Workshops, speakers, energy, and flow

Way back in the dawn of time (2009), I was more tightly integrated into a unit that was more focused on staff development writ large. We had experiences, trainings, and professional growth.I’ve thought about those three categories of offerings quite a bit since then. With some slight tweaks, I feel like they apply well to pretty much any group that’s trying to get people to learn things and change behavior. The focus is on what you expect to get out of an event and what you might be able to do to see if that expectation is met. We do lots of stuff with no clue if it actually mattered. We comfort ourselves with anecdotal stories. And it’s not that these stories don’t matter, they just aren’t quite enough for me.

This three bucket concept meshes with another idea we discussed at VCU around energy inputs related to events. When you have a speaker, a presentation, a conference, etc., that’s an energy input for the learning ecosytem. A lot goes into the planning and promotion of the event. Most of the time that energy goes nowhere. It’s just a brief flash and the energy just goes away. What I hope, is that with intentional planning we can do more to make that flash brighter. We can provide ways to pre-load energy/interest and then provide ways to extend the event and connect the individuals who found the event powerful.

We did one example of that (data is now broken as the site has been deleted) with the VCU digital sociology program. They were having a speaker. Prior to the event and shared during promotion, we setup a pre-reading list, people to follow on social media ahead of the event, etc. That results in a better prepared audience. It also might get people engaged with experts in the field through social media beyond the event itself.1 We streamed the event on the page for people who couldn’t be there in person. I think we also had a moderated chat for virtual participation which was then worked into the live event.2 For after the event, we had discussion ideas for classes who asked students to attend. With a bit more effort we could associate people or work that was inspired by the event or spin up small, focused online communities. The page itself also became an educational resource that people could use after the fact and one that was more personally associated with VCU. That’s kind of neat.

I’m thinking about this again after a Reclaim conversation around workshops yesterday. I want more of a connection from the effort expended. I like aspects of how we’ve set things up. We can see who registers vs who shows up in a nice sustainable workflow for us. We can associate resources with the event easily. We can offer select workshops again based on a form request (and hopefully a minimal guaranteed audience). None of that is rocket science or new, but hopefully it’s well supported by the technology to make it easy. Having been doing this stuff for 25 years or so . . . a lot remains old hat and feel repetitive. I have moved beyond teaching people how to use a trackpad,3 but a lot of the other conversations are pretty much the same. I think we still have a really significant lack of functional literacy when it comes to digital tools. I don’t think many people know how or when to use certain basic tools. Granted, it’s not a binary consideration, but if we could just use spreadsheets and forms well . . . it’d revolutionize many people’s lives and save them hours of time. That time could just be spent gazing at the sky4 and it’d still improve things because it wouldn’t be wearing them down doing miserable tasks better done by machines.

I want to better figure out the long tail of these experiences and how it loops back around. Maybe that never becomes data, but if we’re saying it matters, and I think it does, then I want to know what might increase the odds of it happening. This feels way too much like when I had just started programming and didn’t understand error logs or var_dumps/console.log. I’d just try things over and over, changing various tiny pieces, hoping that it would eventually work. It was pretty much the way evolution works and it took about that long. You can program that way. I did manage to program that way. It’s just insane. Granted, humans aren’t code, but I can’t help feeling there are much better ways to do these things.

1 Twitter back then which seems kind of ironic now.

2 If we didn’t, we should have.

3 For the record, you make an L with your hand. Click with your thumb. Navigate with your pointer finger.

4 Just avoid the sun during the eclipse.

2 thoughts on “Workshops, speakers, energy, and flow

  1. Very interested in this flow concept for events, it’s always been an uphill battle to plan for what people can do / make use of after the event, and also what can be of use for someone who is interested in the topic but was not there.

    I am trying to move this with the conference our org does.

    Keep this flow flowing.

    1. I’d like to do it right someday. I feel like we get close with aspects at times, but then we drift away for one reason or another. I can’t decide if that means it was wrong, too soon, too strange, too something else . . .

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