Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chance to shine

I've probably spoken enough about the challenges of my current job. The size and scale of the workload, the feeling of a lack of support and communication, a lack of appreciation and other things have dominated my emotions on either side of the summer break. One small plus after all that blueness was a chance to shine, and shine in a way that I had confidence in.

Yesterday we had a conference in which I had to speak for at least 15-20 minutes. I'd been told a week and a half ahead but it was still a headache to prepare on top of my already excessive list of things to do. The day before in particular was heavy with rather crucial operational matters. My manager, who gave me the opportunity, was a technocrat to boot; she lives on numbers and policy and I knew that she'd probably want the 15-20 minutes to be solidly about the number side of the stated topic, preferably with solid numbers comparing years etc. which I thought wouldn't be useful. I counter-proposed by e-mail something a little more qualitative but didn't get a response. The day before the event I finally sat down with her briefly and she unexpectedly green-lighted my content, which was somewhat of a relief. The real preparation began and went till 11pm the night before.

Public speaking and presenting is something that I've learned to be able to handle quite well. My previous job gave plenty of opportunities to handle the limelight, to cover content without notes, to think on my feet and adapt. Also managing schools in China meant saying the same message in different ways to different groups. Teaching for so long, especially ESOL, has had its benefit, too. We naturally think of staged presentations, of audience involvement. And we are trained, too, to think in terms of how to visually present important information. I wouldn't say for a moment that I'm any great talent in speaking but these advantages can transform average speaking to something that you can listen to easily.

To make these meagre advantages more prominent I knew that almost no other presenter on the list really had more than one advantage. Some speakers had presence either by position or standing. There were some naturally interesting speakers. Some used the space well. There were some who had a few gimmicks for keeping attention. Some were witty and off-the-cuff. Others had very clear Powerpoint presentations (the worst speaker had the best PPT - the online marketing manager no less). But very few had the techniques of engagement or had adapted their delivery to an audience. In fact most of the performances were to do a stated task "despite" the audience. I recall a mini-conference last year where all speakers just hammered through their material to a catatonic group of about 100. It was painful. I anticipated that this conference would be roughly the same and I was roughly right.

I came straight after a colleague, who though sincere, was also in this mold: he had the brief of what he was told to cover but couldn't change his delivery for the audience. He had a gimmick to hold attention though and in the end it was better than most. He had been kind enough to ask ahead how we'd segue and it was a smooth hand-off. I then got up and cracked everyone up introducing myself. It was good to be a personality, rather than a speaker. It was my first time really addressing the group about what our school was so I went from humour into a very sentimental story about what the previous incarnation of our school must have been through in Christchurch before it moved to Auckland. I made up for an inadequacy in the company's concept of the conference - Mine was the only session that mixed the different companies from within the groups and ensured that the smaller two companies could speak more. In ESOL talk, I got "group-work" going. I capped off with two ways to look at academic quality, the focus of the talk, but from my experience in my industry and I got the participants to analogise it back to their settings.

I finished and I had lots of people approach me to express appreciation for the presentation, including all but one of the directors of the group. My manager in particular said she many of her fears for the coming education audit were allayed now that she saw how much thought I'd put into the big picture and vision. In retrospect, the tasks I'd been previously given that were of interest to the directors were in areas that I hadn't been trained, hadn't experienced or weren't familiar with so quite possibly they'd developed a lack of confidence in me. In a year, this was the first time I could speak at length and respond to the combined executive and greater company about what our school is and what I'm about. Even though my teachers know what I'm about and what I believe in, it is also rather consolidating for them to hear and see it pronounced not just in the office or a team meeting but to the group, to see that the goals are not small goals. One team member approached me to say that he had never realised I'd done so much in the last year.

It was great to finish Friday before a long weekend on a high. It's rough when the thoughts of work follow me home and pester me and my rest. Now I can have my own weekend.

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