Thursday, January 17, 2008

Scrambled Nuggets

Maven Lacey KayeLike the other Mavens, I am both an experienced presenter and an experienced workshop presenter. Like Maven Darcy said yesterday (and all of you have touched on), when I get ready to give a workshop or a presentation I try to think about it from the crowd's POV. What do I like to hear when at a workshop? What sticks with me, and what do I find worthless? I tend to be very me-centered, so anything that falls outside of active listening isn't something I spend a lot of time planning for. That said, I'm getting better at making packets (handouts). As modeling my behavior by adapting techniques from the people I respect around me has become Level A Mode of Operation, packets have been...well, probably the first really big thing I've adapted.

Which has nothing to do with anything, but I'm easily distracted and you guys knew that. This brings me to a scramble of advice:


As Maven Darcy said, our workshop is titled Maven Storyboarding 602 Workshop. That's a lot to do with my personal vision for the RWA workshops I want to give. In the first year or so of writing, I ate up everything aimed at level 101. Then I went looking for level 201 stuff, and found...not much. So I wanted to give workshops aimed at writers who'd been writing and even those who are published authors. This is both a personal preference and a marketing ploy. It does have a big loophole, though, and that is that I can't control my audience most of the time.

At National or even at the smaller conferences, participants have a little brochure and a choice. Anyone at the Maven 602 last week (at Eastside RWA) had almost no choice whether they wanted to be hear me or not. If you wanted to go to the chapter meeting, you had to listen to me. (muah ha ha ha.) Same for Deb Dixon this week.

Given our time constraints, however, we won't be able to go into a lot of detail about plots and plot holes and GMC (so keep your ears open for what Deb herself has to say!) and character arcs and 4-Act Structures and Hero's Journey and all that good stuff we pretty much have to assume you already know. Honestly, we're not the go-to people for that stuff anyway; others do a much better job. Some of 'em even wrote the book on it! But at the same time, I don't want to be talking over our audience (though I expect most of the participants to be level-set and more than anything, I don't want to see any glazed eyes).

This uneven setting did come out at the Eastside meeting, although nothing that derailed the presentation. At a complete unrelated "workshop" I did, though, the assumption that only people who wanted to learn more about X would show up really bit me. I sent out a link to what would look like gobbledy-gook to the untrained eye and expected only people who recognized the subject to show up. Uh, not so. Which got me a lot of negative (deserved) feedback and went a long way toward teaching me to focus on my audience.

Ok, this rambled. My point is, yes, soliciting questions during the presentation can be annoying for some. For others (uh, me), sitting through basic rehash makes me crazy. I tend to aim high with a willingness to shoot low if need be. So ask your question. It's up to the presenter to keep the workshop moving forward, not you.

Which brings me to the second:


And that someone is probably you. As Maven Erica found out/may have already known/admitted to, sometimes you have a really packed schedule and even the smallest amount of tangential stuff can tip the scale. Going over is a pet peeve of some people (although I am more annoyed by people who clearly don't have enough to say) and you wouldn't have planned to talk about something that wasn't necessary to the understanding of the topic (RIGHT?!). You want to hit it all, but how do you do that and keep everyone focused without plowing over some really good discussion?

Going back to glazed eyes, if I get the feeling it's only one or two people (or a percent, I guess) then I might try to take that offline i.e. address it after. If it's a lot of people looking pensive or interested, I will pause to discuss. Often, these pauses give relief to people who are either totally focused or accidentally spacing out (notice my theme of detesting foisting boredom on people?) -- so pauses can be a good tool to keep people interested and following along. On the other hand, they also often come across as a license to derail the topic. I personally prefer to allow a few moments for laughter and discourse before forcing the workshop/presentation to move forward. I believe a well-organized blip in the presentation can create camaraderie, and you've all listed that as a big takeaway from a workshop. The important thing to remember is to have someone who will say OK, back to the subject...

I think that's actually it.

Quick poll: how many of you, based on what I just described about the "graduate level-ness" of Maven 602, thinks the workshop would be easily accessible without too much back story? Are you the kind who finds herself constantly wishing the speaker would explain more, or do your eyes tend to glaze (or both?). What do you think Maven Jackie should talk about tomorrow? ;-)

PS: Don't forget to vote for your favorite Maven term of endearment on the sidebar!


Vicki said...

Love this post. One of the things I found when attending workshops at Nationals is many of them were geared for the newer writer. Or atleast that is what it seemed to me.

Granted, I belong to a great chapter and we not only have very talented members, but bring in speakers who are wonderful. That said, I'm pretty sure all chapters are not that way.

I love the idea of a 201 or 602 or whatever it would be called, that is geared towards those of us who need to further the knowledge.

The one thing I remember from teaching (it's been awhile)is making sure you had something for everyone. In the classroom you most always have three levels of kids. Beginners, middles, and highs. Our writing is much the same and having material that will work for all three areas in one workshop...not always easy.

Patricia W. said...

I'm definitely a glazer, unless the subject is very technical (I'm in IT), in which case I might need a slightly slower pace.

But I'm good at entertaining myself--I'm a list-maker/scribbler--until folks catchup and the presenter can move on.

Vicki's comment is a good one but it puts the onus on you. As an attendee, even in beginning workshops, I find that I can learn something if I'm open as opposed to bored or smug.

Bill Clark said...

As I guess we all know by this point, each group has its own dynamic, and you have to be prepared to go with the flow, as it were. Sometimes there's the pest who has a hobby-horse to ride and tries to derail your entire presentation in his direction. At which point you have to know how to say, "Thank you, Bill. Let's hear from some other people now."

Perhaps a good way to begin is to ask a few elementary questions and ask for a show of hands. Then try to aim your presentation at the skill-level of the majority of the group. You can always have a bibliography in your handouts that will be helpful to the beginners.

Another suggestion might be to have two or three prepared tracks, and let the attendees decide what subject/s they would like to have you focus on. That gives them a sense of "ownership" in your presentation, and encourages them to want it to go well.

As to questions, rather than let the proceedings devolve into a free-for-all, have certain designated points during your presentation when you take questions for a few minutes before moving on to the next phase of the presentation. That can help to focus the questions as well as to provide a break for the glazed-eye crowd.

Oh, and don't forget the chocolate! ;-)

Great post, Lacey! I just hope I have the chance to sit in on one of your presentations someday!

Jackie Barbosa said...

I'm afraid I'm a bit of an eye-glazer. In fact, I often describe myself as the student I most hate to teach--someone who thinks (and maybe even does) she knows as much as I do about the topic and is skipping ahead to the next one because she's bored to death.

Unfortunately, no matter what level you pitch your presentation to, you're always going to have some people on either end of the spectrum.

Too bad nobody had any suggestions for what I should post about tomorrow. Because in the absence of suggestions, I think I'll be talking about online workshops--the pros, the cons, and the in-between.

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens