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bike flowers

 

How do you want to travel?

 

Presentations and workshops are particular journeys for all participants – the facilitator included. From an overall accountability perspective, responsibility for the session sits squarely on the shoulders of the presenter, and rightly so. The content, pacing, climate and structure need to be clearly communicated and consistently enacted. Course evaluations assess how effectively presenters perform across these domains, and offer immediate feedback for improvement. But what about the audience?

Lately I’ve been thinking about individual audience members’ accountability, and the delicacy in creating a climate where each person in the room feels as invested in the value and success of the event as the presenter. This goes beyond learning outcomes and focuses on process (how we engage) as well as content (what we learn).

Most workshops and presentations typically start with some or all of:

  • Learning outcomes
  • Session overview or outline
  • Participants’ learning goals
  • Pre-session learning assessments.

However, few workshops explicitly build in a chance for participants to identify how they will contribute. In other words, reflecting on how we learn and participate, what might hold us back, and what would make it safe to take risks and participate in ways that might feel downright uncomfortable. I think these questions are crucial precursors to the usual content-focused questions or assessments, because a conversation about process sets the stage for joint responsibility for engagement.

It comes down to a conversation about how we (both presenter and group) collectively want to make the journey together. From a presenter’s perspective, this means starting out by asking questions such as:

  1. Are you coming to this session as a spectator or as a participant?
  2. What are some possible ways into the content that would resonate for you, and how could you amplify these entry points?
  3. What would it take to make you want to step outside your comfort zone?
  4. If you decided to take some risks in the interest of your own ‘deep learning’, how can the group support you?
  5. How will you translate and adapt ideas or applications to make them 100% relevant for you?

You don’t have to ask all five questions, and there are a wealth of other questions you could pose. The key is our intentionality in creating time for all participants to reflect on their roles, and on the nature of the voyage they are going to take with you and one-another.

And the next time I attend a presentation or workshop (or a class, meeting, performance, celebration or other opportunity to actively engage), I will be asking myself: “How do I want to travel?”

 

 

 

firepit

 

 

“Every person is like all others, some others, and no others.”

 

Night air, pine trees, starlight and throw another log on the fire. Sitting around a fire-pit makes us all storytellers.

This weekend I finally heard the complete narrative of my dad’s1981 road trip through Canada’s Maritime provinces with Uncle Ulysses. Including the ill-advised (in retrospect) meal of fresh-cooked clams that led to their acute and enduring distress. Like all heroes, Euclid and Ulysses (actual names) valiantly carried on through their itinerary of roadside museums and historic landmarks. It all culminated on the final night of the trip where, after three days of fasting, they deemed it safe to order pizza as an accompaniment to the 6-pack of beer they’d picked up earlier. The smell of fresh pizza proved too much to bear, and as my father put it, “I said: ‘Please don’t hit the beer’; and we never did eat the pizza”. To this day, neither of them has ever tasted shellfish again.

I loved that story, and even more I loved the experience of hearing the story. The fireside version took around 15 minutes and was punctuated with the audience’s questions, observations, digressions, reflections and laughter. It was engaging, relateable, suspenseful, totally human.

This makes me think more about the axiom of “tell more stories” in presentations and workshops. For listeners, the most powerful storytelling experiences are not passive, but rather, involve actively participating as co-authors in the telling. Even in large groups or online or asynchronous learning environments this can take the form of an internal conversation and co-authoring, as each of us relates to our own lives and our personal stories.

So…my lesson learned is to try going beyond just telling stories, and to intentionally create avenues for the audience to participate in the telling. Most training venues and classrooms don’t permit campfires, but I’m inspired to find ways to leverage stories as powerful shared experiences. Every story represents the rich complexity of human experience, as each of us is “like all others, some others, and no others” (paraphrasing Murray and Kluckhohn, 1953).

Stories connect our content to others in powerful ways. Being a better presenter has to involve getting better at storytelling.

 

 

 

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