I don’t know what it is about speaking in front of other teachers, but when I have to do it for professional development from time to time, I often get really stressed out and worry about it the entire time until it’s over. Other teachers share the same sentiment! Odd being that we speak in front of our students every day and don’t really think twice about it, but when it comes to adults… forget about it. This is definitely how our students feel when they have to present in front of the class.
How I applied to be a conference presenter
So naturally, when I had the opportunity to become a conference presenter, I jumped at the chance!! Haha… not really. But the opportunity did present itself without me really looking for it…
Last year I was teaching a lesson with the principal present in the classroom, as one of my official teacher observations. I decided to ask him to come to one of my hybrid Socratic seminars, which is like a regular Socratic seminar, but with a technology twist! I ended up making my first TPT resource based on this: check it out!
After the evaluation, I was nervous to get my observation notes back. To my surprise, they were really good! My principal even told me I should consider submitting this activity as a presentation at an upcoming charter school conference that he presented at some years ago. “It was a great experience for me!” he wrote in his notes. I thought about doing this in front of so many people, and my stress levels rose through the roof. I thanked him for his notes and said I would think about.
That was in May of 2017 and I forgot about it until the school year started up again in August, when my principal sent an email around to select teachers who had unique activities/lessons going on in their classrooms and said that the deadline for the charter school conference was in November, if we were interested in applying. The school would pay for our hotel room, transportation, and meals if we were selected as a presenter. That was intriguing… I had never presented at a conference before… and this would be a great challenge for me, and one I could take back and talk about to my students when it was over… I talked to my husband about it and he seemed keen to it, and said that he would support me if I wanted to it. So besides all those negative thoughts in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough for something like this, I decided to go for it. I came up with a catchy presentation title: Hack into Hybrid: The 21st Century Socratic Seminar (gotta love that alliteration), and I wrote a 30-word description of my lesson in my application (which took 2 days to write in the most specific and succinct way I could). Finally, I hit submit and decided to leave it in God’s hands.
Reaction to being chosen
November soon rolled around. Out of the 5 teachers that the email was sent to, 2 of us decided to apply, and out of the 2 of us, I was the only one chosen! I was extremely surprised that I was the only one chosen to represent our charter school and my immediate thoughts were dread and stress, but also so excited that I was given the opportunity to present in front of other charter school stakeholders. I was relieved that the conference was in March 2018. I felt like I had enough time to prepare an HOUR LONG (!!!) presentation until then. I found out that I would be presenting on the third and last day of the conference and at 8:30 am. Well, I thought… At least not that many people would show up that early?? (Later, I would turn out to be mostly wrong. Teachers are used to getting up early!)
The preparations began. I created a Google slideshow all about Hybrid Socratic Seminar and I really had to break it down in several components so that teachers could understand my process fully and take this back to their own classrooms. I then had to make sure I was teaching Hybrid Socratic Seminar sometime between November and March, so I could videotape my students actually participating in one (I prayed that they could produce good discussions that were appropriate and thoughtful, haha. Luckily, they did!
The director of my charter school offered to watch me present my slideshow so that he could give me feedback, if I wanted, before doing the real deal. I accepted his offer, despite me being nervous presenting in front of him as well. I wanted to make our school proud and offer teachers something tangible and useful to bring back to their classrooms and I wanted it to come out in a coherent way; I just hoped that if I could do it in front of him, I could do it in from of strangers in March.
It was February 2018 when I felt that I had a good presentation with video to show my director. He ended up bringing one of the board members to my presentation as well, so that made me more nervous, but also happy because they both were taking time out to help me do this (mixed emotions were rampant in this time of my life). It turned out better than I thought and they gave me lots of good advice and feedback that I never even thought of – such as explaining to teachers right at the beginning why Hybrid Socratic Seminar is worth doing FIRST, before jumping into the process, and adding some research driven data to really hone in the importance (admin and data go together like peanut butter and jelly). They also suggested I videotape the students’ reactions to Hybrid Socratic Seminar, as in what they thought about it, how it’s useful to them to speak their minds and opinions, etc. Luckily I had just taught my students how to use Flipgrid so this was a piece of cake! I was grateful for all of their advice – I don’t think the presentation would have turned out so thorough without them.
Arriving at the conference
It was finally the end of March and I arrived with my family at the conference. I brought my slideshow and videos on my laptop AND on a flash drive. I brought speakers in case the room where I was presenting didn’t have any (which of course they did). I brought 50 copies of my handouts. I triple checked all my slides and made sure I had my laptop charger. I was really paranoid that all the audio-visual stuff wasn’t going to work. Technology can be so finicky when you actually WANT it to work.
I went through the first two days of the conference happily, yet I knew that my presentation was coming soon, so I tried to shove those feelings of nervousness way down deep inside until the third day rolled around. One thing I definitely felt while I was there – I really felt like a small fry, compared to all the administrators and directors and other head honchos who were present there! Honestly, I looked at the presentation list, and I was just one of a handful of classroom teachers that were presenting. I had a long talk with my husband on Tuesday night about my nerves, and he did his best to reassure me that they wouldn’t have picked my presentation if they didn’t find it valuable. My principal and one of my colleagues went to the conference too, and they reassured me of the same thing. They want to see what’s actually happening in charter school classrooms – and my presentation would be an excellent example of that! Still, Tuesday night, I was mostly a wreck, going over my slides over and over again as my toddler went nuts in the hotel room (luckily he fell asleep without issue and I got a few hours of sleep in too!)
The morning of my presentation
I left the hotel early without my principal and my colleague to set up. I got to my room around 7:30, an hour before I was supposed to present. No one was there in my room yet, but there were definitely people in the convention center who were walking to various rooms. Thankfully, I figured out how to plug in my laptop and work the speakers and the microphone all on my own. That was such a relief to me, because that was a huge source of my stress! After about 15 minutes, I was already set to go, but I still had to wait 45 minutes!
I met my moderator not that long after, who was a young guy who worked for the organization that set up the charter school conference. He had a very soothing voice and he told me that he was excited for my presentation. He had seen it in the catalog and was intrigued by the integration of technology into classroom discussion. I found out that he grew up in the same city as I did! This conversation actually helped me relax a lot, and I was grateful that he was chosen to be my moderator. Not long after I spoke to him, my colleagues came in to support me, and other audience members trickled in. My principal told me that at the end of my presentation he had counted 26 people, which is pretty good for a large conference with so many presentations to choose from in the same time slot!
I definitely was nervous once my moderator introduced me and I began. It was a slow beginning, as I had a link for everyone to go to on their devices to see my slides, and I had to wait for everyone to be on the same page. But soon after that, I was doing it! I was presenting! And I finally started to relax and feel comfortable about what I was doing! It’s exactly as I always tell my students when they get nervous about presenting – just jump in and do it and you’ll do fine!
At the end of my lecture we had about 10 minutes left. I was shocked that I was able to make my presentation stretch as long as I did! I left it open to audience Q&A, and I was very pleased to hear the kinds of questions being asked, such as “How do you get your students to feel comfortable discussing controversial topics?” and “How do you ‘let go’ in the classroom and allow your students to take over the discussion?” and “How do you teach students to listen as well as they participate?” I don’t know how I came up with the answers I did but my principal later told me that I answered the questions better than he would have. Some of the people in the audience started to feed off each other’s responses as well, in a positive way! This was so much better than I thought it would be!
So relieved after I was finished. Two of the teachers in the audience approached me after the presentation to tell me that I did a great job and that they were inspired by my students and I, and they would try Hybrid Socratic Seminar when they got back to their schools. They even emailed me later that day to get the resource digitally!
I was so proud of myself that I was able to take on this public speaking challenge. Right after my presentation, and after high-fiving my colleagues, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. I went directly back to my hotel to collapse in a heap.
Given the opportunity to do this again, I most definitely would.
Some conference tips, for anyone that will be presenting for the first time!
- Arrive early to set up. At least 30-40 minutes early. You might not know how the room is laid out ahead of time, or what technology you will be provided with… And, it’s also good just to have some time for mental preparation.
- Come prepared for any technical glitch. As I mentioned earlier, I had my slideshow online, on my desktop, and on a zip drive. I brought speakers, hard copies, and my laptop and phone charger. You just never know!
- Have a way for audience members to engage. From watching other presenters at this conference, this really is key for understanding and for the audience to remember you. I had Q&A at the end of mine, but other presenters had mini-lessons for everyone to participate in, or had live surveys for everyone to take during the conference, or simply used their winning sense of humor to get everyone to laugh (wish I had this talent!).
- Show students in action in your presentation. The point of any teaching conference really is to get our students to succeed. So when you have pictures or videos of your students in action, everyone is reminded of their purpose for being there, and it makes your presentation that much more relevant to teachers.
- Get feedback from an outside party. I was able to present in front of my director and came away with a lot of good ideas, but try presenting in front of another teacher friend, or even a non-teacher friend and try to get their perspective on it. Did they understand every aspect of your presentation or were some parts unclear or confusing? I promise this is worth your time to make your presentation so much more effective!
- Show data that proves the effectiveness of your presentation. I used data from John Hattie‘s book Visible Learning and how classroom discussion has a bigger effect size than direct instruction. Real numbers can sometimes drive the point home stronger than anything else.
- Provide teachers with a tangible lesson to return with! Always give both hard copies and digital copies of your slideshow. Think about being a teacher at a large teaching conference and being able to choose the presentations you want to attend, and therefore foregoing other presentations you won’t be able to attend as a result. You want to make sure the presentation you chose had some real takeaways that you can use in your classroom right away! As a presenter, keep this in mind when developing your presentation. I used goo.gl to create a shortened URL for my slides so it was faster and easier for teachers to access, but I saw other presenters using Nearpod. I also included a slide at the end of my presentation that had my email address and instagram account so that teachers could reach me after my presentation if they wanted!
- Have a support system in place. Having my husband and son at the conference was invaluable to my mental health while I was there! Having my principal and my colleagues watching my presentation was also a big boost. I definitely would not have felt comfortable doing this for the first time without them!
…And that’s it! My almost yearlong journey to presenting at my first big conference. Let me know if you have any questions about what I did, and I’ll do my best to answer! Share out below if you’ve ever presented at a big teaching conference, and what it was like for you the first time!
Thanks for reading!