Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 48 seconds

Making the Most of Professional Development Online During COVID-19 (3 parts)

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 48 seconds

If you’re like me, with an unquenchable thirst for learning, you’re probably spreading yourself thin with professional development, because all of it is just a click away now, and most of it is free. If you’re like me, and you’re being asked to speak a lot, either within your institution or beyond, you’re probably hungry for engaging your audiences because you *know* by now that so much of what’s happening in these PD events fails miserably to do so. And if you are like me and are sometimes organizing these events, you’re probably wondering how best to organize it so that, no matter who speakers are, the event as a whole is useful and energizing and welcoming rather than boring and exhausting and cliché. Right?

I posted this tweet recently and got some really thoughtful responses:

Some of the responses were flattering, about how I am ahead of the curve and so have little to learn in these PD events because I should be a speaker. That is sweet, but I don’t think it’s the case. I am, indeed, a speaker in maybe 80% of the events I attend, maybe an invited speaker in 70% of them. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t/couldn’t be learning from other people. Yes, I know I am highly connected globally online, so maybe I’m in touch with a lot of the latest through my PLN… and yeah, maybe I go to tooooo many PD events so it is difficult to keep finding something new… but there’s more.. and here are some tips from me, and from others who responded to the tweet and helped prompt my thinking further.

I think this blogpost probably deserves to be three blogposts, but I might keep it as one post in three parts. The three dimensions are how to make the most of PD as…

  • A learner
  • A speaker
  • An organizer

I should start with learner, but speaker is the more common role I have now, and I’ve tried many things, so I’ll start with that.

A speaker

  • Be authentic by taking care of yourself. If you’re not used to presenting online, you may need to try to practice because it will make all the difference to you in terms of audience response. Know that being warm and energetic online takes more energy than it does f2f… make sure you have a comfortable place to sit, some water or warm drinks nearby, a snack, fruit or nuts to boost your energy before you speak. Whatever helps you be the best that you can be, do if for yourself and ask for it. E.g. If you need someone else to control your slides or run a poll, ask. If you prefer doing this yourself, ask to do it. In my #OLCInnovate keynote, I asked for a few friends to be panelists so I can both see their smiling faces and also so they can read out what ppl were writing in chat during pauses I made for that purpose. This gave my voice a rest, changed voices for audience, and worked for my flow.
  • Find out what helps you focus & enjoy online presentations. For me, I cannot STAND Zoom webinar if the chat is turned off. I need to see people responding to what I am saying via chat if not orally. I ask organizers to explicitly have this option turned on, or to at least have some ppl as panelists, or to allow ppl to take the mic. If this kind of thing confuses you, just ignore the chat while you speak… for me it is the opposite. My presentations are also quite interactive, so this all works well together for me.
  • Have a plan B if it helps your nerves. Having a plan B online seems like a no-brainer but is not always easy. Some organizes ask for a pre-recording just in case. It used to annoy me, but then I realized what if I had a huge connectivity issue or something huge happened? It’s possible. The pre-recordings also serve as good practice and help me fix my timing and find small issues with my slides or pacing. An additional advantage is that if the organizers do not plan to share the live recording, or may not even record the session, then I have this documented and can use it for other purposes.
  • Connect with people. In real (3D, in person) life, you would normally have opportunities to ask people how they are before you take the stand to speak. Online, you may need to remember to make time to ask about them. I always do this, in meetings, in class, in presenting. I also recently told ppl to take a minute to stretch before my EDEN RW20 keynote because I knew they had just listened to two other keynotes. People seemed to appreciate it. Because even though it seems like an obvious thing to do, ppl don’t intuitively do it!!! And no one reminds them to!! Connecting with people also means possibly adding interactivity in your keynote. You may have different comfort levels with this, but honestly unless you are the most charismatic person even, you know attention spans are short, esp online. Most ppl are not terribly engaging online speakers i vary my tone of voice, try to wear sthg bright, and smile a lot, but more importantly, I ask questions for the audience to answer in chat, and when time and tech allows, out loud, too! For people who don’t like this, you don’t have to check the chat. But it makes the session more dialogic anyway.
  • Use external conversations if you can’t have internal ones. Like pre-asking a question on Twitter and bringing in people’s responses… whether those ppl are in your session or not. The words of ppl NOW for YOUR SPECIFIC question can sometimes be really more relevant than literature from dead people. I’m not dismissing literature.
  • Use visuals. This is an obvious one!
  • Have a backup device and connection. Also obvious
  • Share your slides/resources when you can. I usually put a CC license on my Google slides, create a bitly so anyone with the link can comment any time, and include the link on my third and last slides.  I sometimes put them on my blog, some people put them on slideshare.
  • Pace yourself. For very tightly timed talks, I have my phone timer on and I have my slide numbers on. When I know time is about to end, I know I can speed up! I never use “presenter view” in google slides but I realized it does a timer, so you can use that if you prefer (just remember to share the OTHER view of the screen).
  • Share your social media accounts so ppl can continue to connect with you. I often share my email and blog at the end, too.

Do you have other tips for presenting online? Please share in the comments

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