Tuesday 14 January 2014

Through the looking glass

I created some training material late last year that has since been adopted by my colleagues and tailored to their style. Today was the first time I heard it presented back to me; the same and yet significantly improved. It was a really interesting experience.

As a presenter, you're often working in an overloaded state. You try to maintain a confident persona, while attempting to remember what comes next in your presentation slide deck, and monitoring your listeners for signs of boredom. You adopt selective attention to filter aspects of the challenging environment.

When you sit in a classroom as an observer, your perspective is entirely different. Without the pressure of public speaking, your mind has space to see and to think.

After watching my colleague today, I could see that the underlying structure of the material I had given him was not as good as it could be. The independent exercise was failing because the presentation assumed a higher level of prior knowledge than was warranted. We were drowning our students rather than leading them slowly in to deep water.

This insight was not at all clear to me when I was the person presenting the material. I had felt that something wasn't right; the material wasn't flowing smoothly and it was difficult to generate enthusiasm in the class. But I had no opportunity to step back and work out the root cause of the problem; my thoughts were instinctive not conscious.

And, importantly, I hadn't had this feedback from observers of the original presentation. Though I had valuable pointers on how and what I was presenting, it was mostly trivial or cosmetic. Giving blunt and far-reaching feedback without ownership of the material is a daunting task. It was great to go through the looking glass to offer feedback on my own work.

This is likely to have been an exceptional case; I can't imagine I will often find another person who can or will want to present my material back to me. But it was an incredibly enlightening experience that felt like something between pair testing and rubber duck debugging. I had all the benefits of watching a version of my presentation on video without the horrific awkwardness of hearing myself speak (nothing worse than listening to your own voice).

Have other people tried this?

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