ALA Annual Conference 2013: Post-Conference Tips for Future Conference Attendees (Thinking Outside the Schedule)

July 5, 2013

Let’s be wonderfully perverse! While other colleagues continue writing thoughtful post-conference reflections about the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference that concluded in Chicago a few days ago, let’s draw upon what some of us saw and did in Chicago to provide tips for anyone planning to attend any conference with colleagues anytime soon.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)Conference presenters, for example, can benefit from the myriad online reminders of how to most effectively reach and serve their audiences. Those interested in drawing their various and varied onsite and online communities of learning into seamless and tremendously rewarding interactions can participate in the Twitter backchannel at any level that appeals to them. First-time attendees will find numerous resources, including those posted online by attendees willing to share suggestions. And those arriving a day or two before the conference formally begins can indulge in a period of reflection and preparation that also provides the foundations for gaining more than even the best-planned conference can provide.

One pre-conference ritual that has been particularly rewarding for me over the past several years is an informal dinner I arrange with a handful of cherished colleagues the evening before a conference begins. As I have noted so many times over the past few years, those invitation-only dinners—without a formal agenda, and with all participants splitting the cost of the meal—provide an unparalleled opportunity to hear what our best colleagues are doing, planning to do, and recovering from doing. It is, in essence, a chance to attend a master class with the brightest and most collaborative colleagues we can attract.

Siera_logoThe 10 trainer-teacher-learners who gathered in a Thai restaurant in Chicago on the Thursday evening before the ALA Conference began were far from reticent about describing the ways they are approaching the use of social media in libraries—creatively, openly, and with a great deal of encouragement for the learners they serve, as David Lee King noted—or the learner-centric webinars they are designing and delivering, as is the case with Pat Wagner (through Siera) and Andrew Sanderbeck (through the People Connect Institute). Louise Whitaker, from the Pioneer Library System (Oklahoma), enticed me with stories about the innovations in leadership training and other training-teaching-learning initiatives she continues to spearhead to support employees in her workplace—and then continued those stories over coffee a few days later when we were able to meet again outside of the formal sessions provided by the conference organizers. And everyone else had stories to tell or resources to share, so everyone at the table ate abundantly—and we’re not just talking about the wonderful food, here.People_Connect_Institute_logo

This idea of thinking outside the formal conference schedule to enhance—and actually create—learning experiences takes us to the heart of making sure each of us gains as much as we possibly can from attending conferences. It’s the combination of judiciously planning a schedule that includes attendance at formal sessions both within and outside our own areas of expertise; making arrangements in advance to meet with those cherished colleagues we absolutely do not want to miss; and relying on the numerous unplanned encounters we will have with colleagues onsite as well as those facilitated by what I’ve come to refer to as “drive-by greetings”—introductions, from colleagues including Maurice Coleman (T is for Training) and Peter Bromberg (Princeton Public Library), to those people they just happen to be standing  next to when we unexpectedly encounter them, and who just happen to have done work we have admired from afar for years.

One of those unexpected encounters, for me, led on the spot to an unplanned one-on-one hour-long lunch with a writer whose work I’ve very much admired—the sort of opportunity to exchange ideas that most of us would kill to have when we’re sitting in a packed room with little chance to interact at a meaningful level with a first-rate presenter. Another put me face-to-face with a colleague I’d only previously interacted with online. Numerous other outside-the-formal-curriculum meals and coffee breaks helped keep me up to date on the vibrant and ever-expanding world of advocacy and partnerships that benefit all of us and those we serve.

It’s also worth noting that a bit of planning beyond what conference attendance normally facilitates can provide additional rewarding opportunities. Contacting Chicago-based colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) before arriving onsite for the ALA Annual Conference meant that one particularly memorable evening included a dinner with non-library colleagues who are as immersed as anyone else I know in the world of workplace learning and performance (staff training). Our exchanges offered them a glimpse into the world of staff training in libraries and also helped bring me up to date on the ever-evolving language used within the ASTD community to refer to the training-teaching-learning that is at the heart of all we do.

The clear lesson for any conference attendee is that planning helps; looking for opportunities to draw upon all the resources available to us is an essential element of creating a successful conference experience; and “un-planning”—the act of setting a schedule aside when unanticipated opportunities via drive-by greetings present themselves—benefits all of us, and creates the learning experiences we find nowhere else.


Speed PowerPointing: Honing Our PowerPoint Presentation Skills

December 6, 2010

Trainers and other presenters have a knack for creating interesting challenges to improve their skills and effectiveness—to the benefit of all they serve. We’ve seen Pecha Kucha, Lightning Talks, and Ignite, those great formats for designing and delivering brief and creative presentations with a limited amount of time and a small number of PowerPoint slides. (One that remains particularly entertaining is colleague Peter Bromberg’s “What Do a Leaky Roof, a Greasy Spoon, a Bear Sighting , and a Man With a Tortoise in His Pants All Have in Common?”, and if the title doesn’t send you racing off to see it—again—maybe we should break this off right now.)

We’ve also seen the spread of Battledecks, a tongue-in-cheek macho challenge during which presenters compete against each other in front of an audience to see who can most creatively and effectively—with little advance preparation other than being given the topic to be addressed—string together the most compelling and cohesive presentation possible from sets of unrelated and oftentimes poorly matched images they are not allowed to view in advance.

And now, through the unexpected challenges of the workplace, we might be on the verge of yet another game to hone our skills: Speed PowerPointing.

Speed PowerPointing is what we do when someone asks us to prepare a short PowerPoint presentation 35 minutes before we are expected to meet with colleagues about a new proposal we are advancing. (As we codify this game, let’s set a ground rule of completing a PowerPoint deck of no more than 10 slides in one hour or less). We do not get extra credit or time for whining; any time we spend objecting is deducted from the 35 to 60 minutes we have been allotted. (Yes, this is tough, but Speed PowerPointing, like Battledecks, is not for the faint of heart.)

To up the ante, let’s agree that the final presentation cannot be comprised of what was initially requested in this case: simply transferring text from an existing document, formatting it into a series of one-line bullet points, and slapping a title slide onto it so we end up reading (or, worse yet, having our audience read) the words from the slides or printouts of the slides.

Prize-winning Speed PowerPointing must effectively and engagingly produce whatever results we are seeking; be weighted toward imagery interwoven with text—the less text, the better; and draw from the narrative flow of a Beyond Bullet Points presentation. (I suspect that at least a few trainer-presenters already are beginning to envision their own first Speed PowerPointing decks; if you’re rising to the challenge, you need to start your timer running. Now.)

What drove my first Speed PowerPointing effort was the aforementioned meeting, which was called to discuss a solution to our problem of tracking and making an ever-increasing volume of training documents available to an audience spread over a large geographic area and connected more by basic online resources than by any significant amount of face-to-face contact. The resources for the PowerPoint presentation were the one-page text proposal I had prepared for the 30-minute discussion; existing PowerPoint presentation templates I had previously developed to be consistent with the organization’s extremely detailed branding requirements, including logos, typefaces, and style sheets; online sources of images and graphics—I turned to Flickr for mine; and a desire to combine humor and creativity to be entertaining and persuasive.

The result, for my colleagues and for me, was a six-slide presentation that led to adoption of the proposal.

Our final slide deck—which I’m not reproducing here because there was some concern about making an in-house presentation available to a wider audience—started with a simple title slide addressing the issue of managing an explosive amount of documentation: “Where Did You Say You Put That? (A Proposed Marketing & Learning Document Library).”

All slides, in keeping with this company’s style, had white backgrounds, headlines in light blue type, the company logo in the lower left-hand corner as a footer, and the company name in the lower right-hand corner as part of that same footer. The bulleted text was a sans serif type in black to provide a contrast with the blue headlines.

Each of the subsequent slides addressed an aspect of the problem or proposed solution; included plenty of white space; bowed to the group’s insistence that some text in bullet-point form be inserted onto the slide (rather than having that information included in the speaker notes section of the slide presentation and presented orally); and included an appropriately eye-catching image that generally took up a third or more of the space and moved the narrative of the presentation forward rather than simply serving as a space-filler or repeating what was already being said, face-to-face, to those attending the meeting.

A slide addressing the challenges the company was facing in searching for documents it couldn’t find included the headline “goals: accessible & searchable” and a rescue-dog image that brought smiles to attendees’ faces. A slide addressing the too-much-information problem the company was facing included the headline “the online library: sifting through information” and an image that suggested all the ugliness of information overload. A slide outlining how the proposed online system should be tested included the headline “objectives: it’s all about testing” and an image of a test situation that resonated with everyone present. The final slide had the header “questions and comments” above a playful image that took advantage of the simple white background the company favors in its presentations.

One other tip: given the limited amount of time we have under the evolving rules of Speed Networking, it proves to be very effective to move the headlines and text onto slides first, seek appropriate images to complement the text next, then use PowerPoint’s slide sorter view near the end of the process to scan, on one screen, the entire presentation to catch and resolve visual inconsistencies.

And if it’s not obvious, let me be direct: I’d love to hear from anyone who effectively uses Speed PowerPointing to meet the presentation challenges we all face in a high-pressure world built on the idea that everything should have already been finished. At least five minutes ago.

Any

(image from photostream on Flicker)


Training to Blog Effectively

January 5, 2010

Because we can often learn by reaching outside of our usual professional and social circles for ideas, those of us interested in more effectively using blogging in our work have a lot to gain by skimming David Risley’s 49-page “Six Figure Blogger Blueprint” (available as a free download on the upper right-hand corner of his blog site).

While Risley writes much of his publication for those interested in making money from blogging, he offers a first-rate blogger’s primer that hits its stride with a “deciding what to blog about (market selection)” section starting on page 13 of the document. His initial question takes us back to basic principles: “Can you help your reader solve real problems that exist in the real world?” We’ve seen this principle at work recently on ALA Learning through postings by Peter Bromberg, Stephanie Zimmerman, Jay Turner, Marianne Lenox, and others; faithful readers of others blogs written by and for staff of libraries and nonprofit organizations can confirm that they are drawn to those that help them solve problems they are facing or are about to face.

“Focus on how your information is going to benefit the lives of your readers,” Risley continues, and his admonition serves as a great reminder to all writers that the difference between a well read, helpful blog and one that collects virtual dust for lack of readers is that critically important attention given to readers rather than to the writer’s ego. If we remember that it’s not all about us—although, in the best of worlds, our own writer’s voice becomes part of the value we provide—we take our blogging to a level which attracts and serves readers well and builds connections between them and the organizations we serve.

Risley does a great job of addressing the mechanics of effective blogging, and he includes suggestions to help inexperienced writers overcome writer’s block. Reminding his audience members that they attract and serve readers by posting on a consistent and predictable basis, he suggests writing in batches—preparing several postings in one sitting so that we are writing ahead of deadline rather than on deadline; maintaining an idea file which keeps the flow of articles going; and avoiding the trap of overthinking—“this is a blog post we’re talking about here, not a novel!”

His “step-by-step blog launch plan and roadmap” (beginning on p. 41) reminds all of us to stay focused on our blog’s target audience; set a cohesive blog theme; create a few very valuable articles at the beginning to lay the foundations for a successful blog; and use social networking tools to effectively extend the reach of all you do. And above all, keep writing.

For those attracted to his voice and helpful hints, he has also posted “50 Rapid Fire Tips for PowerBlogging,” a fine supplement to “Six Figure Blogger Blueprint.”

“The idea is that you use a blog to build up an audience and build relationships with your readers,” he reminds us (p. 33), and that’s a theme that resonates loudly and clearly with all workplace learning and performance professionals as we strive to create effective communities of learning and provide measurable results for the organizations with which we work.


Training, Story, and PowerPoint (Part 1 of 3)

January 1, 2010

Trainers and other presenters are rediscovering that revolutions sometimes involve little more than returning to the basics. Current discussions about the revolution in how PowerPoint is integrated into presentations, for example, take us back to the importance of good storytelling and narrative. It’s all about engagement at every possible level, where nothing is more engaging than a good story.

PowerPoint certainly is receiving its share of criticism from those who suffer through poorly prepared slideshows where the person in the front of the room does nothing beyond reading words and bullet points from slides to a somnolent audience—which seems about as fair as hating everything in the universe of chocolate based on a single experience of eating a candy bar ten years past its expiration date.

PowerPoint and its ubiquitous use of bullet points has been an effective tool for many of us who need help in organizing material. It is now growing to include a narrative/story-based style through Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points (a heavily revised second edition is available) and support from visual facilitators like John Ward. Trainer-bloggers including Michele Martin in The Bamboo Project Blog and Garr Reynolds in Presentation Zen are among those who have already written lengthy pieces on how trainers-teachers-learners can benefit from a more effective use of PowerPoint, and colleagues including Peter Bromberg are enthusiastically embracing hybrid versions of all that is being proposed.

There’s no real magic here, nor is any of this particularly complex. The largest step is the one taken backwards—far enough to see the larger picture of what makes a presentation cohesive and compelling rather than comprised of little more than single slides which jump from topic to topic without any consistent flow.

None of this needs imply that bullet points are dead. Edmond Otis’s slides for his well received Infopeople webcast, “Setting Boundaries with Library Patrons,” might drive Beyond Bullet Points aficionados absolutely crazy, but one of his viewers actually took the time to compliment him for effectively weaving the slides into his overall presentation. Edmond didn’t need to spend the extra time it would have taken to replace the bullets with strong visuals; the bullets—and Edmond—hit the target dead center and left a lively online audience inspired by a lesson they very much had wanted. No stale pieces of chocolate here!

What all of us as trainers-teachers-learners need remember is that we do not have to race from one technique or current trend to another in an all-or-nothing fashion. Outlines continue to work because they give all of us a helpful structure, and bullet points can be an effective tool. The visual beauty and stickiness of Beyond Bullet Points and “Presentation Zen” do not mean that we need to abandon those helpful bullet points, as Kelli’s presentation shows.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Next: Cliff Atkinson and the Path Beyond Bullet Points


Working With and For Each Other

December 14, 2009

Reading Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Staff Training and Development Coordinator Marianne Lenox’s wonderfully concise summary of learning theory and resources in a single posting on the American Library Association (ALA) Learning Round Table blog reminded me once again how close our cherished resources are these days.

Participating in web conferencing sessions through Maurice Coleman’s T Is For Training biweekly sessions, engaging in online chats and conducting interviews via Google Chat, and reading and responding to postings on individual and group blogs or LinkedIn discussion groups for trainer-teacher-learners means that we’re never far from Lenox and others who can help us in our training-teaching-learning endeavors.

What starts online can lead to treasures previously unimagined. Join the T Is For Training participants as they discuss challenges they are facing and resolving and you soon find yourself using and contributing to the links to training materials they are continuing to create on Delicious. Explore the links to individual and group blogs listed on the left-hand side of the T Is For Training page and soon you find yourself relishing Library Garden articles such as Peter Bromberg’s piece on “How to Ignite Your Passion” or John LeMasney’s “5 Great Tools and Techniques for Developing Presentations,” or discovering Jill Hurst-Wahl’s  “Assessing User Needs” article and following links to other resources. Respond to a posting by Lori Reed or Sarah Houghton-Jan and you are quickly on your way to being part of a community of learners that leaves you feeling less isolated than you otherwise might be.

The key remains engagement. Participating even at a rudimentary level in the various online activities available through these resources, the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), and other groups and organizations supportive of face-to-face and online learning soon leads to contacts which are only an e-mail, a Skype exchange, or a phone call away. And that’s the real pleasure and benefit of the brief moments we give to these exchanges: they remind us of how much we gain while working with and for each other.

N.B.: For more on working with and for each other, please read the companion piece on the ALA Learning blog.


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