isn’t done is how you deliver it. You have the power to shift your speed and focus through content depending on who is listening. You have the knowledge to stop and ask thought-provoking questions to get real-time engagement and feedback. You have the audience’s permission to adjust so that they get more out of their time with you.
  5. Stop talking. Let them play with your ideas. We hear all of the time about the importance of reflection. People need time to take what is going on in their heads and connect it to whatever you just said. They need to build a bridge between your idea and their lived experience. Presenters, therefore, need to build in time for people in the session to practice what they are hearing, share what they think about it, or otherwise exercise their brain. I know letting attendees talk introduces a certain level of chaos. Comfort with ambiguity is as great a skill in teaching as it is in life.

 


Want more on learning strategy?

I will be teaching a workshop on curriculum design this fall.

Copy of Train the Trainer Series

More information here

Adult learning, Flip

Let’s Play Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match!

The waning days of summer are upon us. The clouds have rolled in, and the smoke has cleared. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, there’s comfort in donning fleece and staying inside while the rains freshen the air.

One of the highlights of my summer was working with two groups developing a learning strategy. They wanted to take the pieces that they had—curriculum, partnerships, experts, and ideas—and turn them into a coherent program of activities that made a bigger and more lasting difference for more people.

MixandMatch

What a great opportunity to play Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match! (I first introduced this idea here.) Mix-and-Match takes the key elements of a learning program and invites us to combine them in ways that expand the times and spaces in which we can engage people. It forces us to think outside of the usual workshop model. It also forces us to consider practice more than we otherwise do. You have to do something with all of those orange parallelograms!

Learning elementsThese three key elements are:

1. WHAT is being delivered:

  • CONTENT
  • PRACTICE actions related to the content

2. WHO is involved:

  • STUDENT, the person learning
  • TEACHER, the person delivering the content

3. HOW people are organized:

  • CLASSROOM of people together
  • a GROUP of peers learning together
  • An INDIVIDUAL learning alone

Download Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match shapes here.


How does this work?

Most learning programs do okay with synchronous learning, meaning learning where the teacher and student are participating at the same time. Take a typical workshop or webinar. It may look something like this:

Workshop
In this workshop, you have your three pieces of content, each with time to practice. The teacher and student are in the same classroom. 
Webinar
In a webinar, the teacher and student are present at the same time. The student is alone (individual learning). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good workshop has practice built in. (For more on how to do this, buy Guila Muir’s book.) How about webinars? What do we do about practice? We can’t just forget about it– that orange parallelogram needs to go somewhere! Here’s some ideas… Include practice in the webinar, even if you are giving assignments for people to do later on. Provide boosting activities after the webinar so that they remember to exercise what they learned.

Let’s make this a bit harder.

Workshops and webinars are pretty straight forward. Let’s push on how we can better reach the people we just can’t get to a scheduled event. Let’s explore asynchronous options, those where the teacher and student are not participating at the same time.

On-demand learning happens when you post a video or some other learning content on a website:

On demand
In on-demand learning, you have your content available on your website 24/7. The student accesses this learning separate from the teacher being there. The student learns individually (alone).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where are folks going to be able to practice? How are we going to deploy the orange parallelogram? Here are some ideas:

On demand practice

Office hours: There are many forms of this (from phone calls to Facebook groups), but at its core it means that the teacher participates in applying the content separate from the presentation of content. (A master at this is Maryn Boess of GrantsMagic.)

Peer or networks: Schedule–or otherwise support– practice in board or staff meetings, service club meetings, or any other time when people already gather. (At Washington Nonprofits, we do this through Nonprofit Conversations.)

Tool or micro-learning: Give the people learning something (worksheet, checklist, case study, scenarios) that challenges them to apply learning to their situation. Give them a short video that describes how they can practice. Set up the activity for them to try.

These are just a few ideas. Imagine if we really let lose imagining how Mix-and-Match might be used to design conferences, publications, and so much more.

Your turn.

Learning Strategy Mix and Match-page-001

Download your own set of shapes. Cut out the shapes. Lay them out on a table and see how many different learning events you can create using these building blocks. Some ideas:

  • Take a strategic topic that you want people to learn about and figure out five different ways that you can deliver it.
  • Explore time: scheduled learning vs. unscheduled learning. How can you expand opportunities to learn outside of scheduled events?
  • Explore practice. Where does it show up in the programs you offer or partner with? Where else could it show up? This is often the most overlooked element within learning programs.
  • Invite others to play with you! Your webmaster may have ideas on how to expand on-demand learning. Your membership person may have ideas on how to use affinity groups within the membership program. Your policy person may have real activities that need practicing, around which you can build a program.

Have fun!

 


Want more on learning strategy?

I will be teaching a workshop on curriculum design this fall.

Copy of Train the Trainer Series

More information here

Adult learning, Nonprofits

Project Runway: A Lesson in Adult Learning

Binge watching reality television provides a lot of time between the drama to think about learning. Such was the case when my daughter and I watched a season of Project Runway over the course of two weeks. It was my first deep dive into the world of high fashion design and catty criticisms about whether one contestant can stitch straight or not. The design side was amazing to see.

cut up shirt
Exhibit A: The shirt that did not make it.

I’ve sewed since in high school, though seldom anything I would wear. By the second show, I had pulled out fabric and a pattern and sewed a jacket. By the end, I had my computer propped on a box to be able to watch while sewing, and I was pulling shirts out of my closet and sketching patterns to try and replicate them. One is already in the scrap pile. The other is a viable shirt, albeit one my daughter declared “something an old lady would wear.” I ignored the old lady part and went with the “would wear” possibility.

All of this to say that watching experts do something over and over again demystifies the process. It quickly became clear that sewing is really just geometry, carving shapes out of fabric in a way that allows seams to fall flat. Sleeves all need a certain give to allow movement; zippers add a rigidity that needs accommodation; the characteristics of the fabric make or break any design.

What does all of this have to do with adult learning?

First, what we know going into an experience determines what we get out of it. I watch Project Runway and am inspired to sew. My daughter watches Project Runway and decides sewing is too hard. The difference? I knew enough to see possibility. Prior knowledge serves two functions: it provides a foundation for new knowledge and shapes our confidence and curiosity. It can’t be said enough that teaching and learning begins with them, not us. How can we better draw on the prior knowledge of the people we teach? How can we strengthen prior knowledge going before a training?

Exhibit B: Success

Second, watching a show like Project Runway demonstrates that every fancy final product is constructed through a series of discrete steps, often the same steps repeated garment after garment. A complicated whole is achieved through simpler parts.  When you watch dress after dress being sewn, you see the design decisions that lead to a standard set of outcomes. Nothing is sacred; an evening gown can become a cocktail dress with the cut of a hem. While watching a video alone does not mean you will be able to do it too, it gives you a boost when combined with practice. Imagine if we created more opportunities to see experts at work. What if we could capture their decision-making in real time and give people time themselves to practice similar decision-making in real settings? And when it comes to content, imagine how powerful it would be if we cut away everything extra to be left with something simple and classy.

Lastly, watching Tim Gunn as a mentor is delightful. He anchors his critiques in a clear sense of the goal, often bringing designers back on track after they meander off course. His comments are crisp and honest, delivered with a sweet sense of love and protection. What any of us could achieve with a Tim Gunn by our side. The nonprofit sector would be vastly more effective if we invested in coaches to support the one-and-done learning that we too often provide.

I hear a new season of Bachelorette is starting up. I have a shirt she can borrow.

Adult learning, Nonprofits

Thinking Out Loud: How to Make Conferences into Learning Experiences that Lead to Action

We put a lot into conferences. We spend months lining up speakers with ideas intended to shift our thinking. We curate workshops and plan networking time; we publish conference programs and name tags enough to fill a table. And we aren’t the only one with a lot on the line: participants commit registration fees, travel costs, and time out of the office.

How we can make conferences worth all of this time and effort? How can we place the conference in a larger constellation of learning that starts before the big day and runs well after the conference concludes?

These are the questions that led me to try some new ideas at our most recent conference in Yakima. In the spirit of “thinking out loud,” I share them here to expand the conversation.

  1. CONFERENCE PLANNER
ConferencePlanner-page-001
Click here for the Conference Planner in pdf form.

Reflection helps us in the long run, yet getting people to stop and think before a conference can be a challenge. This year I created a two page Conference Planner and sent it with a five-article reading list five days before the conference.

During the last session of the day, I sat down at a table at the back of the ballroom. Next to me was a woman with a fully completed conference planner in front of her. She had used it to navigate through the day. Later I got an email from a local nonprofit director: I recall that you had sent out a really helpful worksheet to get the most of the conference. Could you send it to me? I’ve got some staff gearing up for state and national conferences this summer, and I’d like them to be much more focused on what they hope to learn and bring back. Just spending a few minutes with your worksheet helped me get more out of the [conference last week].”

Music to my ears! We’ll now make conference planners a regular feature.

  1. KEYNOTE PLACEMAT

Keeping people following along during a keynote address can be hard. It is too much paper—and too lecture-like—to make copies of the powerpoint itself. Still, you want to encourage reflection and note-taking that happens during pair-sharing and table conversations.

I worked with the talented Margaret (Meps) Schulte, a graphic designer with 3 Great Choices, to create a legal sized Keynote Placemat.

Keynote graphic organizerI spent far too long sharpening 280 colored pencils to have enough for a complete rainbow on each table. While some people left the placemats untouched, many of them were filled by the end of the hour.

img_0325.jpg

  1. KEYNOTE FOLLOW-ON DISCUSSIONS

Most keynote speakers challenge us to think differently, and our two keynote speakers were no different. They introduced the concept of network leadership, which requires a new mindset within a community of people who see the value in changing collaborations. Change is going to take time and a team. How do we do support follow-on conversations with smaller cohorts of participants?

DiscussionguidePage1
This is an excerpt of the complete guide. It draws on the content covered during the keynote.

We are trying something new—one month later conversations in four Central Washington communities (and one conference call)—to build on the keynote address. A local person will facilitated these conversations; we have created a discussion guide to support them. It is hard to say how many people will turn out for this. There’s only one way to find out!

 

Nothing replaces conference energy: so many people coming together into one space! That energy can propel a community forward when participants have opportunities to reflect, connect, and plan together. I’m curious to see how these activities make a difference. Hopefully I’ll have something to report back.