Learning opportunities that turn in on themselves have always appealed to me. I jump at the chance, for example, to facilitate webinars about how to facilitate webinars. Or presentations on how to effectively, engagingly deliver transformative presentations. So the opportunity to tell stories during a workshop on “Inspiring Positive Action through Storytelling” was one I grabbed, courtesy of colleagues at the Sacramento Chapter of ATD (the Association for Talent Development), late last week.
The results were magnificent.
It started with high levels of interactivity among a small group of co-conspirators in learning during that 90-minute “Inspiring Positive Action Through Storytelling” session online; this was a group of peers bringing years of experience to the table and willingly, concisely, engaging, and playfully sharing that experience in ways that made all of us better storytellers by the end of the time we had together. It continued with a combination of sharing information about incorporating storytelling into the work we do with discussions designed to find ways to apply what we were exploring into the work the learners would resume doing as soon as the session ended. And it included time to actually workshop a sample story that participants could adapt into the learning opportunities they design for their own learners.
We took a somewhat unusual approach to the idea of incorporating storytelling into learning: we focused as much on the stories we tell—or should be telling—to attract learners to our onsite and online learning opportunities as we spend on effectively incorporating storytelling into the onsite and online workshops and courses we provide. To set a context for the session, I opened with the story of how I had designed and facilitated a one-hour session at the request of a staff member in an organization where I was in charge of training. How she and I had discussed what she thought should be included in that session. How I put the word out about what the workshop offered interested staff members. And my surprise, on the day of the workshop, how I found myself facing only four people, from an organization with hundreds of employees, in the room where the workshop was taking place. And she—the person who had requested the course—was not among them. Because, as she told me later, she hadn’t needed the session; she just thought it was something others needed and would attend.
So, I suggested to my ATD Sacramento co-conspirators last week, there were a couple of lessons we could learn together—the first being that when someone tells us the story of what they need in a training-teaching-learning session, we need to ask how many people they are going to bring with them when they attend the session. And the second being that we need to be sure, in inviting people to the sessions we design and facilitate, that we are telling a story compelling enough to make them come to what we are providing.
The headline to your announcement should be like a six-word story, I suggested. It should be compelling, be complete in and of itself, and show readers/prospective learners why that session is something they absolutely do not want to avoid.
I suggested that the story should have elements that are universal to the experience of those we are trying to reach: “She lived and then she died” is a six-word story that describes the human condition because we all live and (expect to) die, but it leaves room for a reader’s curiosity to kick into play, I noted—we want to know who she was, we want to know more about her life, we want to know how and why she died, and, if we trust the storyteller, we want to hear more because we know that storyteller is not going to let us down any more than a trainer-teacher-learner we trust is going to let us down if we sign up for that person’s workshop, course, or webinar. I quickly pivoted from that “universal” story to a few six-word stories more applicable to our learning offerings: “They learned, so their company prospered,” or “He studied and was then promoted,” or “We’ll make you better at work.” With those as templates, we can certainly craft variations that apply to and entice our learners as they decide where they are going to spend the limited amount of time they have for workplace learning.
We talked about how stories have to be meaningful to the learners. How they have to help learners fill their unmet (learning/workplace) needs. How they need to be personal. Brief. And inspirational. And then we came back to that all-important learning-space requirement: the opportunity, as a group, to craft a story specific enough to the work we are doing, yet universal enough to appeal to the learners we want to draw into our learning space.
But none of this, for me (and my co-conspirators—it’s always about the learners and rarely about me), is meaningful unless it produces results that benefit the learners and those they ultimately serve. It has to give us a concrete, documentable result demonstrating that the time we spend together produces something worth producing. And that’s exactly what I realized we had done when, less than three hours after the session had ended, I received a note from one of the workshop participants: “Thank you for the wonderfully inspirational time together today. I will be incorporating your ideas into my stories as I build a class on team building this afternoon.”
So, we started with a story about telling stories to draw learners to our sessions. And we worked as a short-term community of learning to explore how we might better incorporate stories into the work we do to produce positive results. And we produced another story—the brief story of how that participant was going to immediately apply what she had learned so she could better serve her own learners. Which, in turn, will produce additional inspiring stories when you apply these same ideas and approaches to the work you do with your own learners.
N.B. — To schedule onsite or online workshops on storytelling in learning, contact Paul at email@example.com.
We all know plenty of people who spend lots of time talking about what we (rather than they) can do to change the world in positive ways. And we also—if we are extremely fortunate—know a handful of people who, through the examples they set with their own behavior, inspire us to emulate them in their diligent, well-focused, heart-felt world-changing efforts.
At a time when we are often preoccupied by the challenges and tragic effects the spread of the coronavirus has had on work and play, Howard has found a way, through what he does and through his wonderfully inspiring book, to spread an entirely different sort of virus—one that “infects” us with joy and gratitude to combat the depression, divisiveness, and meanness that has become such a prevalent, overwhelming, and often unchallenged part of our daily lives. His story-driven book, full of examples of people who have made his and other people’s day, consistently circles back to how the simple act of telling someone that he has made their day does, in fact, make their day as well. Very much grounded in the spirit of engaging in random acts of kindness, Howard’s approach turns simple acts into an almost subversively positive way to give us one of the greatest gifts anyone can give us: a sense of joy and an overt acknowledgement of the power supportive individuals play in nurturing and sustaining the best of the organizations and communities to which we belong.
“Compliments can be thought of as little gifts of love,” Howard writes (p. 51). “They are not asked for or demanded. They tell a person they are worthy of notice. Complements are a great way to acquire and practice social interaction skills because the returns are immediate. They foster a positive atmosphere and further communication and allow for better two-way exchanges. The more specific you can be and the closer to the actual event, the more people know that they are being complimented about and makes their day.”
It’s a strong passage in a book filled with strong passages and full of advice we can adapt immediately. But what makes it—and much of the rest of the content of the book—meaningful is that it is immediately followed by an anecdote that brings the message home strongly and clearly to any reader: the story of how Howard’s brother-in-law John made a fifth-grade student’s day by telling this “amazing girl” (who was clearly lacking in self-confidence in spite of having just won an award for an essay about how “beauty comes from within and that everyone is beautiful in their own way”) that she, too, “was an amazing girl,” a “beautiful” girl (“Don’t let anyone tell you differently”), and one with “a bright future.” Her reaction, Howard tells us, was to thank John for the kind words as “tears welled in her eyes.” And the wonderful punch line to John’s action was, as he told Howard, that “I hope that in some small way I made her day, because her tears and essay certainly made mine.”
“There are many benefits in giving compliments,” Howard continues (p. 52). “First, focusing on and noticing the good qualities of the people around us gives our moods a boost. Second, a feeling of positivity is enhanced by compliments. The effects of positivity rebounds to us, creating a positive atmosphere. And third, it provides positive neurological impacts for the person doing it.”
We could spend all day sharing stories from Make Someone’s Day, but you can read them yourselves. A far more productive use of our time at this moment is to acknowledge and document how Howard himself lives and promotes his philosophy. During one of our conversations, Howard was kind enough to ask me how my own recently-released book (Change the World Using Social Media) was doing in terms of reaching its potential audience. Admitting that I am consistently looking for new ways to connect that book to readers, I was overwhelmed by how Howard immediately turned the conversation into a very fruitful half-hour impromptu workshop on how to pursue opportunities I might not otherwise have considered. And, in the spirit of adopting a Make Someone’s Day approach, I did not miss the opportunity, at the end of that particular conversation, to tell Howard that he had just made my day. Which, unsurprisingly, made Howard’s day, too!
As I think about the people in my life who inspire gratitude, I can’t help but think about how understated they often are in their approach to the transformative work they do. Howard, for example, is someone I have known through mutual friends/colleagues at ATD, as a solid, thoughtful, often-reserved participant in conversations we’ve had in group settings (in spite of his own assertion that he is an extrovert). He never consciously makes himself the center of attention when he is part of the lively, sometimes raucous conversations that take place when ATD members gather—a remarkable achievement in our training-teaching-learning environment, where all of us thrive on telling stories that inevitably cast at least a bit of a spotlight on ourselves as well as on the work we are doing. He never is overtly self-aggrandizing. The word that best describes him, for me, is the word “listener.” He listens. He reflects. He makes an occasional contribution to the conversation. And if we are particularly insightful and diligent, we take note of those gemlike observations he lightly tosses our way and we look for ways to incorporate them into our daily routines and our overall approach to the work we do. So that we spread the spirit of those wonderful colleagues, like Howard, in ways that make someone’s day. And then circle back to make ours, too.
This was a group that understood the importance of creating a welcoming tone and ambience at the beginning of any event, regardless of whether it is onsite or online. This was a group that didn’t overlook the small stuff behind any large, successful gathering. And this was a group that was using its commitment to engagement and interaction to be sure that participants would have few, if any, temptations to step away from “the room” before the event had reached its conclusion.
We often hear (and repeat) the idea that “the devil is in the details.” I would suggest that our ATD South Florida Chapter colleagues subscribe to the idea that “the angels are in the details,” and do everything they can to flood our virtual rooms with angels that beckon us to their gatherings. Those angels (volunteers, every one of them), during the weeks and days leading up to the conference, provided an appropriately steady stream of encouraging email messages designed to prepare participants—our co-conspirators in the learning process—for an event that focused on the content rather than the (virtual) setting and the technology needed to make that gathering successful. We were told that there would be a beginning-of-the-day session that included a “platform overview” for anyone wanting to explore the technology we would be using to interact with presenters/session facilitators as well as with each other. We knew the opening session would also give us plenty of time to interact with each other to, as much as possible, create the same levels of positive engagement we experienced at onsite gatherings before the shelter-in-place guidelines we have been following for nearly a year in response to the coronavirus pandemic pushed us completely into online interactions.
The series of pre-event email messages also included separate notes about each of the sessions, including the specific links we would follow to attend any of four breakout workshops and other events scheduled throughout the day; this gave us a chance to add those events and links to our own personal online calendars so, on the day of the event, we wouldn’t have to hunt through our archived email messages to find those direct links. And then, in an act that was possible because of the limited number of sessions, our “angels” resent those links, via email, shortly before each session began so that we could move directly from our email inboxes into the events. Recognizing that this would be an impossible and burdensome approach for organizers of much larger gatherings, I also recognize that this was yet another example of conference organizers thinking proactively of what they could do to make the virtual-conference experience—or any other online learning opportunity operating at a similar scale—as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.
Opting for a morning workshop on “Awesome PowerPoint Tricks for Effective Presentations” (led by BrightCarbon Director Richard Goring) after the conclusion of the opening session/platform review, I was expecting to pick up a few tips on how to up my game in PowerPoint. To say that the nearly two-hour session exceeded expectations would be to unforgivably downplay the breadth and depth of what Goring offered all of us: an overwhelmingly positive and impressive overview of numerous tips and tricks that included demonstrations of what he was describing, and the all-important assurance that we would have plenty of opportunities to return to an archived recording of the session so we could more fully incorporate what he was describing into our own work, e.g., how to mask and highlight elements of an image to more effectively use that image on a slide; how to quickly align disparate elements and images on a slide with one command rather than a series of actions involving every separate element; and locating and using sites (including pexels.com, pixabay.com, and lifeofpix.com) that provide numerous free images we can incorporate into our work.
For many of us, the anticipated high point of the day was the combination of a celebration of local (South Florida) colleagues’ work as champions of learning—those who, by example, remind the rest of us of what our most innovative colleagues are doing to make learning more engaging and transformative—and a keynote address by Elaine Biech, who has inspired many of us through her numerous books and other work in talent development (aka teaching-training-learning). Again, the chapter angels turned a challenge—having to move what is normally an onsite celebration into the online conference environment—into a “champions of learning” success story by having each nominee for the 2021 Champion of Learning awards provide a short, from-the-heart video describing the project. The result was a celebration within the main celebration—our celebration of how engagingly our colleagues embraced the video-presentation format to describe the successful projects so that we were as inspired by the playfulness of the videos as we were by the actual content.
And then there was Elaine: Warm. Engaging. Inspirational, as always. And right on target with a presentation and interactions with conference participants that reminded us of how to “Develop Your Best Self and Tale Charge of Your Career.” When it comes to your career, she reminded us at one point, don’t be beige; be brilliant. And develop your best self. Which is pretty much where she left us by the end of that session, as we headed into an afternoon of additional learning and interaction centered on the champions of learning among us.
Following Anne Beninghof into her “Caffeinated Virtual Training: How to Keep Your Audience Awake and Learning” session, I again learned as much observing a presenter’s approach to presenting virtually as I did from the rich content offered. It was as if she were somehow reaching cross-country from Florida to where I was sitting (in San Francisco) and knew just when to switch things up—as she did, approximately an hour into the session, by telling all of us to get out of our chairs, move away from our computers for a moment, and simply move around to keep from falling into a complete state of torpor from having been sitting in that country-wide learning space for several hours. That, and her focus on making everyone in the room a co-conspirator in learning, produced another memorably playful session and led us to the final two sessions—one for closing remarks and door prizes, the other a virtual happy hour that left us right where we started several hours earlier that day. Reminded that virtual conferences, when well designed and well executed, are no hindrance to fostering a sense of community and engagement. Reminded that spending time with our colleagues in online environments is, in and of itself, a learning opportunity we cannot afford to miss—particularly in pandemic, social-distancing times. And reminded that, when we observe and promise to build upon the positive experiences we have with our colleagues in online learning environments, we and the learners we serve are the real winners.
There’s a heartbreakingly beautiful story to be told here—the story of how online interactions involving music, collaboration, the human voice, and activism are creating light and fostering positive action in times of darkness. The story of how online collaborations are drawing us together at a time when “social distances” are overwhelming so many people. And the story of why the arts remain an essential part of the human experience.
The story is rooted in the realization that there is something primally comforting and deeply inspirational about musical collaboration involving the human voice. It flows from the recognition that singing together can be a language of community. Creativity. And hope. Singing together and hearing others sing together in our online/social-distancing/sheltering-in-place/pandemic-plagued world are proving to be ways—for those of us not facing barriers to our access to the Internet and the tools needed to use it effectively—to build or further develop strong social connections rather than succumbing to isolation and social distances. Singing together and/or hearing others sing online are ways of using technology to overcome rather than to create distances, to bring us together in ways that allow us to build upon our shared interests and social needs rather than being dispirited by challenges that appear to be too large to tackle.
My own introduction to the concept of virtual choirs and online performances came a little more than a year ago (in May 2019), in a pre-coronavirus world, when I was lucky enough to see and hear virtual-choir pioneer Eric Whitacre demonstrating and embracing us with the power of global online choral collaborations in a closing keynote session presented during the ATD (Association of Talent Development) annual International Conference & Exposition (in San Diego). Hearing Whitacre describe and demonstrate what was involved in creating and nurturing virtual choirs and producing online performances was world-changing; it was a first-rate example of what we foster when we use technology as a tool and focus on the beauty of our creative spirit in the arts and many other endeavors—including training-teaching-learning, which draws the thousands of ATD members globally together.
Thoughts of virtual choirs and online performances receded into the inner recesses of my mind for several months. Then, in March 2020, we entered the “three-week” (now seven-month) period of sheltering-in-place guidelines put into place here in a six-county coalition within the San Francisco Bay Area and, soon thereafter, in other parts of the United States, in response to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic on our shores.
But it’s Zimmerman’s work that most effectively shows us how we might use social media and online interactions to create that intersection of music, collaboration, the human voice, and activism. Because he is engaging. Because he is part of that ever-growing group of first-rate artist-activists who are exploring online alternatives and environments in response to the loss of the onsite venues and interactions that were their lifeblood before the coronavirus arrived. Because he is effectively using Facebook and YouTube, through his “Live from the Left Coast” performances, to not only to stay in touch with and further cultivate his audience, but to nurture relationships between those audience members through his use of online chat within those platforms. Because he is among those participating in the new “Trumped By Music” project initiated by a Dutch/American team “that wants to provide a platform for anti-Trump musicians to be seen and heard… We want to provide maximum exposure for this passionate and vocal community! Our aim is to help our featured artists gain exposure for their message, as well as stimulate musicians to send us new content.” And because his work is reaching and inspiring others equally committed to using music in deeply-emotional ways to foster social change—as was the case with Wilmington Academy Explorations teacher Sandy Errante and her husband, Wilmington Symphony Orchestra conductor Steven Errante.
The pre-coronavirus virtual meeting of Zimmerman and the Errantes is centered around Zimmerman’s incredibly moving song “Rise Up” (co-written with Harby). It was inspired by the students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School [Parkland, Florida] on Valentine’s Day in 2018 and who turned their experience into the March for Our Lives/Vote for Our Lives/Never Again movement that, six weeks later, inspired marches in more than 500 cities around the world. His rendition of the song as a duet with Laura Love was included on his Rize Up CD in 2018. And that’s where the story becomes very interesting, as Sandy Errante explained in a recent email exchange we had:
“My husband and I had heard Roy perform at the Unitarian Church in Wilmington before. We loved his satire, his energy, his passion, his humor and his music. And then…
“One Thursday evening after my rehearsal with the Girls’ Choir of Wilmington, I was on the way home when our local radio station, WHQR, started advertising an upcoming concert at the UU with Roy. The radio announcer, George Sheibner, played a song I had not heard before—Rise Up. As I drove along listening, I was captivated by the lyrics, the music, the harmonies and suspensions, and the message. By the end of the song and the final chorus, I was in tears. I knew the Girls’ Choir had to sing this piece. But how to make that happen?
“I reached out to my husband, who was on his way to a rehearsal with the Wilmington Youth Orchestra. Steve is an arranger and a composer, and I needed him to know right away that this was something we absolutely HAD to do. He asked me to find a recording of the song. I did. And I hunted down the contact info for Roy, using my contacts at the UU church. Once we had permission from Roy to proceed, we started imagining this song as told from the children’s perspective. We altered the lyrics just a bit [changing it from the point of view of adults addressing the Parkland survivors to the point of view of the students themselves]. Now we had a song that the girls could sing from their hearts. We had a youth orchestra that could accompany. We had a performance in the making.
“After all was said and done, we concurred, this IS their world and this was their song.”
And it remains our song—our anthem—in this pandemic, shelter-in-place world, through its availability on YouTube (with the girls’ choir) and on the CD. It’s there for them—and for us—as we continue seeking light and inspiration while living through devastatingly tragic times. Times of great division and conflict. Times that are, for many, overwhelming. And, as is often the case in tragic, divisive, conflict-ridden times, times that are also inspiring tremendous levels of creativity and opportunities for collaboration designed to foster positive change—which we nurture through our support and engagement in any and every way we can.
Every day seems to bring a new opportunity, and that certainly was the case less than two weeks ago when friend/colleague/collaborator/-co-facilitator and owner of PCI [People Connect Institute] WebinarsAndrew Sanderbeck and I met online via Zoom, ostensibly to brainstorm projects we could initiate and offer during the second half of this year—post shelter-in-place. The conversation began as most of our conversations do: talking with and listening to each other about what we are currently doing and how we are responding to our training-teaching-learning landscape. Andrew asked how I was faring in a shelter-in-place world, and I told him that a) it hasn’t been much of an adjustment since I do so much of my work in online environments, and b) that I recognized I am extremely lucky that an abnormally higher-than-usual percentage of my current work had already been scheduled for online environments during the first half of the year. The picture for Andrew was much different: he talked about missing face-to-face encounters; mentioned that online conversations even using the most highly-praised and ostensibly engaging of tools weren’t offering him the same level of satisfaction and pleasure that onsite interactions do; and told me a bit about what he had been finding and reading online.
“A few years ago, Michael Michalko, a former US army officer, came up with a fascinating idea to sharpen creativity,” Matthew Syed writes in that BBC News article. “He called it ‘assumption reversal’. You take the core notions in any context, subject, discipline and then, well, turn them on their head.
“…suppose you are considering a new taxi company. The first assumption might be: ‘taxi companies own cars’. The reversal would be: ‘taxi companies own no cars’. Twenty years ago, that might have sounded crazy. Today, the largest taxi company that has ever existed doesn’t own cars: Uber. Now we are living through a disruption (you might even call it a reversal) of unprecedented scale….”
“Reversal techniques are typically used by people working in the creative industries to come up with new products or innovations. I wonder if we can all use it to seek out a silver lining or two amid the grey clouds.”
Without even reading the article I just finished quoting, and thinking only about Andrew’s brief description of Assumption Reversal, my mind was already racing.
“You gonna use that?” I immediately ask, and Andrew temporarily appears to be uncertain as to what I am really asking.
It is, I continue, exactly the sort of opportunity we were looking to explore when we set up this particular conversation online. We and many people we know are trying to figure out what the world is going to look like after shelter-in-place ends. We know that trying to predict the future usually produces lousy results, but taking steps to help shape the future can be very productive and rewarding. At a time when so many people are struggling to identify ways to even cope with what to them appears to be a bleak and extremely uncertain future, a workshop or a webinar proposing Assumption Reversal as a potentially useful tool might be a game-changer for some of those people.
Quickly displaying an increasing amount of interest in the possibilities, Andrew asks what I have in mind. I suggest that we could design and develop something for roll-out for late summer or early fall.
“I’m thinking about something a little sooner,” he teases.
“Doesn’t it take a while to set things like that up, schedule them, and get the word out?” I respond with what was meant to be rhetorical rather than real curiosity.
“You forget I own a webinar company,” he coyly answers, obviously relishing my surprise at what he is suggesting.
Less than two weeks later, he had filled the webinar to the capacity we had set—a maximum of 75 participants, so we could foster high levels of interactivity among the participants; had identified resources including Michalko’s description online of the Reversing Assumptions technique and a Joker News video on “Assumption Reversal in Pandemic Crisis” connecting the process to ideas for responding to our evolving landscape during the coronavirus pandemic; had a waiting list of people interested in attending a similar session; had loaded up the slides on the PCI Webinars site so we had a visually-stimulating set of images to inspire conversation during that hour-long session; and was ready to roll with me for what turned out to be a very stimulating, positive learning experience for all of us.
Participants reacted, at the end of the session, with tremendous gratitude for the opportunity we had provided to explore positive, creative action in very challenging times. One of our colleagues who serves as host/producer for PCI Webinars and generally stays in the background during the live sessions became an active and tremendously valuable contributor to the entire conversation. And Andrew and I, once again, walked away having learned quite a bit about how we can best serve our clients, colleagues, and friends in the best as well as the most challenging of times.
I engaged in what I’m going to call a “not-so-guilty pleasure” this morning: I joined approximately 30 colleagues for coffee and conversation in an intimate, wonderfully welcoming caffè while attempting to follow shelter-in-place guidelines which remain in effect for many of us in response to the coronavirus pandemic and which may last for at least another month. I have to admit that I had begun to forget the pleasures of walking into a coffee shop that serves as a community meeting place—Ray Oldenburg’sThird Place. Hearing inviting music in the background. Looking around to see familiar faces. Grabbing a cup of coffee. Sitting face-to-face with inspiring friends/colleagues who form the heart and soul of a tremendous community of learning. And discovering, once again, the hidden gems that/who are within that community, just waiting to be discovered.
We met. We talked. We laughed. We learned. And we adhered to the best, most stringent social-distancing practices possible. Because writer-trainer-presenter Joshua Fredenburg, the person at the center of that “Virtual TD [Training & Development] Talks” gathering of ATD [Association for Talent Development]South Florida Chapter members, created the feeling of a face-to-face caffè gathering online through a combination of creative use of Zoom, his first-rate presentation and facilitation skills, and his commitment to fostering a conversation rather than placing himself at the center of a stage in a virtual learning space. This was a virtual caffè extending from South Florida all the way to where I was sitting, in San Francisco—a 3,000-mile wide caffè which managed to feel as small, intimate, and welcoming as any caffè, virtual or otherwise, that I have ever entered. We could see each other. We could hear each other. And we could even pass virtual notes under the virtual tables via the chat function within Zoom.
ATD South Florida Chapter leaders deserve a lot of credit here. For effectively and positively responding to shelter-in-place and the potential disruption of our community. For quickly and creatively organizing and hosting a dynamic, flexible, informal set of online gatherings. For providing ample opportunities for interactions, during these sessions, that create a sense of presence (telepresence) through brief (45-minute) online sessions. And for making us aware of the “hidden gems” like Fredenburg who routinely draw praise for the way they operate at the national level while those of us “at home” remain (tragically) unaware that we have people like that nearby—until our Chapter brings us together.
And presenters like Fredenburg deserve a lot of credit for creatively and positively exploiting the possibilities created by the online TD Virtual Talks format. When I logged into the online session this morning, I expected to be joining a presentation on and conversation about “Keeping Yourself and Team of Remote Workers Engaged & Productive During COVID-19.” And I certainly wasn’t disappointed; Fredenburg’s expertise and excitement about best practices in leadership was on display and fully engaging from start to finish. But, as so often happens, there was as much to learn from a colleague’s—Fredenburg’s—presentation/facilitation style as there was to learn from the content he was sharing.
Joining the session approximately 10 minutes before it was scheduled to formally begin—I always like getting my coffee and getting settled before caffè conversations, onsite or virtual, are fully underway—I was pleasantly surprised to see Fredenburg (whom I had not previously met) using a Zoom virtual background that made it appear that he was sitting in a wonderfully inviting coffee shop. (Presentation Tip #1: Provide plenty of surprises; they can help make a learning session more memorable/effective.) And I was particularly surprised to hear background music exactly as I would hear if I had been walking into a physical coffee shop. (Presentation Tip #2: Create an inviting learning space online as well as onsite; it adds to engagement and keeps us alert.) Fredenburg, who usually is suited up and ready to roll for his onsite presentations, was dressed casually—which, of course, added to the informal nature of the caffè conversation he was about to facilitate. (Presentation Tip #3: Details—e.g., what you are wearing, how you “set the space”—can help make or break an online as well as onsite session.) And he, like any good host, immediately reached out to me online with a warm welcome as I virtually entered the room. (Presentation Tip #4: Warm up the online room just as you would warm up an onsite room; create the sense of a virtual lounge or virtual gathering of colleagues around a water cooler to foster social learning.) He, the host (Chapter Director of TD Talks Selen Turner), and I immediately began chatting about how he had created that ambience—using a jury-rigged green screen that allowed him to incorporate the caffè background into his teaching-training-learning space, and having music from a YouTube video audible in the background. (Presentation Tip #5: Make every moment a learning moment—without making learning in any way seem like a chore. It’s all about being ready to engage learners in terms of what they want to learn as much as it’s about making sure you foster learning that the session is designed to nurture.)
There was plenty to learn and admire from the session. And much of it revolved around the way that Fredenburg treated everyone as co-conspirators in learning. The result was another spectacular example of turning-challenge-into-opportunity. Community members supporting community members in time of need. Colleagues supporting colleagues by simply doing what they/we do best: working with what we are given. Learning from each other. And remaining committed to, as ATD so often suggests, making a world that works better. Because we can. And because we will.
On a day when friends and colleagues are feeling isolated by current shelter- in-place guidelines designed to fight the spread of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic), I’m feeling lucky. I have been immersed in plenty of live, stimulating, rewarding, interactions with dozens of teacher-trainer-learner-doers attending a global conference. We have been listening to and asking questions of a first-rate set of presenters. We have been chatting with each other about what we are seeing and hearing. We have been sharing resources we can all begin to use—or continue using—with the learners we serve. And we have been doing all this, without needing to wear protective masks and by abiding with shelter-in-place guidelines, by maintaining distances of hundreds, if not thousands, of miles between us—because the fabulously innovative “Emergency Remote Teaching & Learning; Survive, Thrive, & Plan for What Comes Next” daylong miniconference organized and facilitated by Steve Hargadon and his Learning Revolution colleagues has been entirely online.
One of the most interesting responses I’ve seen to cancelled face-to-face learning opportunities among trainer-teacher-learners is the rapid, often positive transition from onsite face-to-face to online face-to-face interactions through the use of Zoom and other teleconferencing tools, as I have noted in previous blog posts. (The transition obviously works best for people who were already comfortable working online, and obviously is problematic where people lack online access and/or lack laptops or mobile devices.) At least two of my favorite learning organizations have made the decision to move their popular, well-attended onsite conferences into onsite environments this year: the Association for Talent Development (ATD) Virtual Conference and the American Library Association (ALA) Virtual Conference). A glance at news updates suggests that ATD and ALA are far from alone in following this innovation-in-response-to-necessity approach to supporting members of their communities in times of need.
As we consider the gargantuan task of implementing such massive change within short timeframes, it’s worth returning to the Learning Revolution miniconference to see what made it work. It helps, of course, that Hargadon, his longtime partners, and his colleagues are hardly new to this endeavor; they routinely organize and facilitate global worldwide virtual events, including the Global Education Conference (since 2010) and Library 2.0 online conferences.through collaborations with the spectacular Learning Revolution project. And it helps that the presenters were uniformly engaging and well-prepared.
In a day full of ideas and inspiration, it’s impossible to try to summarize the content in a meaningful way, so I’m left with recollections of moments and themes that somehow capture the overall beauty, creativity, and fun of the entire endeavor. Like opening session presenter Candy Mowen’s reminder, during her “Engaging Online Learners” webinar, that enhancing online learning flows from the creation of great learning environments. Or Zaretta Hammond’s commitment, during “Culturally Responsive Teaching Through Remote Learning,” to the idea that culturally responsive teaching “focuses on improving the learning of diverse students who have been marginalized educationally.” Or Steven J. Bell’s opening comments, during “Let’s Commit to Making Webinars Better,” about the importance of being relaxed, being ready, and taking your time getting started when working with our online learners. Or John Spencer’s sharing of numerousresources during his “Empowering Students in a Distance Learning Environment.” Or the opportunity to see George Couros, Katie Novak, and A.J. Juliani do wonderful variations on the themes they explored in an earlier webinar a few weeks ago and add updated material, including a very short, very funny video in which a music teacher performs a song she wrote to demonstrate her process of making the transition from onsite to online learning.
I didn’t try to attend every session; extensive experience attending conferences has helped me to realize that creating some time for reflection between sessions is an important and integral part of learning through the act of being a conference attendee. And I didn’t make the mistake of thinking that I would remember more than a few of the numerous points made or more than a few of the numerous links and other resources shared by presenters and participants; I took more than a dozen pages of hand-written notes and actually took the step of copying the extensive chat from a few of the sessions and then pasting it into a Word document—a document that ended up running more than 80 pages—that I can later review, in a more leisurely fashion, to jog my memory and help me continue my learning far beyond the day of the live event.
There’s plenty to learn from the miniconference in terms of how to successfully create and facilitate an online conference. It was, first and foremost, very well organized. Registration was easy; it simply involved applying for membership in the Learning Revolution for those who were not already members (a straightforward process that results in an amazingly quick response). Information was easily accessible online through the Learning Revolution website. A page on the Learning Revolution website itself served as the program book, with session descriptions and links to each online session. The presenters themselves were uniformly engaging and learner-/participant-focused in their approach to leading their sessions. Bandwidth issues did, at times, temporarily make the presentations a bit choppy, but Hargadon was there to smooth the gaps and help presenters and audience members quickly reconnect and move beyond those momentary blips. Interactions among participants was lively, and the numerous question-and-answer sessions between presenters and audience members were well-supported by the presenters themselves as well as by Hargadon in his role as producer/co-host/trouble-shooter. And best of all, the conference didn’t end when the live sessions formally concluded. Archived recordings are scheduled to be posted on the Learning Revolution website within a day or two after the conclusion of the live event, so the training-teaching-learning-doing can and will continue as long as any of us continue to call attention to those recordings and continue the conversations in any onsite or online setting we care to use for that purpose.
I’ve seen—and disagreed with—numerous comments I have seen online about how the cancellation of onsite conferences is creating a gap that simply can’t be replaced. I’ve seen—and disagreed with—numerous comments about the irreparable losses those cancellations are causing in terms of missed opportunities for interactions. I am not at all suggesting that onsite and online conferences and other gatherings are completely interchangeable. I know and recognize that going online creates barriers—particularly for those who don’t have adequate (or any) access to online activities; I also know and recognize that onsite conferences create barriers—costs of food and travel, the amount of time it can take to travel great distances to attend an onsite conference. But I am suggesting, based on my own short- and long-term experiences, that online conferences are far from the death knell for community gatherings as we know them; they have been and are increasingly becoming fascinating, engaging opportunities for communities to survive and thrive.
Observing and participating in today’s daylong virtual conference offers plenty of hope and guidance for anyone interested in sustaining strong communities of learning that thrive on online as well as onsite engagement. The conference is providing yet another example of the benefits and challenges of taking a conference online. And it suggests that if we positive approach our challenges collaboratively, we can sometimes produce positive results far beyond anything we might have ever imagined.
One of the most stunningly impressive and inspiring displays of positive action coming out of the current sheltering in place efforts to fight the spread of the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic is the display of flexibility and adaptability I’ve seen in a variety of sectors—not the least of which is the training-teaching-learning environment that is so much a part of my life.
I’ve seen firsthand, written about, and talked extensively and been involved in discussions about the way in which the mostly-onsite ShapingEDU2020 Unconference moved, overnight, into being a completely online gathering of dreamer-doer-drivers committed to help shape the future of learning in the digital age. I’ve been observing (through news articles, blog posts, participation in webinars, and personal conversations) how rapidly and radically administrators, teachers, and students are moving from onsite to online environments—sometimes successfully, sometimes painfully much less so—in attempts to avoid a complete shutdown of our formal education systems globally. And I continue to be impressed, fascinated, and supported by associations—those wonderful groups that even in the least challenging of times, bring us together—through a shared interest—to commiserate, learn, play, survive, and thrive together.
My colleagues in local ATD (Association for Talent Development)chapters as well as in the parent organization, for example, have turned the very bitter lemon of having to cancel onsite gatherings into an incredible pitcher of lemonade in the form of highly interactive, engaging, and productive online gatherings—what I have consistently referred to as “face-to-face sessions online.” It’s a fairly straightforward—and hardly new—approach that is becoming more and more easy to implement through the use of an increasingly varied array of teleconferencing tools designed to pull us as near as possible to a sense of telepresence—the perception that we are sharing a physical space, side-by-side, regardless of the actual physical distance between us.
As we look at how my colleagues in that first-rate, highly innovative, and very playful chapter managed to create this new series so quickly, we would do well to begin with a glance at the cordial, transparent, collegial manner in which they invited participation while also creating awareness of what was in the works. Under a banner containing a simple message—“Let’s support one another at this time”—they quickly drew us in: “ATDSFL remains focused on supporting your professional needs. During this time, we are seeking talent development professionals who would like to share best practices, tips and strategies in virtual training delivery. Small and large organizations alike may be struggling with how to transition quickly to online or virtual training and we would like to equip our members with the skills to tackle this challenge! Please contact the Director of TD Talks Selen Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org you are interested in being a virtual speaker.”
It’s all there, and completely reflective of the tenor of all interactions with ATD South Florida Chapter members: the statement of need, the proposed action to be taken, a clear statement of what is being sought, and guidance on how to respond.”
As a rare chapter member whose interactions are all virtual except for those rare times when I’m actually in Florida (rather than San Francisco or other parts of the country) for a project, I was intrigued. And as a prospective session facilitator, I was as impressed as I always am by the quick response I received to my initial proposal. This is what makes an association thrive. This is what makes an association be seen as the place to be. And this is an association that, through its collaborative approach to implementing its mission, vision, and value statements, is there for us—and we for it—in the best and the worst of times.
The parent organization, at its best, is every bit as creative and responsive as its chapters are; no surprise there. Faced, for example, with the difficult decision so many associations are currently having to make—to go ahead with planning for large conferences that are routinely held on an annual basis or cancel them in acknowledgment that gathering large numbers of people together during a time of pandemic—ATD recently announced that its annual gathering (as usual, scheduled for May) is being cancelled, and that the Association would look forward to gathering onsite next year for its five-day conference and exposition—presumably when health and safety issues had been overcome. But it didn’t stop there. Several days later, a follow-up note went out to the thousands of us around the world who belong to ATD: an invitation to attend an ATD 2020 Virtual Conference to be held a couple of weeks later than the onsite conference would have been held. It’s still very early in the process of disseminating information about what specific sessions will be held, but signs are already promising that our Association colleagues are doing everything possible to recreate, virtually, what is being lost through that onsite cancellation: dozens of formal learning opportunities; networking opportunities in group and one-on-one situations; and an opportunity to “be a part of ATD’s history as we come together for a new learning experience.”
The answer flowed effortlessly, without requiring much thought: It means the world to me. ATD is a magnificent community of learning. A large laboratory/sandbox for exploring and engaging in lifelong learning. A source of support in the best of times and the most challenging of times. A meeting place. A testing ground for new ideas and a place to improve what we have already developed. A professional family. A state of mind. A place we can call home. And because it is so good at what it does, it helps define the word “association” in numerous, varied, nuanced ways.
So, there we are: association in all its glory, even in times requiring us to shelter in place…while still offering us opportunities to nurture proximity in all the important ways.
All that head-spinning, however, doesn’t mean that all of us are completely in a shut-down, wait-it-out mood. For those of us lucky enough to have great friends and colleagues, good internet access, and decent infrastructures in place for online communication, our work continues. Our interactions remain strong. And our desire to be of positive use to those we serve is finding plenty of outlets.
Family, friends, and colleagues are responding creatively and positively to the need to avoid isolation in a time of social distancing. We are spending a bit more time than usual taking advantage of the opportunities provided by social media interactions—some playful, some completely work-related, and all of them in some way keeping our communities as strong and thriving as they can possibly be in the current situation. I am, for example, sure I wasn’t alone in being part of an effort to take a celebration—in this case, my father’s birthday party—online via Zoom a few days ago, and creating some online “face-to-face” (telepresence) time via FaceTime a few days earlier to offer happy birthday wishes to a cousin on the other side of the country. Friends and I have been having rudimentary virtual brunches by phone and informal community drop-in gatherings via Zoom to stay in touch, share resources and updates about what we are seeing in training-teaching-learning, and offer support to those who, at any particular moment, might be struggling more than the rest of us are—because we know they will be there to do the same thing for us when we find ourselves falling into a dark place that threatens to overwhelm us.
Through all of this, my colleagues and clients and I are continuing to do business as we always have by phone, email, and a variety of online social media and videoconferencing tools. We are continuing to work on our online projects—courses, webinars, and publications, for example—and plan new ones to develop and facilitate to meet the ongoing training-teaching-learning needs we are committed to meeting.
Among the many developments for which I remain grateful is the magnificent way so many organizations and individuals are stepping up to the plate to provide much-needed information and support. The American Library Association (ALA)Public Library Association division, for example, has done a spectacular job in quickly documenting how public libraries are responding to community needs while shelter-in-place guidelines remain in place—an invaluable resource for those of us working with colleagues in libraries as well as for anyone interested in learning what is available in communities across the country at this point through these wonderful learning organizations. Local libraries including San Francisco Public are doing a great job of publicizing online resources such as kanopy, a service through which we can watch up to 15 movies a month free of charge—which has been a wonderful opportunity to catch up on old favorites while viewing some I hadn’t previously seen. And the San Francisco-based Internet Archive, in a somewhat controversial move, has tremendously expanded access to its online holdings through creation of a National Emergency Library providing access to millions of resources for trainers, teachers, and other learners who would otherwise be cut off from those volumes while library buildings remain closed.
My go-to professional families, including ALA, have been as responsive as they have ever been. ATD (the Association for Talent Development), for example, has curated “resources for virtual training design and facilitation,” on its website, for its members; there are numerous links to articles, videos, blog posts, and webcasts for those of us who support the parent organization through our membership dues throughout the year. And the resources extend to the regional and local levels through the wonderful way that colleagues in chapters including the ATD South Florida Chapter are strengthening their already strong communities of learning by quickly scheduling events along the lines of South Florida’s weekly Virtual TD (Talent Development) Talks via Zoom. What they are doing, by the way, is far from unique; I can’t even imagine trying to keep up with all the wonderful online learning opportunities I’m currently finding online every time I open my email and social media accounts to check for updates.
As if that weren’t enough, I am seeing—and taking advantage of—highly-interactive webinars offered by colleagues whose work I consistently admire, including George Couros. The spectacularly successful “Opportunities for Learning and Leading in a Virtual Space” webinar that he, Katie Novak, and AJ Juliani designed and facilitated last month, and have made accessible online free of charge, was a tremendous example of leaders responding to the needs of their co-conspirators in learning—and further nurturing the informal communities of learning they have fostered through innovative massive online open courses and other creative online learning opportunities. The event attracted more than 600 participants who engaged with Couros, Novak, and Juliana via a speed-of-light chat flowing down the side of the screen while their slides were visible and they were facilitating the session. It was a tremendous example of engaging, effective, memorable online learning in action. And if you’re still looking for thoughtful resources, check out the George Couros blog, which offers new, consistently high-quality posts with unbelievable frequency
Sardek Love, a cherished ATD friend/colleague/mentor who knows equally well how to work and play, has consistently been reminding all of us that it is during times of challenge or crisis that we can find some of our best opportunities, and that we need look no further than our own mirrors to see some of our best resources reflected back at us. I love, admire, and only partially succeed in attempting to emulate his commitment to pushing everyone as hard as he pushes himself. To remind us what we are possible of achieving. To remind us of how to nurture all that is most positive within us. And to remind us that, through our actions—alone as well as collaboratively—we will respond to the best of our abilities. And come out of this with as much to celebrate as we might be left with to grieve.
When you attend a conference as well-organized and inspiring as ATD ICE 2019 (the Association for Talent Development’sInternational Conference and Exposition, here in Washington, DC), you quickly realize that every conference space is a learning space. To meet the highly varied interests of the more than 10,000 trainer-teacher-learner-doers present from all over the world, conference organizers offer more than 300 sessions over a four-day period—sometimes nearly three dozen simultaneously. To create our own learning opportunities, many of us also take advantage of the chance encounters we have in the conference exhibition hall, in the onsite ATD bookstore, in the membership and other special lounges, and other spaces to learn, in the moment, from cherished colleagues.
And then there is the Speaker Ready Room—the space reserved for those of us who have been lucky enough to have been chosen as session facilitators. It’s a relatively small, comfortable, well-lit, nicely set-up semi-private sacred space where we drop in as time allows to sit; review, rehearse, and fine-tune our presentations; and simply chat with our colleagues.
The first time I walked through the doors of an ICE Speaker Ready Room (a few years ago), I actually stopped, photographed the entryway, and tweeted out an honest admission before proceeding to an open seat at one of the round tables: It doesn’t matter how many times you serve as a presenter in learning and other venues; when you walk through that particular door at an ATD conference, it’s a special moment.
And, at the end of the day, every one of us walks away better than we were before we gathered in that sacred space. More aware of resources we can share. More informed about topics we should understand if we want to better serve our learners. And bolstered by the reminder that, through ATD and other professional associations that support the work we do by bringing us together, we are part of a wonderful community of learning that contributes to the creation of a world that, as ATD has said for years, works better.
Celebrating Life. Making positive connections and collaborating with people from around the world. Living everyday with positive energy, possibility, passion and peace of mind. Learning from a School Counsellor lens. I'm not a Counsellor because I want to make a living. I am a Counsellor because I want to make a difference. Gratitude for ETMOOC roots.