Think back to the last time you had a really good conversation. What did the other person do that made the engagement such a good experience? Did he have good (or even juicy!) information? Did she answer a big question you had? Did it feel like your listener enjoyed being there and was both physically and mentally present in the moment?
You grab and maintain audience attention - in-person and online - by immediately solving a mystery and giving the audience what it needs, by providing the audience something useful. The truth is you want to be able to hear a pin drop. Because you’ve researched and you know what the audience wants, you have people listening closely and ready to chime in as opposed to bored and waiting for the session to end. And it all starts with a shift in attitude.
You have prepared for what you believe is a killer presentation. You have your technology ready. You have picked the perfect setting. You are ready to make this live remote presentation one for the history books.
Okay. Perhaps that's a bit melodramatic; however, you get my point. You have invested time, energy, and research in designing a meaningful session to deliver to an audience of listeners who are located all over the country -- possibly around the globe. However, full calendars and busy lives can preclude your target audience from attending the session live, and you have more who opt to catch the recording at a later date that's more convenient for them.
While you can understand and respect those realities, it does nothing to make you feel better about preparing to present a live web-based presentation or a synchronous class session, right?
A friend and colleague once shared with me people make time for what's important to them. End of story. So with that, let's identify three ways you can make your session important to your prospective audience, so everyone's not putting it off until a later date but is showing up live and ready.
The first three secrets simply were not enough, right? I am sharing with you some of my "hindsight is 20/20" educator revelations after reading Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do. Reading this book evoked "ah-ha!" moments one after another after another; I realized how I could have been far, far more effective in the classroom many moons ago if only I had known then what I know now.
Read on, and see what ah-ha! moments you have!
Secret #4: It does not have to be a lightning round of Jeopardy!, but demonstrate for students it is expected and acceptable to ask questions. And they may (and should!) do so without fear. And this fear is dissipated by you inviting their voices. Start each class in a way that signals to students your voice will not be the only one that is heard in the classroom.
These are three of six secrets I learned many years after entering the classroom as an educator and after getting my hands on a copy of Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do. (And, yes, I wish I had this book before I started teaching!)
I have found the time has now come to no longer keep the secrets to myself or within the four virtual corners of my online classrooms; here are quotes from Bain's book that led me to those secrets, and I trust they will lead you to discover/uncover some teaching secrets of your own!
Bain writes "We cannot take single pieces … and simply combine them with other, less effective or even destructive habits and expect them to transform … teaching …" (p. 20).
He goes on to suggest instead we should "… make a systematic and reflective appraisal of … teaching approaches and strategies, [and ask 'Why do you do] certain kinds of things and not others[?]'" (p. 21)
So here's secret #1: Just as adding fresh herbs to a piece of burnt fish does not make it better neither does adding effective teaching practices to a collection of less than effective approaches improve the classroom experience. Make a conscious effort to review, reflect, and revamp.
On January 27, 2017, I had the privilege of spending the day with several faculty members at Doña Ana Community College in Las Cruces, New Mexico, facilitating an edtech workshop entitled "Turn It App a Notch: Tools for a More Engaging iPad Educational Experience," and the richness of the conversations was mind-blowing!
Within the first minutes of the workshop, we began a conversation focused on what participants needed from me, the facilitator, and each other - essentially, their classmates - during the course of the workshop to make it a positive and productive experience for them.
And I want to pause now, and ask that you notice this breaking of patterns. Think back to the last time you attended a workshop; it is quite possible the facilitator had already reached conclusions about the participants' needs without actually gaining their input. Now, you might think "Bridgett, is that not ambitious and a bit challenging for the facilitator to wait until the actual workshop to get this information and then authentically and sincerely act upon it right there in front of a live audience?"
Yes, it can seem like a heavy weight on the shoulders and a high level of accountability; however, when you invite participants to make such a list, you show you care, and when you show you care, it makes it easier to accommodate the list of needs. Really! It does. It turns the workshop in to a conversation ... into an experience that makes everyone feel his/her interests and needs are in mind. And it feels SO GOOD to immediately hear participants' voices because the workshop is about them! It feels like standing back and gliding brush strokes of colors onto a blank canvas without worries of restricting borders or having to follow a set pattern!
Now back to the experience and how we REALLY discovered what it means to break some patterns in the classroom ...
I combined my pre-determined list with the participants' combined list of what they needed in order to have a beneficial learning experience in the workshop, and the amazing revelation at which we arrived was ...
Why wait until the student opinion surveys are tallied or until your dean, department head, or program manager evaluates you to find out how well you perform as an educator? And better yet why let someone else tell you whether you are doing a good job?! Harness the power of self-evaluation to assess your superstar status at the front of that room! (And if you conduct meetings, this is just as relevant! Simply exchange "students," "class," and "lesson" for "meeting attendees, "meeting," and "content/agenda.")
How exactly is this done? Simple! Ask and answer these questions at the conclusion of class (or a meeting!):
Can real discussions ... real, thoughtful, meaningful, interesting, thought-provoking discussions authentically and realistically happen in the online classroom?! Naturally, you expect me to indicate the response is "yes."
However, let's face it. For those who teach online courses, the discussions can oftentimes seem like anything but. You post discussion questions. Students post responses. And a few classmates comment with the good old “I agree!” You all keep rolling on down the train track and never take a diversion from the straight and narrow.
Frankly, for this reason, you can sometimes dread going into the online classroom - even during the weeks when the topic is one of your favorites because ... well ... you know what you'll likely find. It does not feel like much of a discussion, and you sure wish you could change that without having to put in a lot of work and time.
I have just the remedy, and here's a technique you can try today even if you have discussion questions (DQs) that you are not at liberty to change!