After putting the final touches on the presentation itself, cutting paper squares for the origami project, packing the big yellow ball, and making copies of the line dance, Karen and I headed to Lake Charles last week for the VCC, Various Chemical Companies, HR Conference at the Golden Nugget. With such a fun place and such fun people, we knew that we would enjoy this opportunity -- and we really did!! I created a customized presentation called “Show Your Work!” designed to help HR professionals use observational learning strategies to model effective communication skills. These professionals already utilize strong communication skills every single day on the job, so I shared concrete strategies to help model these skills for others to copy and use. But as I planned and researched and prepared (all things I LOVE to do) for the presentation, I needed an activity to demonstrate the importance of modeling, of “showing” how to do something instead of just “telling” what to do! Because I can’t cook, knit, or throw a curveball (all better “show, not tell” activities), I can dance (not all that well but I can hold a beat!).
So for the presentation, I decided to teach the Cut a Rug Line Dance. To learn the dance from “telling” only, here are some of the directions: step right foot to right side, step together with left foot; repeat; step left foot to left side, step together with the right foot; repeat; step right foot to right front diagonal; touch left foot beside right; step left foot to left back diagonal, touch right foot beside left … See what I mean? Learning to do a line dance by only reading or hearing the words is almost impossible! The very best way to learn the dance is to have someone “show” you the steps and use words to explain each one. So after a few minutes of squirming and confused faces while reading the steps on the handout we provided, I stepped up to the front of the room to model the steps and teach the dance. Now here is where I should write “and we all joyfully learned the dance and had a great time line dancing to Alan Jackson!” But - due to overwhelming conference attendance (a few participants didn’t RSVP) and a very small conference room (again probably because of the missing RSVPs), we had very little space to dance. As I looked out at the crowded conditions, I thought that the activity would fail miserably and began frantically thinking of a Plan B, but those participants jumped (well more of stepped lightly) in and worked to master the dance steps even with little room to move. Instead of “stepping” to the right, they all shuffled just a bit. Instead of moving “diagonally,” they just moved a bit forward. And at times, we all just stood in one spot and bounced to the music! Through all the laughter and the apologies for stepping on toes, we just made it work and had a great time line dancing!
Although I know that these HR professionals totally understood the point of the activity and connected to my point that “showing” is so much more effective than “telling,” we all learned some other important lessons from the experience. Sometimes even the best planned activity or experience can face unexpected problems or obstacles, but we need to just work through it the best we can. Maybe that very important meeting you planned and prepared for is canceled and there is no time to reschedule. Find the best way to share the needed information using email or even sharing an infographic (visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly). Maybe your technical equipment (projector, speakers, even the wifi) will not work correctly for that training or presentation. As a trainer/presenter, always be prepared for this situation -- I promise it WILL happen to you. Always have the presentation saved multiple ways without the need for wifi; bring your own projector if possible; and use your phone and a microphone instead speakers (that’s how we danced to Alan Jackson!).
etc Strategies believes that having a make it work attitude will always help when things go wrong. Thinking through alternative options, preparing for problems, and keeping a positive outlook will help you figure out the best way to meet your communication goal. And a BIG thanks to all of the participants of the VCC Conference who enthusiastically made it work and danced, danced, danced!