Friday, 24 January 2014

Lifted Up

I was invited to host a table at the Speed Learning event, part of the Workplace Learning stream at the Bett Conference in London yesterday. The theme, as articulated in the programme - was "...developing cost-effective, exciting and engaging new learning resources". This was new territory for me - as I effectively only had three minutes to share my 'story' and another seven minutes for discussion and questions, before the participants moved on to the next table and off we go again. No slides, no visual aids, no microphones, no co-speaker, no chairperson... Just me and 8-10 people, up close and personal for ten minutes - five times in one hour!

So, now that that hour has been and gone - and what an intense hour it was - what did I learn from the experience?

Well, anyone who has read any of my blogs or participated in any of my conference sessions previously will be aware that being stuck for words is not one of my areas for development! If anything, it's the opposite and I am constantly challenging myself to be more succinct in both my verbal and my written delivery. (You can take the boy out of acting, but you can't take the actor out of the boy. Someone once said that if the fridge door light came on, I would do twenty minutes!)

I wanted to share our story at FirstGroup of deploying Webex, coupled with our existing voice conference provider, as both a learning and a business communication tool, and to illustrate some examples of the challenges, mistakes and successes. Now, I have touched on this before at a couple of conferences, as a 'work in progress' and as part of a wider usually 20-30 minute talk. I have never had to compact four years' worth of work into three minutes! 

Serendipitously, I had been involved in a conversation at work last week, where the concept of the 'elevator pitch' came up. It's one of those phrases one hears and kind of assumes that one knows what it means, until one is challenged to explain it. I couldn't, but someone else did and we discussed how one would use the time between floors in a hypothetical lift with the Chief Executive, to 'make your pitch', tell your story, etc. and how one would have to focus on clarity and impact.

So that's what I did. On the run, I trimmed my story down to the bare essentials. I focused on a very brief history of how we got to where we are, some mistakes made along the way, why we decided to take the route we took, some examples of success in L&D (Data Protection Training, if you want to know) and one or two 'words to the wise' for anyone considering that approach. I was really challenged by the three minute deadline, but relaxed into the seven minute conversation with the rest of the table, which allowed expansion.

Great timekeeping and framing by Marc Powell ensured that everyone stuck to the timings and some really fruitful conversations seemed to be occurring across the room.  My only regret is that I didn't get the chance to hear my fellow hosts' stories at their own tables.
I realised afterwards, on the train home, that I had had a unique opportunity to put theory into practise. I had an understanding of the concept of the elevator pitch beforehand, but had now had a real chance to walk the talk in the session, learn from each of the five conversations, and refine both the technique and my story, for real. Invaluable.  So what will I do differently in the future? As I articulated in my tweet last night, I'll be aiming for focus, clarity and impact in my communications in the future.

My final learning point - if there's ever another Speed Learning hosting opportunity, I'll make sure I've got a bottle of water with me. I was parched by the end of the hour! Still talking tho'...