Do as I say…. not as I present.

I have been flipping in and out of webstreams of two conferences that had the good sense to be Ustreamed or Elluminated this week. Webcasting conference content is indeed a wonderful tool in these cash strapped/no travel budget times…allowing folks like me out here in the cornfields to peek in and see what is happening in San Diego, Vancouver, and beyond.

The technologies are wonderful, but they often present a predicament to both the presenter as well as the audience. For the presenter, there is the back channel: that flurry of sometimes helpful, sometimes snarky, sometimes totally wildly askew and off subject comments that percolate alongside the presentation. Presentations are no longer one way with these tools. Gone are the days of “I broadcast, you listen.” It’s now: “I broadcast… and you contribute…. and you become a part of this along with me.”

Oh the challenges: how does one “manage” those additions and stay on task during the presentation? Do you ignore it altogether? Do you read it later and comment offline? Do you incorporate it into your talk? If so…how… and when?

These are all questions that I believe we should be asking ourselves, as presenters, BEFORE we flip on the camera, before we agree to broadcast our words into the intarwebs. We need to have a plan: How are we going to incorporate our virtual audiences? They took the time to be there, shouldn’t they be included in the Q &A’s? Should the physical audience be miked so the virtual audience can hear the questions?

I would argue that as a whole we are not effectively modeling the use of these tools (and the comments they elicit) for our multiple audiences. For the most part we are not showing effective and inclusive teaching practices…. the very same things we say we want to encourage in our students’ learning and our pedagogy.

Do as I say, not as I present.

Look at how the camera records how we set up and sit in these presentations. How ironic it seems to me that the “default presentation setting” is almost always the presenter up front, the audience in lines facing forward. The medium is negating the message. More ironic still? the presentation topics are about shifting paradigms, challenging traditions and arthritic teaching habits that we know simply. don’t. work. Why are we modelling ineffective practices in our presentations?

It’s time people, it’s really time, to shake things up. It’s truly not enough to talk about teaching differently. You need to back up those wise thoughts and show your audience what it looks like…what it feels like. You have to present them…differently. You need to make your presentation serve as a model, as a metaphor, for what you want the outcome to be in the classroom.

It feels weird, it feels uncomfortable to move away from the podium and scatter those desks… but that’s exactly how our students feel when we introduce these tools. We need to model uncertainty, we need to feel discomfort… those cycles of disruption and repair that we think about and ask our students to endure….for our colleagues. We need to put our beliefs into action.

I wish I could give you an example of how to do it perfectly… I can’t. I’m not perfect. But what I can do is how you at least show you an attempt at making a difference.

This past summer my colleagues Laura and Leslie and I were invited to speak about one of our favorite topics…Fear….at the nmc conference in Monterey. Let me say it right here and now: I love these women and I love the way their brains work. Put the three of us in a room (and add Martha and BG?), add a martini shaker 🙂 and oh… what fun.

Our presentation on Fear was an un-presentation (as much as one can be in a conference hotel where they set up and lock down heavy, linen-draped tables and presume that is how everyone wants ’em). The content, the presentation style, the use of the audience, the use of crayons and construction paper… we consciously tried to depart from how it is done time and time and time again. My only regret was that we didn’t check in on the Ustream viewers as much as we should have. We didn’t ask them what they were thinking. Actually we didn’t have time. Our physical audience was leading the discussion and taking it to some pretty extraordinary places.

Like I said, not perfect. But a start.

Take a look at these examples of ways to do things differently. Hurl tomatoes if you will. But more than anything else? Please join us in rethinking how presentations can and should be done. We are, my friends, being oh so hypocritical when we talk about change but don’t model it with our actions.

So, please…do as you say…AND as you present.

An example of ways to engage with your Ustream audience:

Examples of ways to engage everyone else, and ditch the podium too (note: I sped up the video deleted the sound just to give you an idea of the ebb and flow in one section of the preso):

Note: Thanks to a nod from the surveys of the nmc conference participants, the nmc has asked us to write a paper about our presentation for inclusion in the Summer 09 Conference Proceedings publication this fall. More details to follow.

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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  1. colleen · October 15, 2009 Reply

    I have another thought here- speaking of reigning in your crowd!!! Really enjoyed watching the physical movement in video 2- Perhaps- didn’t grasp the depth but sure felt the movement and energy from your FF take. What happens to space when we plug into technology? How do we manage the different dimensions of space? (here comes the part that has nothing to do with your post directly- but a fleeting connection nontheless.) I am running virtual immersion sessions at a high school for at risk youth one morning a week. I am in the midst of processing the roles and relationships we have with technology, dimensions of space and depth. I am watching kids unload sometimes 4 or 5 of their own personal electronic devices from pockets to charge before I help them plug into another one or two. Much like your conference, how can I facilitate process in the different dimensions and lead to a depth that perhaps the default of pop culture is not putting front and center? Great Reading Your Blog Again!!!

  2. barbara · October 18, 2009 Reply


    Thank you for your comment about the movement in the video.

    One thing I love about presenting with these women is that we know each other well enough such that we can weave (literally and figuratively) in and out of each other’s comments and move about the room such that we don’t step on each other’s toes AND so that the voices from the presenters are coming from lots of angles… The hope being that the people in the BACK of the room will feel as connected to the presnetaion as those in the front…

    We are writing up the preso for the NMC and I will be sure to post a link when it is available. I will you be the judge as to whether the content matched up with the movement and the energy :-).

    …and wow what a great question. I would really like to hear more about what you are doing and where you are doing it.

    So this begs the question…are YOU blogging about this? Please let me/us know!


  3. colleen · October 30, 2009 Reply

    Don’t you love blogging, you can have a conversation over the course of a month, forget about it and carry on like you never left:)

    I am only blog participating these days as I can REALLY identify with your “how many balls can a person have in the air and still be true to what they do?” UFFF! Won’t drag and brag with my list of balls for now… The side gig at the school with at risk youth (50% drop out rate) has been utterly eye opening- who says that technology and motivation doesn’t allow us as teachers to access learners that we cannot access in a traditional classroom environment? I will try to get something on film to share soon.

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