Thursday, August 15, 2013

Confessions of a First Time Presenter

Confessions of a First time Presenter

My Local Experience
In a way, I am really NOT a novice staff development presenter.   I started teaching in 1989, so I have been presenting to students for 24 years. I have been presenting to my LOCAL peers for a little over two thirds of that time.  I started as a volunteer teaching basic first aid to coaches and teachers at my school. I have been doing local staff development ever since.  I have presented about subjects ranging from Beginning  Microsoft Office Applications to using our subscription to Discovery Education to Flipping the Classroom using Doceri.  But until this summer, I have never presented outside of my school or district. I have always been told that people liked my presentations, both to my face and anonymously in post session surveys.
The Rock Star Mark
In July 2012, 4 teachers from our staff went to a program called CUE Rock Star Tech Camp. At the start of each day, the faculty showed us what they were teaching us in a slide show called a “shred session”. The CUE staff described their course in a humorous and irreverent (to each other) way. The overall model they use for this 3-day camp is presenters teach during 2 sessions of 2 hours each of the days. There is lots of scheduled “free” time in between and after the learning sessions for networking, socializing and going deeper into the topics that were presented. The beauty of the 2-hour session is that it gives the learner time to create materials and lessons that can be incorporated into classroom right away. 
Last summer’s Rock Star Camp left an indelible mark on my psyche.  Jon Corippo (creator of CUERockStar) says that the Rock Star events are leadership development camps. He says, “You guys are the Rock Stars. You all have so much to share” The video link on the CUE Rock Star web page about the shirtless dancing guy resonated with me about being a lone nut connecting with others to create a movement. 
I have been kicking around the idea of presenting outside of my local learning community for several years.  After so much experience in my local pond, I thought I would jump in and try making some bigger ripples. I applied in the spring 2013 to present at the summer CUE Rock Star Solana Beach Tech Camp. My proposal was accepted, so I was excited and nervous all at the same time.
It’s Show Time – Day 1
I arrived at Skyline Elementary in Solana Beach  a little early to set my room up and get over to the multipurpose room for the shred session. I was pumped and nervous and really wanted to make a good first impression. This was the moment I had been planning for most of the summer. My first shred slides were very simple compared to the slides of other presenters.  Their mini talks were calm and poised and I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof.  I wonder now whether any of the others were novice presenters, like me.
I was a bit underwhelmed when I only had 3 people in my first session about using Google forms. They all got some Google forms started and we had a great discussions and learning experience despite the small numbers. My second session was even smaller with just a single person attending. She and I had a great one to one tutoring. Since she was a new administrator, she could see how using Google forms could help her manage meetings and information and share with the folks in her office.
With such small numbers in attendance for my first time as a presenter, I felt very self-conscious. Here’s the mental noise I was making…”Maybe I really need to stay in my district where they know me. Maybe I did something wrong in my shred session. There were a hundred people at this conference and I couldn’t manage to snag even 4% for my event. What is wrong with me?” I had to shake myself out of that funk and I even got a little teary eyed that afternoon when talking to my roommate Jen Roberts about it.
It’s Show Time – Day 2
The next day I did a more interesting Google Slide for my shred and that resulted in the same numbers for my morning presentation on Bring Your Own Devices. Our morning session was more of a discussion about whether or not we SHOULD encourage BYOD and how we could get around district policies without openly rebelling. Unfortunately, NO ONE showed up to my second round. Here was the conversation I had that afternoon in my head… “You finally got up the nerve to step out and do something that you had been thinking of doing for years and you couldn’t get anyone to buy what you are selling!” I was angry and hurt because I felt like I had nothing to show for all my anxiety and preparation. And yes, I did cry a little harder that afternoon when talking with Jen and Shannon Applegate about my sessions. I was ready to pack it up and go home right then and there. However, I decided that I had made a commitment and that my third day topic was one that I could share with credibility and people would be able to create screencasts and use them in their own practice with students.
So that afternoon before dinner, I reworked my shred session and made a video screencast about how you can “Flip” instruction.  Later, I went and had a cheery dinner and a glass of porter with the other presenters. A conversation I had with one of them that evening was enlightening and encouraging. Vicky Sedgewick told me that several of the other people are well known in the San Diego Area and their sessions were full of local participants. Additionally, those who were not local were well known in the twitterfeed and had many followers among the group of learners. I was willing to believe her, since the alternative was such an emotional drain and a huge slam to my self-confidence as an educator.
It’s Show Time – Day 3
I wanted to make sure I generated more enthusiasm for what I had to present, so my third and final shred session was much more interesting. It was pretty cool considering I was tucked away in the back of the room when my video screencast aired on the screen. I even got a bantering comment from Will Kimbley about being able to present even when I am not in the room, to which I promptly replied, “I AM here and I heard that!” My sessions were still not packed, but I had 4 people for the first session and 5 the second. For both sessions there was some really good philosophical dialogue and my participants were able to create something practical for their teaching. Ultimately, for my last day, I had more people come to my sessions than both of the previous days combined. It was a more successful day for my psyche.
I know it sounds like I am worried more about quantity rather than quality of interaction. Nothing could be further from the truth! I wasn’t really looking to pack the house. Seriously though, I would have been more satisfied (and probably a little less self pitying) had I experienced similar numbers each of the three days.
Now What?
So you must be asking yourself; “Is she ever going to try presenting outside the district again?” I am just not sure. I will continue to present at my school and in my district, since I am the Staff Development Chair and a very active member of the district Technology Supporting Instruction committee. I am already scheduled to co-present about using Twitter as a professional development tool.  So I am not giving up entirely.  I know that I need to at least consider being a presenter again since it gave me a great opportunity to learn from and share my skills with a different audience.  I connected at a different level from my Rock Star colleagues, so that factor alone might make it worth it. Honestly though, I have not decided whether I can stand the anxiety again.  As I continue to reflect on my Solana Beach CUERockstar experience, I will have to decide to apply again next year or to just attend to absorb what I can as a participant rather than as a leader in the wider arena.

Twitter handles of the people I mentioned in the text above
Jon Corippo @jcorripo
Jen Roberts @jenroberts1
Shannon Applegate @shannonapplegat
Vicky Sedgewick @visionsbyvicky 
Will Kimbley @willkimbley