By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
A big plus at the National School Boards Association annual conference is the opportunity to observe presentations by local school leaders from across the country. With the 2015 NSBA event slated for nearby Nashville, Tenn., the chances for learning – and presenting – will be greatly enhanced for Kentucky district leaders.
With that in mind, I tried to use this year’s NSBA conference in New Orleans to gather insights into elements for those interested in successfully pitching and presenting sessions next year. (Disclosure note: I attended mostly on NSBA’s nickel, teaching several communications-related seminars.)
The self-nomination process will begin this summer and it’s a competition. The conference usually has more than 200 topical workshops, chosen from sometimes double that number of proposals. Making the cut this year were sessions on creating a college and career ready environment, engaging families as an alternative to expulsion, how to keep your school attorney from breaking the bank, accelerated learning through one-to-one technology, teaching about religion in public schools, high-impact board governance, student success through STEM and the arts, financial implications of the new USDA school meal rules, and data-driven decision making for boards. And these came from one morning breakout grouping!
There is no doubt that content is critical. But getting invited — and then getting invited back — can be enhanced by considering some of these factors.
The 2014 NSBA conference guide was 272 pages long. Clinic listings took more than 100 pages. Even for advance, online planners, picking among the massive array of workshops is a task. An engaging, intriguing session title is a must.
For example, Taylor County Schools Superintendent Roger Cook and his board baited people thusly: “The End of Education as We Know it!” There was an accompanying blurb about the district’s performance-based learning initiative, but I’d bet the farm the title clinched attendance for some.
Here are a few other catchy titles that drew crowds:
• How to avoid a test cheating scandal
• They snooze, you lose
• The seven myths of education
• 21st Century education is SO last century
• Saving the Great American School Board
• Becoming an RFP expert in 75 minutes
• Avoid being the next “hacked” headline.
Be creative, flexible
Speakers anchored behind a podium, doing little beyond standing, talking and clicking a PowerPoint had better be exceptionally dynamic, regardless of the subject matter. Positioning can make the difference.
A Boone County Schools clinic focused on the district’s “dispositional hiring” approach for teachers. At one point, an audience member said, “But school board members don’t hire teachers in our state,” essentially asking “What’s in this for us?” Superintendent Randy Poe popped up from the front row, and replied, “Do you hire the superintendent? Does he or she hire others?” The sense of relevance on the face of the questioner changed perceptibly.
In another session, Erlanger-Elsemere Independent Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burkhart suddenly left the stage, moved to the projection screen, and demonstrated her points about a complex slide. She forced the audience to shift attention to her new location, but also made it easier for people to follow her specific directions to elements of the slide.
And Eminence Independent Schools Superintendent Buddy Berry used two of his children and a nephew as co-presenters for a session on student use of technology. Now that’s creative!
Make it learner friendly
Here are a few quick tips from listening and watching this year:
• Don’t put too much text on projected slides – and never read a slide word for word
• Quick video hits break up a session, but be sure you’ve tested the sound connection beforehand
• Invest in a wireless remote and request a wireless lavaliere microphone – you may be surprised how much more an audience gets from presenters who aren’t tethered to the podium.
• Don’t keep an entire panel on stage unless they are going to be engaged the whole time.
Sitting in front of an audience for 75 minutes during which you may have 75 seconds of speaking time can be awkward, especially if you’re overcome by a sudden, uncontrollable yawn.
The Last Word
Presentations that are all about jamming as much content as possible in the allotted time too often don’t allow time for the message to sink in. Most folks will get the content if you’re willing to break the mold of a lecturer.
A dash of engaging, a teaspoon of entertaining mixed with a lot of enlightening can be a winning recipe for your audience.
And that’s a message worth getting out.