How to make the most of professional development

Last weekend I attended an amazing professional development conference on public speaking, lavishly titled “HEROIC PUBLIC SPEAKING… Live!”

How to get the most out of your PD sessions

Now, I’ve been to a lot of conferences and I often feel lucky to get a single practical tip from my 3-day investment of sitting in windowless basement rooms bathed in fluorescent lighting.  This was not the case with HPS.  I left feeling lifted up, inspired, and confident that I would never be the same… and I want to share a few of them with you.

In my experience, there are three kinds of ah-ha moments you can get from a PD:

That’s such a great way to say that! Stolen.

And you write down the quote or a phrase and vow that the next time you are explaining that thing you’ll use those exact words.

This happened to me during Heroic Public Speaking (HPS) during a session on “Finding the Funny with Ron Tite.” One of my goals with my students is to get them to REVISE. I talk a lot about the “terrible first draft” and how that’s an opening bid. It’s NOT the final paper!

So, Ron Tite was talking about how jokes will sometimes fall out of the sky while you are speaking.  Someone will say something funny and you’ll respond with a witty one-liner and everyone will laugh. “It’s like panning for silver,” he said.

Then he said this:

“So, yes, you should always pan for silver while you are speaking.  But while you can pan for silver you have to WORK for gold. Take that serendipitous moment and work it– try it this way, try it that way, keep at it until you have the timing and delivery NAILED. Then you have GOLD. Never settle for silver when you can have gold.”

How AMAZING is that?  I wrote it down and thought about it A LOT for the next few days.

What an amazing idea! I’m going to give that a try!

You zone out for a few minutes and capture the idea and your quick assessment of its specific potential in your notes.

This happened to me during a session with Michael Port (co-founder of HPS) focused on harnessing the power of stories in your speeches. I tell A LOT of stories because I I know that my students weren’t really listening the first time. In fact, it’s my belief that they really couldn’t listen without the story. So I tell them the thing, tell them a story, and tell them the thing again. It works pretty well, except that I have a tendency to ramble.  I get sidetracked in the middle or I’m not sure where I’m headed until I’m there. It’s a problem.

Now, Michael Port says this:

“Now, I don’t script every second of a 3-day workshop, but I script every single one of my stories.  They are too important to leave to chance. I want to be sure that they have the right amount of conflict and that I know what the resolution and moral are BEFORE I start telling them. That doesn’t mean that I always know when a story is going to be used, but if it’s a story I tell a lot, then I take the time to script it.”

WHAT?!? Script these stories!?!  I have a total of 12 class sessions and I tell the same stories all the time, semester in, semester out. If I took the time during my class preparation time to script those stories, I’d stop rambling and get through my content with time to spare.

I’ve been doing the whole thing wrong the whole time.

This is when someone who has “cracked the code” on something major shares their method and you realize that you have the potential to be 1000x better.  You practically transcribe their words in your notes in your enthusiasm to get it all down.

This happened to me when Amy Port (co-founder of HPS) shared her rehearsal method.  I speak a lot- I teach classes, I give A LOT of workshops and PDs and I’m pretty good “on the fly.”  It’s a skill I’ve had practically since birth and so I don’t really practice my presentations. I run through the slides in my head but I don’t script them because, I tell myself, that would take all the energy out of it. I’d lose my mojo.

She didn’t buy it.  I don’t know if she came right out and said it, but she led me to the crushing realization that it was lazy and irresponsible to rest on natural skill to avoid preparation. As she broke down the SEVEN-STEP rehearsal process that would take my presentation from good to great, I felt both horrified and inspired.  This process, if I adopted it, would give me the time to anticipate and troubleshoot the likely (and known) misconceptions, making the presentation more likely to actually help people.

Now you can see why I was so darn excited when I left HPS. Isn’t that how you felt after the last great PD you attended?.



BUT, I’ve been obsessed for years with why experiences like this one do SO LITTLE to actually change people.  What I’ve learned is that while this heady, over the moon feeling can (and will) create a magnificent infusion of motivation, it would do nothing for behavior change.

In fact, that kind of lit up, walking on air feeling is the exact opposite of what works to change behavior. Typically, you walk out of a room like that wanting to BE different. I want to BE the person (already) who rehearses until she knows the presentation in her bones. Who works for gold. Who scripts every single story she ever tells again. But, that kind of thinking leads us to look for a HUGE, systemic transformation… which doesn’t exist.

You and I both know that real, sustainable change comes from the accumulation of moments going differently over time. For example, next time I’m preparing for a class do I take 30 minutes and script 2-3 likely stories? If I change small moments like that one a bunch of times, I will live my way into becoming the person who scripts stories. It’s as simple as that.

To ensure that you get the most out of the next transformative PD you go to, I want to offer you my personal three step process to take you from over the moon, to making change ON THE GROUND in your life.

Try it! And tell me how it works for you!

How to get the most out of your PD sessions

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