Volunteer Management Conference

After being kind of disappointed by MinneTESOL, I wasn’t hugely excited about the next conference on my list, the Volunteer Management Conference.

Concrete Bricks by Alesa Dam on Flickr
Concrete Bricks by Alesa Dam on Flickr

It seemed unlikely to be valuable because I was feeling pessimistic about conferences in general, and also because volunteer management is kind of a “fluffy” profession, not backed up by much research or data or formal history.

I’m thrilled to report that I was pleasantly surprised.  The sessions I went to did not perpetuate the fluff, but sought to give us concrete ideas and skills for taking our work to the next level.

I gained background in creating a volunteer-led ESL curriculum, setting up focus groups (of students and volunteers), addressing the 80/20 rule of life (that 80% of your effort will go to 20% of your tasks and problems), and creating well-designed flyers and brochures.

I think I actually found the last one to be the most useful.  Making flyers is one of those random parts of my job that I’m expected to just do, and I have never had the slightest bit of training on how to do a good job.  The presenter walked us through the four pieces of the puzzle that we need to consider, and three days later I still remember them: proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast.

Here’s what I think she did right:

  1. limited her scope,
  2. stayed focused on it, and
  3. provided different levels of meaningful practice.

That presentation had no hand-outs.  This was disconcerting at first, but it turned out to be a strength.  Her goal wasn’t to give resources, but to convey four interrelated elements of design.  She didn’t try to make us into designers that afternoon.  The unified design she was teaching us was reflected in her presentation: she taught what she said she was going to teach, and she did it in a way that assured our attention was never split.  She also followed the basic format of a good ESL lesson: I do it, we do it, you do it.  By this I mean she gave us opportunities to practice what we were learning, and that over the course of the session she went from actively guiding our practice to letting us work through examples independently.

I think what made this conference stand out is that all the sessions I went to were taught in this way.  I hope other conferences catch on soon.

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Sharing The Power

My thoughts on today’s conference are actually pretty brief:

The best presentations align their content, structure, and facilitation.  In other words, they demonstrate what they teach.

A corollary:

Saying “Don’t say things over and over again in the same way!” over and over again in the same way is a little ridiculous.

That is all.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Lively Lectures

Notes:

Kitchen Timer 2 by LynGi on Flickr
Kitchen Timer 2 by LynGi on Flickr

Renner is pretty progressive – I was a little surprised that he’s ok with lectures existing.  He says that lectures can be valuable when they’re purely giving information, outlining the subject, aiming to get people interested, or modeling how to handle a lot of information.  Average attention span for a lecture listener is between 12 and 20 minutes – good to know.  Also, he cited research that said laughter and a really engaging presentation style boost retention of content.  He also suggested using ten-minute lecturettes (and a kitchen timer) and switching to other activities in between.

I seem to have a thing for simple and concrete tips.  His tips for improving lecturing were mostly obvious, but to me the most helpful points were to minimize the disruption of distributing handouts, periodically pause, and to think carefully about your sequencing.  To get everyone’s attention, change tempo, move around, or use silence.

Writing Thank Yous by Eren on Flickr
Writing Thank Yous by Eren on Flickr

He also suggested making “fill in the blanks” pages for learners to guide them and reinforce your lecture.  I actually find this to be pretty insulting and would never have considered using it.  I also would have questioned its effectiveness – it seems very much more passive than constructing one’s own notes.  But I guess not everyone has the ability to take good notes.  Maybe some adult learners, particularly people who haven’t attended college yet, would benefit from such prompting after all.  I’ll think on it.

My Overall Impressions:

I liked the immediate focus on appropriate (and inappropriate) uses of the lecture.  Maybe it wasn’t profound insight, but it was useful.

It was interesting to read a piece about delivering a lecture that doesn’t mention computers or Power Point.  Focusing on the fundamentals (i.e. use pauses) was refreshing – sometimes we can get a little too focused on the technology.  That being said, the habits of participants are changing.  Here’s an article about presenting to people who are twittering.

The Zone (and strategy) Paid Off

I have to say, I think today’s presentation went well.  I didn’t see anyone fall asleep even in the dim lighting, I got a few questions at the end, a couple offers for help, and people laughed.

Important Statistic
"Important Statistic"

I’m particularly proud of one of my images, a graph.  It was my one and only statistic.  I didn’t mention it yesterday because I wasn’t positive it would go over well.  My audience was appreciative, for which I was grateful.  Yay.  (Also, in case you were wondering, it is a real graph of the first 8 numbers in the Fibonacci sequence.)

The Jeopardy! rip-off game was really fun too.  It always surprises me how much fun that game can be.  We decided to have the teams wave a scarf in the air to buzz in with answers, and it actually worked really well.   Notable team names were “Bad Reflexes” and “The Table.”  The most popular category was “Two Truths and a Lie: Staff Edition,” in which teams had to pick the one lie out of three statements about me and my officemate.  The ESL and GED categories were fine too though.

Based on comments I got after the presentation, my chosen strategy of using pictures, a conversational approach, and an interactive (and not too difficult) quiz game was well-received.  I seem to have hit upon a lot of information that people were actually interested in by using this model.  I also had a “wish list” slide to talk about our big dreams, and a couple of coworkers came up to me to say we should schedule a time to talk about how their programs could fulfill some of my site’s wishes.  Sweet!

So I guess I’d call it a success.  Now for a nap.

The Zone

I’ve officially stayed up later than I should have preparing to present about my site at tomorrow’s staff meeting. I could have been done a couple hours ago, but I can’t seem to stop. And now here I am jotting down a blog entry! Poor judgment, but enjoyable.  Can’t waste The Zone.

I’m loving Google Docs because I can collaborate with the other presenter. We would have stayed late to work on it together, but our building Closes (yes, that was a Capital C) at 9:00PM. Google Docs is the next-best thing.

I wish I could share the presentation, but I’m not even half-confident enough about my photo release situation to set it free on the Internet. Something to think about for the future.

I really enjoy giving presentations like this one, and I think it has potential to be fun for my audience as well (as opposed to Evil). (Thanks to Beth Kanter for that link.)

My strategy for respecting my audience was to use no statistics, a huge number of pictures, and basically to give a “day in the life” talk instead of a preview of our annual report submission.  Also, it should be relatively short, and we also have a Jeopardy! game planned with both pithy and frivilous categories to get people involved, or at least competing.  Will report on any resounding successes for sure.