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.

#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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Reflecting on the Pandemic Journey

Anybody that is a frequent visitor to this blog probably knows by now that I like to use this as a medium to complete my coursework as much as possible. It helps me to think through the assignment when I reflect on it here, and I think it makes for a better submission than a plain old paper.

This weekend saw the start of my first summer semester of my doctoral program. I’ve taken summer classes in the past, but they were short, intensive 5-week courses. This summer, and my next several summers, will be filled with two full 10-week courses. And this summer, I’m taking Statistical Methods and Distance Learning. One of those courses is much more terrifying to me than the other. Can you guess which one?

Anyway, the first assignment in Distance Learning is to reflect on how the pandemic changed the way we used technology to live and interact in work and school, an apt and timely reflective assignment.

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Defining the Field

It is my personal goal to get back to utilizing this blog more frequently to reflect on all of my roles: Instructional Designer, Adjunct Lecturer, and Doctoral Student. Just as I have done in the past, today I’m going to share one of my assignments with the world. In my Issues in Instructional Technology course, we were tasked with researching the various labels and definitions of the field of Instructional Design and Technology or the field of Instructional Systems Design and Technology or the field of Educational Technology, etc., in order to define and label the field as we see it.

So here is my definition and label of the field where I now find myself fully immersed. It doesn’t have the snazzy, sometimes snarky, tone of other blogs, but I think you’ll find it an interesting read.

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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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Mrs. Hebert’s English Class: ONLINE EDITION

On this blog, I’ve reflected on the successes and failures surrounding my teaching career. I’ve written about the activities and assignments I’ve designed and redesigned. I’ve written about my own views and feelings relating to education and technology. This blog started as an assignment in my first masters class three years ago. I’ve been striving to continue posting here because I believe it’s important to reflect in this profession, on the big things and the little things.

It struck me pretty hard when I opened up this blog and saw that my last post was one from the first week of school, when I had the privilege of seeing Nic Stone speak. How far we’ve come since the start of the school year.

Just a few years ago, I wrote about the heartbreak of starting the school year late due to Hurricane Harvey. Now, I sit here thinking about the heartbreak of closing our school early, and the struggles and successes of moving to fully remote instruction.

Once again, a natural disaster of sorts has drastically affected our school year. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has shut the doors on schools across the country, but that certainly does not mean that the school year is over.

Just this morning, I posted the handout and assignment for our seventh week of online instruction.

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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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