‘Why write?’ was one of the questions I asked in my talk. This blog post could be titled ‘Why present?’ ‘It’s a very rewarding experience,’ I could say. But maybe we always say this when things have gone well… It’s not a very concrete or useful answer either, is it? So, here a bit more about what I think (or have heard) that went well, and what would make it (in my view) a more useful talk.
by Karen White, MaWSIG
But still, first: Why present?
It’s another way of sharing knowledge, sharing experience; it’s for teacher and career development and all the other reasons which I listed when talking about ‘Why write’ (see the slides here). If you teach presentation skills, it also helps you appreciate what your students go through when they have to present (often in a language they are not proficient in yet).
So, it’s a good thing, which is probably why we (at least I) spent so much time preparing for it and why we put ourselves in a situation that makes us feel nervous if we could simply be enjoying the conference…
My talk was part of the MaWSIG Day (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) on the Friday of the conference. In fact, mine was the first talk. Fortunately, I had had the change to meet many of the attendees before, which helped immensely with being less nervous. Generally, all the attendees, when I looked at them, looked interested and nodded along, which again helped me to feel relaxed throughout my talk.
There was also a person responsible for the technology, Richard, who connected my laptop to the projector and set my Keynote slides to presenter mode and helped me with the microphone and clicker they provided. He said he’d be ‘up there’ in the technical room (or whatever it is called) overseeing everything and that I could call him if needed. I told Richard that his presence was very important to me (and the success of many other talks I’m sure) – one less thing to worry about!
Last year at IATEFL, I attended many talks. In none of them, except maybe one, was there any or enough time for questions, which I believe are a very crucial part of a successful and rewarding presentation experience for both the presenter and the audience. Those presenters who had an exhibition stand could say – and they did – ‘If you have any (more) questions, I’ll be at the stand.’ But how about those that couldn’t offer this option?!
So, I had said to myself, should I give a talk, I’ll make sure I’ll leave ten minutes for questions and comments. Twenty minutes should be long enough to get your point across! A successful talk was, in my view, not just one person who speaks to many, but should offer opportunities for interaction between the attendees, and between them and the presenter. Well, it didn’t quite work out as originally thought, and I knew it. I simply had too much to say and I agonised over where to cut the talk but couldn’t get myself to do it, except for one or two slides and minutes. I did finish exactly within the 30 minutes allocated to me and I did give the audience plenty of opportunities to interact with each other, but there was no time for feedback and questions. And, I did have to say to the audience ‘You are welcome to come to the stand to ask questions or talk to me.’
I had planned to ask the audience four questions, which I wanted them to discuss before I presented my ideas, but I would have loved to give them more time to do this and also have time to get feedback, which I only managed ones. I know from being a participant myself that one minute for a discussion is not enough and one is asked to stop just when it gets interesting. Also, I would have loved to hear what they had to say and add to my own ideas. The one person whose feedback to the question ‘Why write?’ we managed to hear was ‘One important reason for writing is missing on your slide: for the LOVE of it!’ This to me was such a great addition to my ideas. And I’m sure, had we had time, we’d have heard more great contributions, particularly as my audience was about half experienced authors, who had already published books, and half ‘inexperienced’, who were there because they wanted to start writing. There were also editors of magazines, as I would later find out.
Anticipating that there wouldn’t be sufficient time for interaction, feedback, and questions, I had prepared a Google document with the questions and shared it with the audience at the beginning so they could add their contributions there, but nobody added anything, then or later. This could be because they couldn’t access it quickly, didn’t want to contribute in writing, or there was simply no time to write anything there and follow the talk.
What’s the solution then? To cut the talk? Maybe often it is. With my talk, I think the solution would have been to have submitted it as a workshop rather than talk, which would have given us 15 more minutes for discussions, questions, and comments, and would have made it a real learning experience for all, including the presenter.
The rewarding bits
I actually enjoyed standing there and presenting to my audience and felt much less nervous than I thought I might be.
After the talk, some people told me they liked the talk and it motivated them, some did ask questions. Some even came to the stand to talk about my presentation.
Very unexpectedly, two editors, who were in the audience, said it was a lovely talk and asked whether I would like to write it up for their publication! So, one suggestion I could add to my slide on ‘How to start writing’ is: give a presentation and then write it up for a blog post or an article!