10 Steps to Promote Learning in Your Conference Presentation

A small meme developed on Twitter yesterday prompted by the following tweet by David Wedamen,  “Just had a GREAT idea from @brandeislibn. Conferences should be built around TEACHING not PRESENTING. Wouldn’t that be something?” (Thanks to Michael Stephens for retweeting and bringing to my attention.)

Alice Yucht built on the idea with her tweet, “how about Conferences should be about LEARNING, not Show-n-Tell ?”,  which got me thinking about how we approach conferences, and conference presentations, in the library profession.  If the goal of the conference is that attendees will learn, what do conference presentations have to look like to achieve that goal?

I believe the goal of presenting should be to a create a change in the listener;  a change of behavior, thinking and/or feeling.  Any good teacher or trainer will tell you that to be effective in creating that change, you must begin with the learning objective(s) in mind, and work backwards from there to design the lesson or the talk.


Wedamen’s tweet points out an interesting feature of many library conferences—they seem to be designed around topics that presenters wish to present on, more than they are designed around, or focused on, the learning that participants need.  In too many conference presentations speakers design their talks as core dumps of data, or long, dry recountings of “how we did it good”, without giving enough attention to the key question, “As a result of hearing me speak, people will do/think/feel_________ “(fill in the blank).

The answer to that question is the main organizing principle, the guiding star, of any well-constructed talk.  Leaving out all of the other variables that go into an effective presentation (emotion, humor, pacing, eye contact, vocal variety, body language, visuals, questions, room environment, acoustics, etc.) it is very difficult to have a successful presentation if what constitutes success is a mere afterthought (or worse, if success is constituted by the fact that the speaker got a chance to speak at a conference…)


Courtesy Flickr User: gruenenrw (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  1. Ask, “What do I want them to do, think, and/or feel as a result of hearing this program?” Ask and answer this question before you write one word or create one slide.  The answer to this question is your OBJECTIVE.  Let the objective guide you continually as you construct your presentation, throwing aside anything that does not help achieve the goal of the talk.
  2. Share your objectives with the audience at some point during your presentation–preferably during the first few minutes.  If the audience knows what you intend to achieve with the talk it will give them context that will help them make meaning and ground the learning.  It will also help them evaluate whether you have effectively achieved your goal.  Or not.
  3. Have a strong opening.The first two minutes of your talk gives you a great opportunity to grab and hold the audience’s attention, but it’s likely that you already have their attention during the first two minutes.  It’s the next 58 that present the challenge!  So what do I mean by a strong opening?  I mean an opening that engages the audience, creates some positive expectation for the rest of the talk, and/or provides a framework for the learning that is about to take place.  Olivia Mitchell, who blogs over at Speaking and Presenting, suggests three possible openings –  Organized Opening, Story Opening, Dramatic Opening — and discusses when/why to use each.
  4. Use examples to illustrate your points. For example…  Don’t just say, “Merchandising your collection is good.”  Say, “When we created a ‘recently returned’ display at the front door and displayed them all covers out, 98% of them recirculated within the same day and our circulation stats increased 20%.”  Examples support the learning by attesting to the truth of your message, and also help ground the learning by clarifying and fleshing out your meaning.
  5. Use simple, clear, engaging visuals to reinforce your points (or don’t use them at all.)   Good visuals can help you focus the audience’s attention, help them make meaning, and promote future recall, by connecting intellectual ideas with visual representations. As for bullet points… I’m not one of those people that believes bullet points should never be used, but if you use them, do it sparingly, with a  large readable font, and a supporting image (if room permits.)
  6. Tell stories. Our brains are actually wired to enjoy stories.  And because stories have the power to simultaneously engage the listener both cognitively AND emotionally, they are highly effective in getting your point across (assuming you know your point–see #1).  And speaking of engaging the listener…
  7. Appeal to emotions as well as reason. Unless you are presenting on the planet Vulcan, your audience probably consists of human beings, and research shows that it is our emotions that lead us to act.  If your goal is get listeners to DO SOMETHING, you need to rouse some feeling within them by appealing to their empathy, their self-interest, or some combination of both.  As the Heath Brothers suggest in Made to Stick, you want to appeal, “not only to the people they are right now but also to the people they would like to be.”
  8. Practice, Practice, Practice:There is no substitute for practicing your talk, preferably in front of others, to work out the kinks, identify and clarify muddied points, and become comfortable with the material.  When you know your talk cold you will relax, let you personality show, and more easily connect with the audience. You may have noticed that it’s difficult to connect with a presenter who reads his talk in a monotone and seldom glances up from his notes.  Conversely, it is very easy to tune out and start twittering during such a talk.
  9. Have a strong closing, and telegraph when it’s coming. You don’t have to bring tears to the audience’s eyes, or bring them to their feet.  But you do need to let them know that you’re wrapping it up, and use the closing as an opportunity to reinforce your goal.  You can do this by simply restating your main points and asserting why/how the listener will benefit by doing what you want them to do. Or you can end with a provocative question (engaging them cognitively), or with a story (engaging them emotionally).  However you choose to close your presentation, use vocal variety and word choice to telegraph that your are concluding so the audience realizes that it is now appropriate to clap wildly.
  10. WHAT ARE YOUR IDEAS? I’m leaving #10 blank for suggestions.  What do you do to effectively promote learning in your talks?  What have speakers done that have helped you as a learner/listener?

Finding Your Voice(s)

Image courtesy Flickr User Hamed (CC BY 2.0)

Image courtesy Flickr User Hamed (CC BY 2.0)

If you’ve ever taken a class (or read a book or article) on how to speak effectively in public you’ve probably heard the refrain, “find your voice.” Usually this is meant as an exhortation to let your unique, authentic, personal style shine through no matter what the talk or situation. While there is great value in knowing your style, I suggest that speakers who aspire to move beyond the novice level should seek to find not only their voice, but their voices.

Expanding your Palette

We all have a natural speaking style or “voice”. Our voice is more than just our timbre, accent, or pacing, although these characteristics are certainly part of our overall style. Our voice may also be colored by our tendency to be either casual or formal; highly structured or stream-of-consciousness; sedate or inspirational. Whatever your natural speaking style I assure you, there are situations to which it is well-suited and appropriate, and situation to which it is NOT well suited. There will be situations where you own natural voice, or style, will detract from your goal, and the adoption of other styles, will enhance your ability to get your message across.

Since the ultimate goal of any speaking engagement is to effectively communicate with the audience, and (hopefully) create some change in their thinking or behavior, it is therefore important to be able to tailor your style to a specific audience, in a specific time, at a specific place. That is why it is helpful to have a palette of voices to choose to from depending on what we are trying to accomplish in any given talk or training.

Step One: Know Thyself

The first step to effectively using many voices is to be aware of your natural style. You must know what it is you do, if you want to consciously choose to do something else. While painful for many, there is no better way to learn your own natural voice than to video yourself speaking. (yes, I’m afraid you then need to watch the video. Repeatedly.) Once you know and are comfortable with your natural voice, the next step is to begin expanding your palette of styles. Ideally, you should be able to choose from a variety of different styles, changing or modifying your natural voice as the needed. Some situations will call for a casual folksiness, while others will call for a confident professionalism. There are situations that require upbeat enthusiasm or inspiration, while in other situations your effectiveness will be increased by a sober, dispassionate style. Being able to slip into appropriate styles at the appropriate times will greatly enhance your effectiveness as a presenter.

Step Two: Know Others

There is really only one way to consciously incorporate other styles into your speaking toolkit: Watch other speakers with an eye for differing styles, and then practice speaking like they do. A great resource for seeing top tier speakers with markedly different styles is the archive of “TED Talks” available at: http://www.ted.com/ . TED Talks are eighteen minute talks billed as “riveting talks by remarkable people”, and boy do the speeches live up to the hype! After watching a few TED Talks, you’ll quickly see that there are a myriad of effective styles. Watch Sir Ken Robinson (http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html)



and then watch Tony Robbins (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/tony_robbins_asks_why_we_do_what_we_do.html).



They have vastly different styles. Watch their body language and use of gesture, their pace, their level of formality and choice of words. Each talk is brilliant and engaging, but in very different ways. Try watching one TED Talk every week and keep a notebook with notes on the elements of each speaker’s style, and how those elements make them more or less effective. Also think about when and how those elements might increase your effectiveness if you were able to use them at will.

Step Three: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? (Practice)

Once you know your own style, and have identified elements of other speakers’ styles that you might like to use, the next step is to get out there and start speaking. In addition (or instead of) speaking to community groups, colleagues, or library customers, consider joining (or starting) a local Toastmasters chapter. Why Toastmasters? Because the very structure of Toastmasters requires you to give many speeches in a variety of styles. Some speeches require you to focus on body language, others focus on being inspirational, persuasive, funny, well-researched, or simply to-the-point. Another great benefit of Toastmasters is that you will receive detailed constructive feedback on all of your speeches—which is at least as valuable, if not more so, than watching yourself on video. Finally, Toastmasters gives you an opportunity to see others giving speeches, so you can continually observe a variety of styles noting what works, what doesn’t, and why. Toastmasters offers speakers that rarest of gifts; a place to try new things and practice in a safe environment.

Speaking in Voices: Putting it All Together

Whether you choose to join Toastmasters or not, I encourage you to try on new voices and find some safe forum for giving talks that are outside of your comfort zone. Learning to speak in a variety of voices is like learning to act outside of your natural personality style: All of us can do it – and to be effective there are times when all of us have to do it– but it takes conscious effort and energy.

One example of how this looks when it all comes together is a short talk (albeit with a long name: What do a leaky roof, a greasy spoon, a bear sighting, and a man with a tortoise in his pants all have in common? Watch this lightening talk and find out… ) I recently did on Effective Presentations at the Pres4lib Presentation Camp. The talk was highly stylized and was very much outside of my own natural presentation style. A number of people who saw this talk but had not seen me speak previously assumed that they were seeing my natural style. In fact, what they saw was the result of specific choices, made to support a specific goal.

Making Conscious Choices

I knew that the presentation was going to be after a lunch and part of a long, full day, so I made certain style choices with a goal of getting and holding the audience’s attention, and re-energizing them to get through the rest of the afternoon. The choices I made to achieve that goal were:

  • speaking with greater vocal variety (varying speed and pitch)
  • using many engaging visuals
  • using humor
  • increasing movement and gesture
  • using no notes (the first time I’ve done a truly noteless talk—but I wanted to be more free to move/gesture)

All of these conscious choices were outside of my natural style, which meant that this seven minute talk took more time, energy and preparation then many longer talks I’ve done. Many of the elements (the visuals, the humor, the gesturing, the vocal variety) I had practiced as separate skills in many Toastmasters meetings over the past few years, so when it came time to put them together I was able to choose from a fairly rich palette of voices.

My ultimate goal is to be able to easily choose from many styles (Inspiring, Passionate, Funny, Serious, Whimsical, Practical, Irreverent, Self-deprecating, Authoritative, Provocative, Authentic, Motivational, Challenging, Helpful, Informative, Scholarly, Folksy, etc.) and body/voice techniques (Pitch, Inflection, Speed, Volume, Diction, Pauses/silences, Gestures, Body Language, Eye Contact, etc.) and effectively create the right mix, at the right time, for the right audience.

What’s Your Story?

I’d love to hear from you about how you’ve developed your style. What are you tips, tricks and triumphs? Who inspires you to reach a little further, and stretch just a little bit more out of your comfort zone? If you have any good links to videos that you’ve found helpful let me know (or better yet, add them to this shared bookmark group: http://groups.diigo.com/groups/clenert)


Clutter Lovers Unite: Don’t stress about the mess!

I was gratified this morning to read this article in the New York Times by Sara Rimer: An orderly office? That’s personal. The article reports on Lisa Whited, an interior designer who specializes in adapting work spaces to the needs, habits, and goals of their users. She’s not your typical “get rid of the clutter now!” organizer. Instead of boilerplate suggestions for getting organized, Whited begins her jobs by interviewing clients to determine their specific work habits and styles.

What particularly caught my attention was that after interviewing her client (the author of the article), Whited surmised that she was the kind of person who needed to see things in front of her or else she forgot she had them, so putting things away in a filing cabinet might not be an effective organizational strategy. Reading those words, I wanted to reach into the paper (well, into the laptop–I read the paper online now) and wrap my arms around Whited and thank her for validating my life.

Out of Sight Out of Mind
See, I’m an out-of-sight out-of-mind kind of guy. Just today I came to work without my wallet (it was “put away” in a drawer), and twice last week I came to work without my phone (it was charging in another room.) I pretty much have to organize my morning so that anything that requires my attention — phone, wallet, pants  (well, maybe not pants, I’ve effectively habitualized that one) — needs to be visible to me when I’m leaving the house.

Likewise, with work. My whole organizational strategy is about keeping important things in my field of vision. If I’m not looking at it, it may as well not exist. (Note to friends and family: Apologies for being out of touch but I forgot that you existed.)

Since there’s only so much that I can keep on my desk, it’s generally not possible or practical to have too many physical reminders (notes, papers, etc.) in my field of vision. That’s why I rely heavily – VERY heavily – on text message and email reminders which I liberally set for myself using Google Calendar. (Note to Google Calendar: I’m not saying I’d leave my wife for you, but I admit we have something very special.)

Everyone I’ve ever worked with has learned that I will not see a message unless it’s placed on my chair seat. I’ve learned that if I need to do something first thing in the morning, I leave a note on my keyboard where I can’t miss it. Before text message reminders came into my life I relied heavily on taping notes to the doorknob at home (“remember to go to meeting in Trenton this morning!”)

While paper reminders in my field of vision can help, they also have their downside. One piece of paper can be accidentally placed over another piece of paper. Or it can blow away. Or it can have coffee spilled on it. For these reasons, I’ve actually arranged my work life to be as free from paper as possible. There’s probably the equivalent of 20 reams of paper sitting on my desk right now, most of it in colored folders. 98% of it has been generated by someone else and given to me at a meeting or conference. If it’s something I think I may ever want to reference again I’ve trained myself to scan it into PDF so I have an electronic copy. One great benefit of putting everything into electronic format is that, thanks to Google Desktop Search, I can find anything I ever “touched” on my computer — email, website, pdf, etc. — immediately, and sometimes quicker!

Don’t Judge My Piles!
While these piles on my desk may look like a mess to the outside observer, I like having them visible because they remind me to look through them now and then and pull out little tidbits. A note jotted in the margin a of a Powerpoint handout from a conference presentation or a handout from a workshop I’ve given (and completely forgotten about) can trigger new insights and connections, or give me a new perspective on a problem I’m dealing with. I like the serendipity of it. It’s both relaxing to me and stimulating.

Perhaps one reason most “get organized” books fail to help people like me is that they’re written by people who are not at all like me—they’re written by people who equate neatness with organization, and assume that a neat orderly environment is an a priori good and an end unto itself. I think the authors of these books are people who feel stressed out when they see a lot of stuff so, by gum, they’re not only gonna put away their stuff, they’re gonna make sure MY stuff is put away too!

But they fail to appreciate that many people are NOT like them—we don’t function best when everything is “put away”, nor are we particularly stressed by clutter. In fact, I’m generally oblivious to clutter. I don’t even see the piles of paper on my desk.

Organization Is Not an End Unto Itself
This is what I want to tell the neatniks, declutterers, straighteners, and put-awayers of the world: Organization is a tool. It is a means to an end but it is NOT an end unto itself. The end is effectiveness. Happiness. Comfort. Flow. And I need lots of stuff around in my visual field to achieve those states. So thanks for trying to help, but my brain isn’t wired like yours. So if I need help getting organized I’ll call Lisa Whited because she understands. It’s personal.


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Five Questions that will improve your effectiveness

I recently stumbled across a wonderful little book called Leadership Simple: Leading People to Lead Themselves, by Steve and Jill Morris. It’s based on Dr. William Glasser’s “Choice Theory” (which suggests, among other things, that the only person whose behavior we control is our own) and Glasser’s “Reality Therapy” (which suggests that we choose our actions and we are responsible for our choices.)

The authors use a fictional case study written in narrative format to illustrate the process of “Lead Management”, or “self-evaluating, and leading other to do the same.” The principles are also presented in bullet-point format in an appendix, which makes it very easy to quickly review the main points.

The Lead Management process involves walking oneself (and later others) through five basic questions:

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are you doing to get it?
  3. Is it working?
  4. What else can you do?
    (I like to throw in an extra one here: “What am I willing to do”)
  5. What WILL you do?

The authors suggest that when using the process, we spend the majority of our time on steps 1-4, thinking, talking, analyzing, generating options and generating more options. Finally, we decide what we WILL do and commit to an action.

I’ve realized that in the past I’ve sometimes rushed through steps 1-4, failing to think deeply enough and generate enough options. But more often I’ve spent too much time on steps 1-4, enjoying the process of exploration and never getting to a commitment to action.

What appeals to me about this process, and the underlying philosophy, is that it is deeply grounded in personal responsibility. Consider this quote from the book:

“You are accountable for the meaning you place on the information you receive, for what you want, and the behaviors you choose to get what you want.”

And this one:

“People are going to do things. Events will occur. In essence, whatever happens outside your mind is information. You get to choose what that information means, what importance you place on your perceptions of that information, and how it fits with what you already know.”

One value in adopting this perspective is that it takes us out of victimhood. We can’t simultaneously take responsibility for the meaning we ascribe to events and to the behavior of others AND feel like a victim. This is highly empowering. Victimhood, whether experienced individually or as an organizational or professional culture or belief system, gets us nowhere. When we perceive ourselves as victims we are less likely to invest our energy in trying to change or influence events. However, when we take responsibility for our perceptions and the meanings we ascribe to them, we become grounded in a place of power, and we are more likely to make conscious choices regarding our behavior. We are more likely to take concrete steps and try to exert our influence on outcomes.

The commitment to action (the “what we WILL do”) is the final step in the Lead Management model. The process, however, is circular. This means we can choose to go back to earlier steps and re-evaluate what’s working, what’s not, and generate more options. We may even decide to re-evaluate at step 1, and look at whether or not we still want what we originally wanted. We may discover that our original goals have shifted over time in the light of new experience and knowledge.

The Lead Management process is designed to be used for self-coaching and the coaching of others. But I think the process of working through the five questions could also be effectively used to guide decision-making for departments and organizations by re-phrasing the questions:

  1. What do we want to achieve? (What is our mission? What is our goal?)
  2. What are we doing to get achieve our mission/goals?
  3. Is it working?
  4. What else can we do to achieve our mission/goals?
    (“What are we willing to do”)
  5. What WILL we do?

Over the past year I’ve been acting as a personal coach to a friend/colleague (and as I move into 2008 I will be doing more, and will begin receiving formal training from a professional coach.) Coaching, as opposed to mentoring, is about asking questions, not giving advice. So far my experience with coaching (both as a coach and coachee) has been very positive, and I can see how the five questions of the Lead Management process could be integrated into an effective coaching session.

Now maybe it’s a bit early to be making New Year’s resolutions (although tech support people are already wishing me a “Merry Christmas”) but maybe I can set a New Year’s Intention:

  1. What do I intend?  I intend to learn to effectively coach myself and others.
  2. What am I doing to get it? Setting up agreement to be coached by (and trained by) an experienced professional coach; Setting up agreement to coach a colleague.
  3. Is it working? TBD…
  4. What else can I do? Read books listed on coaching bibliography provided to me by an experienced coach.
  5. What WILL I do? TBD… Share my coaching experiences on Library Garden!

Magical Mystery Tour Wiki Link

As requested, here’s the link to the Wiki that supports the Magical Mystery Tour: http://librarygarden.pbwiki.com

My Flickr set from the day is available here.

My 15 minutes was focused on getting across the concept of RSS. I did a powerpoint (also up on slideshare.) All of my supporting information is up on the wiki here: librarygarden.pbwiki.com/Pete’s+Favorites.

We’re doing a repeat performance next Thursday (and then Barbequing at Chateau Bromber’) so if anyone has any recommendations or feedback to improve my RSS presentation I’m all ears. Grilling tips are also appreciated.