My oldest niece began preschool this fall in North Carolina. As you might expect of any proud uncle, I check-in with my sister frequently for updates on the latest developments in class. What have they discussed? Where have they gone? Is she making friends? Is she a confirmed genius yet? What’s her teacher like? Any funny stories I should know about (secretly hoping that there are)?
Apparently, she’s the golden child. The only trouble she’s committed since the start of the school year is actually attributable to her mother. You see, my sister’s a bit of a diva. She sends my niece to school in perfectly coordinating accessories. This sometimes includes sandals that don’t actually comply with the school’s closed-toed shoe policy, which has apparently been instituted to keep the clumsy children from hurting themselves during recess.
So, I know what you’re thinking: How big a problem could this really be? As a kid, I often remember getting only one opportunity to correct undesirable behavior – or else. My sister, on the other hand, thinks there are exceptions for cute shoes. Needless to say, there’s been more than one reminder sent home. Add to that my niece’s fondness for dresses and you can just imagine what getting ready in the morning must look like in that household.
But I digress. As a learning professional, I’m also curious about what my niece is learning. Lately, it’s all about the show and tell. And why wouldn’t it? Getting kids up in front of their classmates at a young age is a terrific way to build their confidence for future speeches and group presentations. And to ensure their success, simply ask them to talk about things they love – their family, their toys, their summer vacations and the like.
This isn’t so dissimilar from how I often begin learning labs and workshops of my own. Introducing simple attendee primers (e.g., What is your favorite fall tradition or pastime?) during sessions I facilitate encourages low-risk introductions among participants, breaks the ice and ultimately sets the tone for deeper, more meaningful conversation about the topic at hand.
Recently, my niece was asked to bring something in to her class for red show and tell day. Ultimately, she settled on a red stuffed animal named Clifford. You may be familiar with him. Leading up to the big day, my sister asked my niece what she was planning to say about Clifford. And, believe it or not, my niece had prepared a speech – one she had come up with all on her own and would repeat time and time again with little variation.
Of course, you can only imagine how disappointed I was to learn there was no video evidence of this very first class “speech.” My sister did, however, take a follow-on video of my niece giving a similar presentation about her stuffed animal, Foxy. While the quality of the video wasn’t share-worthy, I’d like to provide here a transcription of what she said.
At first blush, I bet you’re wondering where she came up with that ingenious opening and closing. I do, too. I promise I’ve not been coaching her. My friends think she’s itching to go on the road with me. But let’s dig beyond the cute rhetoric for the implications this speech has on our own association speakers.
- Do you know what your speakers are going to say before they say it? You wouldn’t put my niece, however smart, in front of your board of directors without a trial run. Why would you allow your speakers to “educate” your attendees without first understanding their qualifications and, more importantly, what they intend to say.
- Do you coach speakers beforehand to ensure accurate/engaging content? Whether this is one-on-one, in a small group setting or via webinar, industry speakers often don’t have training in professional development. They’re content experts. So gather and share your best PowerPoint slide recommendations and hands-on exercises for optimal outcomes.
- Do you take good care of your speakers to ensure they have an enjoyable experience before, during and after your program? Pre-program, clear and succinct communication is key. Let the who, what, where, when and why guide you. During the program, think creature comforts such as water at the podium and/or a nice room amenity.
- Do you provide your speakers with feedback in a meaningful and positive way? We often collect it. But when it comes to compiling it and summarizing it into something useful, we usually fall short. Take the time to organize session feedback and compare it to the overall conference evaluations. Share this information with your speakers and elaborate wherever possible with suggestions for future improvements.
- Do you encourage speakers to go off script to assess and meet the needs of your audience? Most anyone can get up in front of a group of people and deliver a scripted presentation. But it’s the more seasoned and experienced content leader who can dump the script to meet the learners where they are, even if this means a little improv.
I believe we’re at a crossroads. The content our associations offer must be topnotch if we intend to compete with the countless other continuing education providers that are fast on our heels. There are just too many learning and networking opportunities available today for ours to miss the mark and remain sustainable. Our speakers and their messages are simply too important to leave to chance.
It’s up to all of us – staff members, volunteer leaders and consultants – to institute best practices when it comes to the development of our education content. “We’re too busy” and “we’re just planners” are not valid excuses. We must utilize tried and true instructional design strategies, as well as lessons learned from both neuroscience and biology, to create experiences that promote knowledge acquisition, retrieval and, ultimately, learning.
What are you committed to doing differently this month?