Posts Tagged ‘teaching’


I did something last weekend that I’d never done before. I played music in a bar as part of a fundraising event. I’ve played music around campfires, I’ve played music in houses, I’ve performed solo at Bytown Ukulele Group meetings, I’ve jammed with people, I’ve participated in songwriters’ circles, even on an open-mic on a boat as part of a conference. But never in front of a crowd of strangers.

Thankfully, my performance went pretty well, I think. I was pleased. But one thing that I wasn’t prepared for, even though I’ve seen it a million times from the other side of the stage, was not being listened to.

I’ve done a lot of teaching. I’ve done lots of presentations. And I’ve had these musical performance experiences. The commonality among all of those things? I as the “performer” have the expectation of being listened to. When I stand in front of a classroom, or conduct a webinar, I assume that people are gong to be listening to me, watching the slides, etc.

So to have a bar full of people happily chatting while a PA system blared my voice and instrument out into the room was disconcerting. It was a painful reminder of what professional musicians face all the time — they’re being paid to perform, but there’s no obligation for the spectators to attend to them.

My set wasn’t long enough, and my courage (confidence? arrogance?) not strong enough for me to DEMAND their attention. So I played through my songs, took the applause, and left the stage. The good news was that no matter whether a person listened to me or not, they paid to come to the show, which meant the cause benefited from them. Further good news (for me, at least) was that I wasn’t so beset by stage fright caused by their inattention that I froze up (something that’s happened before, to my chagrin — but at least it gave Chris Brogan something to write about!)

But since Saturday, I’ve been thinking about it. My conclusions?

  1. There are circumstances and ways you can bring people back to you. But there are also circumstances when you can’t. I once saw Josh Ritter silence a noisy bar by playing his first song unplugged and wandering through the audience. People were intrigued enough by this unusual behaviour that they fell silent, and by the end of that song, the room was silent. I wasn’t going to try that one.
  2. There are times when you ought to accept the circumstances as they are. Sometimes people just aren’t interested in hearing from you, and it doesn’t matter how loudly you’re singing, or even if you’re singing (or teaching) incredibly well. I once taught a class where one of the students fell asleep every time she came to class. There would have been a time in my life where I focused on that as a sign I was failing the student. But I now believe that the process of “performing” requires both the performer and the audience to be present. Whatever the reason, sometimes your “audience” can’t be there for you.
  3. You still have to bring your best. Even if your audience is not listening, you owe it to yourself to deliver just as passionately and as well as if you had people in the palm of your hand. Yes, it’s harder (just as doing webinars is often harder than presenting to live audiences because you lack any feedback); but you still have to.

The final thing that I’ve thought in the wake of my experience? I want to try it again. I want to figure out some of those musician’s techniques of getting an audience’s attention for myself. Who knows: maybe becoming a more accomplished musical performer will make me a better communicator.

And if you want to see the performance? A quick trip to my Tumblr will let you get a sense of what the show was like.

Social media mind, beginner’s mind

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of "beginner's mind" discussed in Zen Buddhism.

This is the kanji for Shoshin, the state of “beginner’s mind” discussed in Zen Buddhism.

Because I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years teaching at Algonquin College and at Eliquo Training and Development, and because I’ve done a fair amount of speaking on social media and communications topics, I’ve found myself doing lots of “social media 101″ talks. And I’ve written dozens of posts here under the “how-to” or “SMB101″ categories, which are posts particularly useful for people trying to get started in social media.

Do I find that repetitious or tiring? I suppose that would be possible. But as I’ve been doing this, I’ve become more and more convinced that even though “going deep” is appealing, business as a whole is still at the beginning stages of exploiting social media.

Given that social media has been a “thing” for a number of years, the following stats may surprise you:

These stats, and the feedback I get from students, tell me that while those of us who think about social media all the time are busy talking about some of the minutiae, trying to figure out the latest changes to the Facebook algorithm, and pushing the discipline forward, a large portion of the people who are actually working with customers are still trying madly to figure out if and how to do a blog, start a Facebook page, or get on Twitter. And another large group of businesses have started using some or all of those tools, but are floundering.

While it’s a joy to be on the cutting edge, it’s important to realize there are a lot of people out there running businesses who are just struggling to get by. It’s easy to say “Well, they just need to buckle down and get going,” but it’s nowhere near that easy to DO. Let’s not leave them behind.


Why you need a LISTENING strategy

Listening devices, by Flickr user Abrinsky I do a lot of teaching. Either formally in a classroom (like at Eliquo Training and Development), or over a coffee, or as part of a consulting job for a client. And one of the things that always gets covered first, or nearby, in building social media strategies is… LISTENING.

Why? The answer relates to one of the fundamental differences between businesses working in the social media universe and the pre-social media universe.

Here’s my rant about listening:

Back in the day, “listening” was more or less equivalent to the research that your organization could afford to do. It was made up of activities like focus groups, market research, surveys, and the like. You did it when you chose to. And then you chose to either act on what you learned or ignore it, and enjoy or suffer the consequences. Occasionally, people would self-organize to boycott a brand or give it some sort of cohesive message. But that was far from common.

When the use of social media tools went mainstream, all of a sudden people discovered they could talk with each other online. And even if they weren’t directly interacting, there were sites that aggregated people’s feedback and opinions. Didn’t like a movie? You could complain about it on an IMDB forum. Love your local coffee shop? You could share the love with the world!

Those conversations and aggregations are happening now, and will continue to happen. If your business has a public face, chances are that some of those conversations are about you.

If you start using social media like the old school, push-out-the-messages marketing tools, you run the risk of annoying or alienating people already talking about you. If you attempt to shut down those conversations as “threats” to your brand, you risk the “Streisand effect.” And if you ignore the conversations, you come across as uncaring.

So the best choice is participate. But to do that, FIRST YOU MUST LISTEN. It isn’t that hard. There are lots of tools out there that you can use to create effective listening posts. RSS readers (I like Feedly, now that Google Reader’s gone); Google Alerts; Twitter clients like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck… The tools are there, and you can set things up fairly quickly. Once you take the time to set things up, it’s not that difficult to consume a great deal of information about your organization and respond to whatever you need to in a short amount of time.

If you’re a larger business, you likely have resources set aside to do this. If you’re smaller, you may not. Whatever your situation… don’t you want to be on top of this? If you want some help with that, let me know.

Teacher, teacher — can you teach me?

Blackboard Jungle book cover

Algonquin College social media class (may not be exactly as shown)

Well, if Joe Boughner’s doing it… I guess I have to as well.

After some time working on the staff side of Algonquin, I’m returning there as a part-time prof in the Social Media Certificate program. The program offers people an elementary education in social media. And I get to do the introduction to social media course.

While Joe will be teaching online, I’ll be sweating it out in the classroom. I suppose it’s fitting that the younger of us will be teaching online, while the … not so younger… of us will be doing it old-school.

Some might think an introductory course is not the most exciting. But I disagree — I think that the introductory course is the place where people should be coming in with questions and perceptions that challenge the status quo. I’m looking forward to providing a basis for the rest of their courses and to maybe even having some of my sacred cows given a bit of a going over too!

It’s been a while since I’ve taught on a regular basis, but doing training and guest lectures has kept me fairly sharp. If you want to subject yourself to me blathering on… Do so at your own risk. Hope to see you in class.

School’s out… of order?

Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone

I got to Social Capital Ottawa late. Not surprising. It’s Saturday, and homemade buttermilk pancakes with fresh berries and maple syrup take priority for me over almost anything. Then my main commuting bike had a flat, so had to change plans for the bike. Anyway, I arrived late.

As I walked into the room, I realized that this felt… awkward. As conference organizer and  poohbah Lara fake-scolded me — “You’re late” — it felt like a time machine. Eyes swiveled toward me, and I had to make my sheepish way to an open seat to get into the keynote speech that was underway.

I had changed worlds. Someone wiser than me once said that “we shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us.”

There’s a long tradition in education, from kindergarten up through post-secondary. The teacher goes to the front of the room. Then the students sit in orderly rows and columns and listen with varying degrees of attention to what the teacher is saying. People raise their hands when they have a question. People are chastised for talking in class.

The worlds we live in aren’t like that any more. We’re anarchists. We surf from place to place, we chat in three places at once. We don’t sit in rows. We obey the law of two feet. What am i saying? I’m saying that classrooms are not designed for conferences. At least these classrooms, for this type of conference. Why?

  • Because the multimedia is focused on the front of the classroom, where the REAL experts are.
  • Because the entrances to the room are behind the speakers, the doors are loud when they open and close, and people have to walk past the speaker and in front of the entire room when they enter. If the doors are propped open, alarms sound.
  • Because the furniture is bolted to the floor, and chairs mounted on swivels squeak incredibly loudly when you cross your legs, you shift in your seat, or otherwise behave like a sentient being.
  • Because there’s excited chatter in hallways that you hear when the doors open up that makes you want to be there.
  • Because if you sit in front, the rest of the room has to stare at the back of your head, and if you sit in back, you stare at the backs of the heads of everyone else in the room.

I spent the majority of a decade doing PR in the education field. And until I did this conference, I hadn’t really thought about the experience of classroom education in this way.

If I were back in school, how would I find this space? I suspect I would find it awful. How do those who teach in that space find it? Do they like it? Is there another way?

Regardless of the thoughts the physical setting inspired in me, the conference itself was a smashing success. Some great sessions, and it was especially refreshing to see some UN-familiar faces in the audience and on the stages. Not that I don’t like the people who are relatively well-known in the social media community here, but it’s also great to see it expand. Congratulations to the whole conference committee on their work.

(Special note to Amy Boughner: I was happy to type this post with BOTH hands.)