After a decade of speaking at conferences and workshops, the cardinal rule I learned is to always speak from experience. Far too many presenters (including me in my early days), get up in front of an audience and talk about things they’ve only heard about – not actually used.
The thing is, my audience could detect this instantly! Teachers know the difference between someone who is playing a game of telephone (just passing along an idea they sorta remember from another person’s talk/book/blog) and someone who is speaking from direct experience.
Once I learned to speak just from my personal experience, it was so much easier! I could share the problems I ran into. I could explain how I revised the initial lesson to fix those problems. I can share authentic (and often hilarious) comments from students.
I could just tell the story of how I went from a bad lesson in Year 1 to a better lesson in Year 2 to a lesson that actually worked in Year 3.
Talk About Your Problems
With my early presentations, I made the mistake of making myself look like a Super Teacher. I didn’t share my disasters. I didn’t talk about my awful lessons. I just shared my successes. But teachers LOVE to hear how people fixed actual problems. They want to hear about how people adapted and recovered from failure. Teachers certainly don’t want to hear about a “good idea” that the presenter hasn’t actually been used.
I’d say the key to any talk is to just use this formula:
Here is a problem I had. Here’s how I fixed it.
This is much more powerful than just re-sharing a second-hand, untested idea.
Is There A Better Person?
Now, the real problem when someone gets up and shares an idea they’ve never used is that it steals the stage from someone who would have spoken from experience. There’s someone in the audience who could have stood up and explained how they actually solved an actual problem.
So, those of us who lead PD should be asking, “Is there someone who is better suited to give this presentation than me?” Or at least this part of the presentation? A young teacher who is working through this? A veteran who has figured this out? A duo of teachers with different approaches?
Friends, don’t try to give a talk about ideas that you haven’t personally used! Either borrow a classroom for an hour and try the idea or else seek out folks with real experience and let them speak. Ask them to talk for just ten minutes (not an hour!!!) about the topic they are the best at. Let them tell their story. Help them prepare! Don’t present them as Super Teachers who have it all figured out. Help them highlight the process of how they figured it out. Empower your best teachers to share their best ideas.
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