Friday, April 20, 2012

Who's Your Horshack?

For those who this reference precedes, this is Arnold Horshack. He was the most easily maligned of Gabe Kotter's sweathogs on TV's Welcome Back, Kotter. He was nasally and had a grating laugh, had a pronounced accent, and typically the most often made fun of in the group.

As a kid, the reruns showed him as an easy target and I'm sure we made fun of him now and again for his enthusiastic way of answering questions, or very unique way of speaking (click here for a sample, it'll haunt your dreams).

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Horshack.

This student has what I would easily refer to as unbridled enthusiasm. At the beginning of the semester, she was at every event we put on, enjoying the shows and exhibiting a lot of excitement about what we did. However, she is what my students would refer to not-so-affectionately as a "fangirl". That is to say, sometimes her excitement was more directed toward meeting and hanging out with the acts, than to the music or performance itself. In my estimation, this is a difference in approach, not necessarily something to be maligned. As my students became increasingly frustrated with her antics, I urged them to recognize it as a difference of opinion and nothing more. Is it how I would act? No. But does that make her wrong? Not necessarily.

But then it became wrong. Through involvement with other campus organizations, we came to realize that she was interviewing bands prior to our show through a false representation of her affiliation. We were allowing her to interview bands she said she had "approved" permission from, but we then realized that the entity she was "approved" by had no knowledge of what she was doing. We got in touch with her to shut the interview down, but then what?

How do we educate her? Yes, her approach is the source of high enthusiasm, and frankly her dedication is something that I wish I saw in more of our students. But who is responsible for educating her about the error in her approach? Who is responsible for showing her the importance of due diligence? How do we allow her to go about things the right way in an educated fashion? As the talks about this student have taken up more and more of our organization's time, and as I realize that these discussions are being had by more and more organizations on campus, I sincerely wonder if we're not letting this opportunity pass, just because she irritates us or reminds us of things that we don't like.

Do you have a Horshack on your campus? Does he or she work in your office? What approach do you take in educating him or her? Is the approach different from the students that you interact with more naturally?

Comparing Student Performance, "Apples to Apples"

When did it become the end of the year, incidentally? Where did I leave the rest of the year? Has anyone seen it?

We have come to the end of my first school year at Florida State University, and yet I'm still navigating some new processes. It has come time to do year-end evaluations, and I checked with my supervisor to see what our formalized process was for evaluating student performance. 

There wasn't one.

I saw this as a chance to get creative. I had grand expectations of making all of my one-on-ones particularly interactive, novel, and delightful for my students. But amidst the shuffle of a heavy programming schedule, getting acclimated, and at times eating and sleeping, those aspirations got lost. Here I had a chance to bring them back. What were the obstacles I wished to overcome?
  • Keeping evalations interesting for myself; and
  • Preventing myself to hear the answer of "good", "fine", or at times even shrugging for responses
Apples to Apples held the answer.

I created a series of questions to have students describe their experience in the organization (how well they understood their skill level, how supported they felt by fellow student staff, level of support from advisors, etc.) Then, each student got a stack of green Apples to Apples cards (the adjectives). Each response could use between 1-4 green cards.

The result? Vibrant responses, a more natural interaction, and a relaxed way to assess their time in the organization. It's not often that someone's feelings about an organization is described as "yummy", or that we can delve into the danger of our programs being described as "pointless" and "predictable", but I'm happy to have given my students a fun and unique means to express their feelings and thoughts. 

How have you mixed up your end of the year evaluations? And seriously, where did the year go?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Speak Up, Please: Great Practices for Public Speaking

Between my recent high praise of Nick Offerman's informative and engaging speech this past week, Joe Ginese's spot-on assessment of the value of conference presentations, and a somewhat unfortunate case of a presentation I saw this morning from the Center for Academic and Professional Development, I have some guidelines on how to give a meaningful lecture or presentations.

I hesitate, however, to say "best" practices because that implies a definitive strategy. Public speaking, in my estimation, is not something that has a definitive strategy. These are practices that, if employed enthusiastically and with the support of the presenter, could turn something not so engaging into something that people can learn from.

So, without further ado..."Lessons in Engaging Me At Your Presentation"

Know Your Audience.
This morning's lecturer spoke about working at Super Bowl Halftime Shows as part of the production team that employed the technology of projectors, LED screens, and stage setup. Awesome topic, with so much potential to be engaging. And the last 35% of the presentation was. But what was the first 65%? A clearly repurposed presentation originally designed to pitch the company's services to potential buyers. And it showed.

Did I want to know what the company did overall? Yes. But was this the venue to try and sell us on the value of the company? No. We see the value of what he does, or we wouldn't have come to the presentation.

So what is the lesson here? Know who you're speaking to, and frame your information in such a way that they have the information they need. No more, no less, and appropriate for the setting that we're in. This is particularly important for conference presentation proposals. Every now and again, a presentation might be fun to present, and could be applicable to more than one population. But if it doesn't fit the demographic in question, or if you cannot alter it to fit that demographic, please don't force it.

Break Free
Those of you reading a blog already have some understanding of the power of technology. It's great. I love it. That said, we should develop an ability to operate without it. That is to say, have a plan B. In case your Power Point/Prezi doesn't work, or translate properly, be able to convey your message in the absence of the pizzazz that might come with a screen. I understand that for today's presenter, who is so professionally dependent on technology, that this could be a daunting concept. But I will say that some of the best presentations that I've been to have been the result of discussion and person to person interaction. So find a way for your topic, your presentation, your story, to speak beyond a screen.

A related point- if possible, find a way to break free from the confines of a podium or projector cart. Use a clicker. Auto-time your presentation. Even ask a friend or co-presenter to click for you! When you seem engaged in a topic, others can sense your excitement. And when you're too excited to sit still, that says something! That said, please don't Dane Cook it- no screaming or incessant pacing. That makes people nervous.

Let Your Content Speak
Sometimes this is difficult for drier material, or for less experienced public speakers. I see this a LOT in members of the college lecture circuit who are called upon because they have good life stories (Mark Zupan, the captain of the Paralympic Rugby Team and star of Murderball comes to mind), but struggle with conveying their story in the absence of an editing team or a ghostwriter to organize their thoughts. I know, in particular, that my presentation on contracts suffers from a severe lack of a unique or entertaining voice. But in most cases, instructions or explanations can be livened up with an anecdote or parable to drive the point home.

The presentation I saw this morning had a lot of technical discussion about how the individual pieces worked, the turmoil of putting it all together, and the process of designing and implementing the setup. But the best way to describe it came a few moments later, when the presenter showed a video that the member of the crew made. For all the explanation that was given about the frenzy of the process and the ultimate reward of seeing it come together, it could not have been better conveyed than through a two-minute movie of one participant's experience.
Find a way to let your content speak- bring in a student to talk about the initiative, produce a movie, even tell a story. When the content speaks, people will listen.

Have Fun!
Yes, I realize that this tip doesn't apply to all content. Some of the topics that we are called upon to speak about shouldn't be entertaining, or won't by nature be enjoyable. So what I mean here is, show engagement in the topic. Don't speak as though you're distant from it. Speak with authority and investment. When those listening recognize that you are invested in the content being presented, you will take on a sense of being authoritative and knowledgeable. Nobody wants to learn from someone who doesn't care what they're teaching.

To that end, I have a recommendation- again, far from a mandate. If there's something that you could present on, but don't feel qualified or personally moved to do so, don't present or speak on it. Your lack of investment and enthusiasm will, except for the most skilled actors in our profession, shine through. Be invested in your topic, and others will feel invested too.

Any other tips on how to pull people in to your public speaking?