Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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Editorial

So, here's something on my mind of late...

I often go to meetings and conferences with a predetermined plan of which sessions I'd like to attend or which presenters I'd like to listen to. However, when I eventually get to the conference, I usually do my darnedest to get into meaningful conversations with people in the lobby, near the coffee machine, or even outside in the smoker's section (whatever you think about smoking, smokers have always been some of the best conversationalists that I've met). If I'm lucky enough to get into a juicy conversation, I often ditch the plan to see the presentation that I had planned to see. Now aside from all of the issues concerning my laziness, immaturity, unprofessionalism, etc, I really wonder why I veer so consistently towards conversation with colleagues over presentations by colleagues?

There are a couple of ideas that come to mind right away: 1) I'm usually disappointed with the presentations that I've attended in the past, 2) I'm a talker and so I like talking more than listening, or 3) Conversations offer more of a risk/reward opportunity than going to presentations. Let's take a peek inside of these ideas.

1. Am I usually disappointed with the presentations that I've attended in the past? Not really. However, I'd say that after a number of years watching presentations in Japan, I now have a fairly good sense of who presents well, who has new ideas, and what to avoid. Probably, most of the lousier presentations that I have sat through (some friends don't hesitate to walk out of a mediocre talk, but I'm not that gutsy yet) were back when I first started participating in my own professional development.

2. Does my tendency to want to talk lead me to informal chats over formal presentations? I'm sure it does. For me, it is often very difficult for me to connect with a speaker who doesn't seem to be talking to me. I know that being engaged in conversation helps me to learn a lot more.

3. Is the risk/reward factor of spontaneity more appealing than going to presentations? Partly, but it's a two-sided coin. Some of my best conference experiences (read meaningful epiphanies & connections) have taken place outside of the classroom or auditorium. On the other hand, I've missed a few great talks that I may never have the chance to witness.

For me, the uptake of this little reflection is that my own presenting style is currently morphing away from being a standard slide show and talk. I'm experimenting with a new, more interactive approach. I'm trying to encourage audiences to interrupt me, ask for clarification, more details, alternative examples, etc. I like to say that I'm prepared to do 25 slides and speak for 45 minutes if nothing else happens, but I'd be equally happy to have such an interesting exchange of ideas that time runs before getting anywhere near slide #25.

What do you think?

Steven Herder



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Comments

I KNOW I'm a chatty Cathy, but love talking to other teachers during breaks, over coffee, and late at night. I never plan on getting much sleep at conferences--there's too much to do!

But, I enjoy the presentations, too, and generally learn something new from the few I'm able to attend. Perhaps the key is not so much to listen intently, as it is to listen with hearts and minds open. When we expect presenters to entertain us for an hour, we take our seats with a challenge sitting on our shoulders. And, if the presenter isn't entertaining, we tune out and perhaps miss the gem that was hidden in a new presenter's nerves.

Good luck with your new style--it's fun to try new things.

Thanks for this interesting article Steve. I've been thinking about this for some time now, and I think you and I are in agreement on this mostly.
When I started actively pursuing professional development on my own I joined JALT Omiya. Almost all of the presentations were more like conversations. JALT Omiya members wouldn't have it any other way - well at least most of them. That started to change, and I stopped going to the meetings.
I remember the first big conference I went to. It was the JALT National Conference in Gunma in 1999. I must have attended 100 presentations. I found only one disappointing. The next conference I attended fewer presentations and spent more time in the smoking area chatting. Finally, I remember one conference where I attended only one presentation - mine.
This year I've actually pencilled in presentations I want to see in my iCalendar. All of them are presentations given by friends, and the primary reason I'm attending those presentations is to support my friends.
Btw, when's your presentation?

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