Tips For The Novice Professional Development Presenter

I remember when I was in middle school, I knew that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up, and I just kind of assumed that by the time that happened, I would be confident enough to stand in front of a classroom and speak. When I got to high school, and I was still terrified of presentations that required me to speak to my peers, I figured I needed to get a little more proactive about the problem. So I joined the speech team. I wasn’t very good and never won any medals or awards, but it was my first step toward becoming a speaker.

The first time I stood at the front of a library full of my coworkers with their attention on me was both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying. At the time, I was a middle school English teacher, not even yet department chair. Despite how nervous I was to stand up in front of my coworkers, the entire experience was amazing, and I proved to myself that I could do it.

These days, a big part of my day-to-day work is designing and leading professional development. I’ve learned much about the design and delivery of professional development and adult learning, and I think it’s time to put what I know to paper. Well, screen. You know what I mean.

Let’s set the stage. Your principal popped into your classroom for a regular walkthrough and saw something incredible happening. Now, they want you to share this wonderful strategy with everyone at the next faculty meeting or in-service day. 

Now what?

The Message

The first thing to decide when planning any professional development is your message. Coming from an instructional design perspective, we would use objectives, but let’s keep it simple and call it the message.

What is your key takeaway? If your colleagues walk away from your session with only one idea, what idea should that be? What do they need to be able to do at the end of your session?

This could be something like, “Students need you to care about them before you teach them” or “Incorporate ten minutes of reflective writing every day to improve skill and confidence in your content area.”

Once you know what your message is, don’t forget to tell your audience. Maybe you’ve heard this saying: Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you just told them. Start with your message, end with your message, and make sure that everything in between supports your message.

The Interaction

Everyone knows that sit-and-get sessions are the worst. Look around the room the next time you have a speaker that’s only speaking. I guarantee you’ll find someone doodling on a handout, someone scrolling Instagram on their phone, and someone sleeping. Interaction is how you keep the audience engaged and give them something memorable from your session.

Depending on the length of your presentation, you have tons of options for interacting with the audience: table discussions (or breakout discussions if you’re virtual), polling, creating, and so much more. 

Give the audience a taste of what you’re sharing. If your message was “Incorporate ten minutes of reflective writing every day to improve skill and confidence in your content area,” then have the participants take out a paper and pencil and do ten minutes of reflective writing (or shorter if you don’t have much time). Giving them a chance to experience what you’re sharing can be a priceless addition to your presentation.

That first presentation with the library of faculty staring back at me was all about Pear Deck. My task was to show everyone this great new tool that I’d found, and if there was enough interest after my presentation, my principal would purchase the premium plan for our campus. Instead of just telling them about Pear Deck with a PowerPoint full of screenshots, I handed out iPads and had my colleagues join the presentation using Pear Deck. 

The most memorable part of that presentation was when I demonstrated my favorite way to use Pear Deck for a quick brain-break that built collaborative skills. I put up a blank draggable slide, so every participant had one dot that they could move anywhere on that slide. I asked them to work together from their seats to create a circle with all of their dots. It was chaotic and beautiful, and by the end of the activity, even my principal didn’t want to move on until they had made their circle. 

These are the moments where you capture your audience and leave an impact. Don’t just trust that they’ll happen on their own. Plan those activities first.

Side note: If you’ve never heard of or used Pear Deck before, I wrote about it back when I first discovered it in 2018. Check it out!

The Content

By this point, you probably have a title slide, a slide at the beginning and end for your message, and an activity that fits somewhere in between. Now it’s time to flesh out the rest of the presentation. 

You know your message and interaction. What information does the audience need before, after, and even during the interaction? What do they need to be told to remember your message? 

I won’t sit here and waste my word count telling you how to design what is essentially at this point a lesson. But I do have one recommendation for how to frame the content of your presentation: Tell a story.

I presented once at a Seidlitz conference about the impact that a couple of educational technology tools had on my English Language Learners. I framed that presentation around a story about one of the sweetest students I ever taught who started the year consistently scoring zeros on weekly checks-for-understanding. I told the story of how those tools helped him improve throughout the year, in both skill and confidence. Of course, I hid any identifying information and used a pseudonym, but his story was what pulled in the audience.

The Design

I would be remiss to discuss presentations without touching on slide design. As a part of my master’s program, I took several presentation design courses and read about color theory and design principles. I could do a whole webinar on slide design alone, but for now, I’ll just hit a couple of the most important points here:

Keep it simple. When it comes to presentation slides, whether you use PowerPoint or Google Slides or Canva, whether you start from scratch or use a template, just remember to keep it simple. Choose a color palette of 3–4 colors (my trick here is to start with the school colors!). Don’t go crazy with pictures or visuals. Make sure that your slides have good contrast, meaning dark text on a light background or light text on a dark background, and don’t make anyone blind with crazy color choices.

Avoid walls of text or excessive bullet points. Most of my presentations don’t even use any bullet points anymore. My strategy is to put one important word or idea on a slide and then use my voice for the details. Remember, your slides are a visual aid to go with what you’re saying, not a document and not a handout. 

The Presentation

It’s the day of your presentation! You put on your fancy shoes, spend a little extra time straightening your hair, and pick out your favorite long-lasting lipstick (or maybe that was just me). You’re standing in front of your colleagues, slides on the screen, ready to share. 

The most important thing that I can say is: Don’t read the slides. I know that when we’re nervous, it’s easier to just read what’s on the slide, but trust me, the whole presentation will go more smoothly if you just talk to the audience. Don’t worry about every sentence being perfect or getting a little tongue-tied. You’re human. It will happen. These are your colleagues; talk to them.

The biggest piece of advice that I can give is for when the presentation is over. Take a few moments to reflect on it. What was successful? What could have gone better? What did you learn about yourself as a presenter? As a teacher? 

And, if you’re anything like me, the next question will be: What’s next?


Originally published on the Infobase Learning Center.

Exploring a World of Magic

As I work to finish up my last assignments of the Spring 2022 semester, I have finally arrived at the final stop on this journey of exploration that I’ve taken with this eighth entry.

For several of the explorations I’ve done on this journey, I’ve tried to purposefully push myself outside of my comfort zone by exploring areas that I don’t know very well. This final week, I want to push myself outside of my comfort zone by doing something that is actually well within my comfort zone but that I don’t frequently share publicly: creative writing.

Lesson #1: Even that which is comfortable can help break your own barriers.

Continue reading

Exploring the Past (without time travel)

I’m finding it hard to believe that I’ve already arrived my seventh exploration in this thought experiment I’ve undertaken. It has really been an enjoyable experience and I’ve learned a lot along the way about being an explorer of the world, learning how to look at everything around me through a qualitative inquiry lens, simply experiencing the things that I normally would barely notice.

There are a total of 59 explorations in How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith, and by now I’ve read through them all several times. When I started this journey, I intended to complete only 8 of the 59, and with only two explorations left to go, I’m finding it more difficult to choose. While this is still my intention, I think I may return to this thought experiment later on. Perhaps I could repeat some that I’ve already completed and see what different lessons I can learn, or I could simply return to the explorations that I’ve marked with my blue post-it notes but haven’t completed.

Regardless of where my future exploring takes me, this week’s exploration is taking me into the past, albeit without a time machine (the TARDIS was otherwise occupied this week).

Continue reading

The Sounds of Exploration

One of my favorite things to do is to hang out in the backyard with the dogs. They love it because there are so many things to smell and chase, and I love it for the tranquility. We live in a suburban area in a neighborhood that’s been around long enough for the trees to be massive and the houses to look a little dated. There are several large trees (as described in one of my earlier explorations) that make homes to several types of birds and dozens of squirrels.

For my next exploration, I wanted to get back out into the backyard, into nature, and see what I could discover about my own home. After flipping through the pages of How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith while sitting at the patio table, I settled on a type of exploration I haven’t tackled yet: sound.

Continue reading

Exploring Beyond My Comfort Zone

When I was growing up back in small-town Ohio, I lived next to a pair of sisters who were some of my closest friends for years. Both sisters were (and still are) incredibly artistically talented. They had sketchbooks and always created the most amazing drawings. One even did the artwork for my first tattoo. I had (and still have) zero artistic ability or talent. I used to doodle little 2-dimensional TARDISes in the margins of my math assignments, and that was as far as my ability to draw ever took me. While my friends drew in their sketchpads, I was writing stories in my notebooks.

Several of my explorations so far have stuck very closely to my strengths with writing and reading and books. This week, I’ve chosen to push myself outside of my comfort zone, away from creativity with words and into creativity in drawing.

Continue reading

Exploring the Farmers Market

Friday afternoon, I stood out in the backyard with the dogs as the wind whipped my hair around my face and threatened to topple the bench swing. I thought for sure the weather was going to thwart my plans of exploration yet again.

Thankfully, I was wrong. The Baytown Farmers Market was not cancelled or shut down early due to wind, rain, sleet, or any other strange weather Texas can throw our way. And so I was finally able to circle back to Exploration #12: 50 Things from How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.

I don’t know why I was so drawn to this particular exploration. It could simply be that when I tried to do it before, I wasn’t able. I’ll admit that I’m a pretty stubborn person, so the simple fact that I couldn’t do it when I wanted made me want to do it even more. I also can’t say exactly why I was so determined to complete this exploration at the Baytown Farmers Market, especially considering the directions say to “Write down (or document) fifty things about one of the following: a trip to the library, a trip to the grocery store, a walk in your neighborhood.” I could easily have completed any of those three, but I thought a once-monthly pop-up farmers market would yield more interesting and diverse results.

Lesson #1: Location matters.

Continue reading

Exploring Pointillism in my Backyard

I’ve always enjoyed impressionist art. I’m not overly knowledgeable when it comes to art, in fact, I had to use Google to confirm that this style of painting that I enjoy is actually called impressionism. I love trips to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH), and I’ve collected a few original pieces that hang in my living room and office, purchased from an art gallery on a cruise I took right after I finished my undergrad degree. I couldn’t tell you much about many specific artists or styles. Art has always been one of those things that I get to enjoy without knowing everything about it. I enjoy it for what it is, without the burden of history or details.

One branch of impressionism that I particularly enjoy is apparently called pointillism (and yes, Google informed me of this, too). I discovered it on an MFAH trip a couple years ago. I think we were actually there to see a Van Gogh exhibit (Van Gogh is my favorite artist – unoriginal, I know, but what can I say?). That day, however, I found myself captivated by the way artists can create such beautiful art out of thousands of dots of paint.

You’re probably wondering why I’m ruminating on art on a blog about educational technology and instructional design. It does seem a little off-topic.

Continue reading

Exploring the World in Words

Who are you?

No, really, take a moment right now, before you continue on with reading this post, to think about this question. Who are you?

I think about this question a lot. I’ve reflected on my multiple and ever-changing roles on this blog before (here, here, and here recently).

I’ve been thinking a lot about autoethnography, which feels like a logical progression of my identity as a researcher. I’ve always been reflective, and the main theme of this blog has been reflecting and learning from my own experiences. My goal in these posts has always been equal parts learning for myself and sharing what I’ve experienced so that anyone who happens to read this blog might learn from my experiences too. Marshall et al. (2022) define autoethnography as “a reflexive approach to understanding the human condition through critical and engaged analysis of one’s own experiences” (p. 30). I believe that, in an informal way, this is what I’m trying to do with this blog.

In a recent discussion board in my qualitative inquiry class, the idea of autoethnography being vain or self-indulgent was raised. Perhaps it is self-indulgent to study oneself, but if we don’t, who will? I’ve learned so many lessons through studying myself in the writing of each post on this website. The best example to come to mind was in my recent post about having COVID over Christmas. In that post, I wrote:

Wow. I won’t lie, I started this with the intention of pointing out how unproductive I was over break, and how coming down with COVID derailed my whole two weeks of getting ahead, but honestly… seeing it written out like that, maybe it was good that my plans got derailed. 

An Unexpected COVID Christmas

Through the action of self-reflection and of writing about myself, I learned a lesson that I needed in that moment. Maybe it’s vain of me to think that my experiences or my blog can impact others, but I hope that maybe someone else who read that post was able to also learn something about themselves and about the benefits of taking breaks, whether they’re planned or unexpected.

Continue reading

Learning to be an Explorer of the World

How do you view your position in the world? Are you an active participant? A passive observer? Somewhere in between?

I’m not really sure where I fall. I do have a habit of jumping feet-first into new experiences, but I’ve also spent plenty of time simply observing the world around me. Most of the time, I’d prefer to get lost in a really good book and explore that world instead.

This semester, I’m learning to be a better academic researcher. Well, actually, I’m learning to be a better qualitative researcher. But really, I’m learning to be an explorer of the world.

Throughout the next couple months, I’m going to be digging into How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith to “document and observe the world” around me. To anyone reading this post, I hope you’ll consider joining me as I learn to become an Explorer of the World.

Continue reading

An Unexpected COVID Christmas

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2022, the year that has us all collectively afraid to set expectations. Let’s start with a reflective activity.

Things I did not accomplish over Christmas break:

  1. Write any posts for my blog
  2. Code the interviews for my ongoing research project
  3. Complete my dossier website (or even work on it)
  4. Research and plan an upcoming webinar

Things I did accomplish over Christmas break:

  1. Read 9 books of the Miss Fortune series by Jana DeLeon plus a handful of other books
  2. Finished reading/revising the second book of the series I’m writing as a hobby
  3. Played the Sims for two days straight
  4. Got a tattoo
Continue reading