Sunday, May 18, 2008 10:16 AM
"We have very little need for speakers, and we're starving for teachers."
"The difference between speaking and teaching is subtle, but the whole point of leading a session is made or lost in that subtlety."
"Clear sign you're speaking rather than teaching: you believe that an hour isn't a long enough time to really teach something."
- Scott Bellware via Twitter (all of the above)
I've had it all wrong. For so many years I looked up to the rock-star speakers that I saw come through events or get up in front of people at a big conference, and I thought "That's where I want to be." Hell, those of you close to me know how much I fell into idol worship only to be left disappointed with the false god I was worshiping at the feet of.
I had an experience this past January that, when I look back on, impacted me more than I thought. I was creating courseware for the fourth level in a series on VB.NET, and as I had total control over the content I decided to make it more about design patterns, architecture, and software design which happened to include VB.NET. Creating that course material wasn't an exercise in presentation...it was a deep want to impart knowledge that I never got going through college. Seeing them actively discuss these topics, "get" the ideas, and put them into practice in their assignments...that was kewl...that was way more satisfying than going to a code camp and speaking in front of a group of people...but why was it? It shouldn't have been...shouldn't they have been the same experience?
Unfortunately no, because typically code camps, conferences, user group events...they aren't seen as venues for teaching in the truest sense of the word. I think we as presenters can get too wrapped up in things like evaluation forms, or making sure that our power point slides are perfect, or that our demos are exquisite...and sure, you need to be prepared since these people are showing up to watch you. But its the mind-set of the talk that seems to become skewed.
How many of us really speak on what we're *truly* passionate about, or do we just have some pre-canned presentations that we've done before and can regurgitate at a moments notice? Do we strive to impart understanding to our audience, or are we just worried about ensuring that we get through our presentation without the demo blowing up?
I've had the opportunity to do some speaking and leading of discussions over the last few months, and I've been challenging myself on why I speak, how I choose my topics, and what my goals are when I do these things. When I read Scott's tweets, it really summed up what it was that I was trying to wrap my head around:
I don't want to be a presenter, I want to be a teacher.
A presenter is someone that can get in front of people and entertain them, or communicate an idea in some way, but not make any major change in the audience's life. A teacher is one that strives to connect with the audience, and who ensures that content is relevant and understandable because he/she wants the audience to "get it". They aren't just a fountain of information, they're drivers for change, challengers to current thinking, and instigators of debate and discussion.
So here is a new mantra that I'll be using as a measure going forward:
1) Altered mindset: I'm not a speaker, I'm a teacher.
2) I teach only on those areas that I'm qualified or passionate about.
3) Teach what you know, be honest about what you don't.
3) Treat each session like a dialogue, not a lecture.
4) Never, EVER, review evaluations: You should know if you connected or not, if you were effective or not, and if you were relevant or not.
5) Don't assume the audience can't teach you; encourage two way learning.
I've got some speaking engagements coming up in the fall. Having this new outlook brings more excitement to them already instead of that "Geeze, I better get my PPT deck together" feeling.
Thanks for the words of wisdom Scott. And btw, I never thought you were gay. ;)