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 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.

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#AECT21 – A Return to Conventions!

When I was a kid, I loved going to VFW Conventions with my mom. As an undergrad, I attended my first professional conference when I presented at NCTE 2013 in Boston. As a young professional, I jumped at any opportunity to attend an NCTE or ISTE conference, though I found it to be a struggle to find funding and time off for professional conferences. Like many others, I haven’t attended a conference in person since before the pandemic, when I flew to Vegas in 2019 to accept an award for a journal article that I co-authored. Even then, as it was during the school year, I was only able to get a substitute for three days of that convention.

Last week brought me back to the world of conferences in a big way, and after getting full-time immersive experience, I am contentedly exhausted from a week of attending AECT 2021 and exploring the city of Chicago.

I have a terrible track record of writing these reflections after attending an important event (Exhibit A: the April 2021 TxDLA reflection that is still sitting half-finished in my drafts folder), so this time I’m taking advantage of some airport WiFi to reflect on my experiences while they’re still fresh. Or at least get started in my reflection before I board my flight home.

Side note: As I’m becoming more of an academic and a researcher and learning about various research methods, I’m wondering if these blog reflections constitute a form of auto-ethnography.

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Once a teacher, always a teacher

This morning, I took the dogs outside and when I didn’t immediately melt under Texas heat, I realized that it is September. In fact, it’s almost the middle of September. Since I left teaching middle school, I’ve found myself far less capable of tracking time. I thought time had no meaning during the pandemic lockdowns; I had no idea people with “regular” jobs had to work so hard to know what month it is!

This year was the first year in my entire life that I didn’t have a true summer, and I honestly frequently forgot that it was summer until I’d walk outside of the house. Between working full time as an Instructional Designer and taking two intensive 10-week doctoral courses, June to August was actually the busiest couple months of my year so far, maybe even of my life so far.

Now that I’ve made it to the other side of that stressful semester, it’s time to take a step back and do some reflecting. As I do at the end of every semester, I like to think about what I’ve learned, what I’ve gained, and what I need to keep doing, but this time I’m finding myself in the middle of an identity crisis.

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Introducing Mrs. Hebert, Instructional Designer (plus a review of Mentimeter)

I think it is time to make my career change Blog-Official. Back on February 1st, I started a new career path as an Instructional Designer, and I have never been happier than I’ve been these past couple months. It was not easy for me to walk away from the classroom, and I spent a lot of time second-guessing my own decision to make this move, but I know this was the right move for me. Considering my career has been on this trajectory since my first Instructional Design course, I’m actually a little surprised at myself for feeling so conflicted.

This blog was originally born from a master’s course assignment and I’ve used it over the past few years as a place to reflect on my work, both as a teacher and student. I’ve talked about different educational technology tools that I’ve discovered and loved. I’ve talked about issues in education. I’ve reflected on my own struggles as a teacher and as a student, first in my master’s program and now as a doctoral student. The important part for me has always been reflection. I’ve learned and grown so much since I wrote my first post here, and I whole-heartedly believe that reflection is the most important aspect of learning and growth. And so, moving forward, I intend to keep that theme. I may one day bring myself to change the name of this website from Mrs. Hebert’s Classroom to something else, but regardless of the name, this will always be my place to reflect and learn from my own practices. If you’re reading this, I hope you are able to learn from my reflections, and I hope that you take some time to reflect on your own practices in your profession.

I chose today to write my first reflection as an Instructional Designer because today I led my first live professional development seminar. In February, I was told that my first topic would be RUBRICS. Throughout March, I designed and developed a 60-minute webinar on that topic, taking my presentation through two rounds of feedback with my team (who are the best, most supportive, intelligent people!). All my effort culminated in a wildly successful seminar today.

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Technology: It’s Not Just for the Students

In case you were not aware, today was #DigitalLearningDay. As far as I’m concerned, just about every day in my classroom is a digital learning day, but I am not one to pass up an opportunity to show off my EdTech prowess and design something extra special for the occasion.

For the past week, I worked with one of my favorite teacher besties who is also my across the hall classroom neighbor to build out an Escape Room activity. It was pretty rockin’ if I do say so myself. Even our admin team thought that it was a great learning experience for our kiddos.

Me and my across the hall teacher bestie with our Digital All-Star stickers and rocking our AVID shirts! <3
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Reflecting on Experiences

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

Sitting in a session about the effect of teacher education on teacher attrition and retention, I heard this quote from John Dewey, and it struck me deeply. I have been sadly lacking in this reflection since I completed my masters this past August. Of course, I knew this would happen. Many of my reflections in this blog centered around my masters coursework; in fact, the original creation of this blog was an assignment. However, having earned my degree certainly does not mean I am done learning or done reflecting.

I am, of course, proud of having completed my degree and of my several subsequent accomplishments. I’ve started drafts of posts about those accomplishments, but without a deadline or a requirement, I haven’t completed them. Even this post is coming a solid month after I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention and heard this quote. Continue reading

Enhance Learning with Pear Deck

As an educator and a student of educational technology, I’m always on the lookout for new tools that increase student learning and student engagement. I strive to authentically teach my curriculum in ways that students have fun at least some of the time and that students will remember after they leave my classroom. It’s not always an easy task to accomplish, but I like to think I work hard at it.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled on a tweet from Alice Keeler that linked to her blog, Teacher Tech with Alice Keeler, specifically a post about a new Google Slides add-on that purports to increase student engagement and give every single student a voice. A common theme in this blog, and in my teaching, is making lessons more student-centered and engaging all students in learning. So, I was understandably intrigued. I spent an afternoon exploring the add-on, which led me to the full resource, called Pear Deck.

I am now 100% a Pear Deck supporter for the following reasons:

  1. It’s simple.
  2. It projects onto the student’s devices.
  3. Every student answers every question.
  4. The dashboard shows me all responses and gives me control from anywhere.

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Fall2017 Part 3: Let the Kids be Creative!

After spending the two weeks of winter break mostly on the couch with a nasty cold (that still hasn’t let up!), I’ve realized that I never completed my Fall 2017 reflection series, and Spring 2018 is creeping up on me!

My third, and final, class of Fall 2017 was called Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, in which I learned about what is (and is not) a digital story, and I created a couple of my own.  Continue reading

Fall2017 Part 2: Technology, Research, and Community Education

Ah, hello again, friends and followers.

If any of you made it through the monster reflection post from last week about my LDT seminar class this semester, I’m sure you are just dying to hear how my other two classes went. Well, I live to please.

I can now officially say that I have finally submitted all of the assignments for all of my classes, and boy was that a huge sigh of relief. I will also say that in that three days since I submitted my last assignment, I created instructions for the math and English teachers on my campus to access their universal screener data and enter into Eduphoria (the system we use to manage data), wrote lesson plans, entered quiz grades from Schoology (my LMS BFF) into the gradebook, entered my own screener data and a coworker’s, put together an amazing lesson using Pear Deck to go over a test that my students bombed, acted as the middle man between a Pear Deck representative and my principal to get Pear Deck for my campus, and my Sim family just had triplet girls. So, in summary, being finished with my classes in no way means that I’m not busy anymore. I am very ready for winter break.

But, I digress. Continue reading