Well I never thought I would write a blog – but then again I never thought I’d be a Tweeter or have my own website or any of that stuff. I’m a bit like that with technology! I blow hot and cold. Some of it I embrace instantly (and then abandon), and some I reject out of hand, only to come crawling back later when I’ve seen the benefits that others receive from it. Years ago, for example, I angrily refused to use Powerpoint because I thought it was ‘unteacherly. And look at me now!
The world of technology and networking is such an ever-changing riot of possibility and change that it is difficult to resist. (Why would anyone want to resist anyway when there is so much sheer fun and potential out there which, in a wonderfully democratic kind of anarchy, can be accessed by anybody?)
And anyway, I can hardly NOT get into this game (the whole technology thing, and blogging in particular) since one of the talks I am doing at the moment is called ‘What teachers do next!” and its main theme is all about the importance of teachers moving out of the ‘comfort zone’ if they want to really experience growth and change – and if they hope to avoid burn-out or terminal boredom.
So here I am, when I should be working – writing a report in fact – sitting down to plan out my first blog post; longer, much longer than a 140-character tweet, but potentially far less informative! How then should I, a blogging virgin, set about this momentous task and what, if anything, do I hope that I and any of my readers will get out of it?
To prepare myself, I have looked at other’s blogs. I have been impressed by some of the blogs that I have seen out there whether they are polemical, like Gavin Dudeney’s (now defunct) and Karenne Sylvester’s, political, in the broadest sense, like Andy Hockley’s about management and ‘full of beans’ like Burcu Akyol’s, or richly autobiographical and anecdotal – and robustly opinionated – like Ken Wilson’s. Those are just 5 of the millions out there – but five that have caught my eye because they all impinge on my main professional world – the teaching of English to speakers of other languages. I wondered if they might provide me with some kind of a model.
Of course I am aware of the dangers: most blogs collapse and atrophy after the first (3- or 5-moth) enthusiasm has worn off. Many are self-regarding and, to put it quite frankly, boring. The pulsating demand of a blogger’s ego is not necessarily an attractive feature for others who stumble across it in the blogospehere. Perhaps, too, bloggers are a sad subs-species of the human race who spend far too much of their time blogging or reading each other’s competing efforts in a kind of addictive symbiosis rather than having anything resembling a real life. Most importantly, I ask myself, DO I HAVE THE TIME FOR THIS?
But I am, to use an old British English idiom, ‘putting the cart before the horse’ (or is that, in David Crystal’s inspired description of what a cliché is, a ‘lexical zombie’?). I think I should explain….
I spend a lot of my time presenting, speaking and workhopping with teachers both in the UK, but also in countries around the world. It sometimes seems as if I spend more time in airport departure lounges than in my own flat. I do this – presenting at conferences around the world – for many reasons: it is partly, of course (and let’s get this out of the way quickly) because I want people to buy my books; it is also because being invited and appreciated as a speaker is a powerful drug to which it is easy to become addicted. But there is a deeper and less selfish reason too: and that is the hope that I can offer the teachers who listen to me something worth having, and an experience that will make their lives, if only for a minute or two, marginally better. For if and when that happens – when a talk or a workshop goes well (that is, when it is clear that teachers have appreciated, and, crucially, enjoyed what has been said and done) – then I do feel that I have done something worth doing.
Obviously, then. I have spent years trying to pin down what it is that makes a good talk (and like many presenters I’ve had my share of disasters, but also some successes). I have spent hours discussing talk ‘techniques’ with colleagues, some of whom are well known in my field. I have sat in brilliant talks and suffered terrible ones. And wondered whether I can really judge which is which.
Recently, a friend who offers presentations to teachers in and around her country, asked me for advice about how to design a good presentation. As far as she is concerned, I have only seen still photos of her at work, and one of her powerpoints. Even with such a small amount of evidence, however, ahe looks like she is good at what she does. But one thing she asked me stopped me in my tracks and made me think. How, she asked, can you avoid making a talk or a workshop just a string of activities (she had just given a workshop on primary teaching), rather than offering something substantial, some organising principle; how do you find a theme?
I sat down and thought about it. I wrote her a long email trying to explain how I, personally, go about designing a new talk. My email was all about finding ‘events’ to amuse, provoke or entice an audience of teachers. But then I started talking – rather as some people do when discussing lesson planning – about trying to find a narrative thread to take you through your preparation, a beginning, a middle and an end. You need, I suggested, to be able to say, when you finish that you have suggested X, Y and Z, and here are the main points you have made. It sounded good!
Except that I realised, once the email had been sent, that I was describing the processes that I go through when planning a new talk. And even as I was composing the email I was remembering people who do it differently from me. I remember presentations that were more like stand-up comedy than about anything serious; I have experienced the rush – what my friend ken Wilson calls the adrenalin rush – of Pecha Kucha, a new-presentation-kid-on-the block; I have sat through long and tedious lectures; I have sat through lectures that were far from tedious; I have been impressed by quiet and serious thought-pieces (so different from my own frenetic wandering around); I have wriggled in envy at people who seem to have a special gift for connecting with audiences that I have to fight for.
It occurred to me that it would be useful for my friend – and ultimately for me and anyone else – to have a good discussion about the art of presenting. What is it for? How should it best be done? Are different styles equally effective? After all if people like me can spend hours of our life talking about how to TEACH, presumably talking about how to PRESENT would be equally useful.
And so I decided to write a blog to investigate – at least to start with – the art of presentation. If you will allow me a day or two’s ‘grace’ that is what I will be doing.