Presentation Skills

Last week I delivered the second of the revised presentation skills workshops we are running this term. While the previous version of the workshop generally got good feedback and was well-attended, there were frequent requests for a workshop where people could practice presentations. As this is a key skill for all postgraduate researchers I decided to redesign the workshop to include short presentations from each attendee.

The key factor in redesigning the workshop was time – the workshop lasts two hours and I didn’t want to increase it to a whole day as this would make it more difficult for people to attend.  In order to keep the workshop short moved some of the content on planning and structuring a presentation online as pre-course reading (this is an example of asynchronous delivery if we’re being formal) and included a pre course task – the creation of a three-minute presentation. Completion of the reading and the task are mandatory – participants have to do both before they attend the workshop.  I chose to use Prezi to deliver the pre course reading so that postgraduate researchers could experience a different method of giving presentations, as the main body of the workshop is delivered in PowerPoint.

I also decided to recruit a pool of PG training assistants to help deliver the workshop. This has already proved to be really beneficial, giving participants a range of experiences to learn from and discuss and enabling everyone to get feedback on their practice presentations. Participants split into small groups and get peer feedback on presentations, while the assistant (last week it was Pamela, a postgraduate researchers from the College of Social Sciences) and I circulate and give our feedback as well. As current workshops have had fairly low attendance this meant in practice that everyone got both peer and facilitator feedback. If numbers increase this may not be the case and I will have to decide how I want to approach this.

On the whole I felt the workshop went well. I really enjoyed having Pamela to work with as I felt the different experiences and approaches we bought to the workshop were useful for a mixed group. We spent longer on body language than I had anticipated thanks to the input of one of the participants, and I will make a note to include more on this in future workshops and possibly reduce the amount of time spent talking about PowerPoint, as there is already a stand alone workshop on presenting using PowerPoint that postgraduate researchers can attend.

I also need to take another look at how the pre-course task is stated. Participants must have a presentation to deliver at the workshop and both the pre-course reading and the confirmation email state that if they do not they will not be able to attend the workshop. Despite this several people had not prepared a presentation and I had to ask them to book on a different workshop. I feel that it is important that everyone give a presentation in order to get the most out of the workshop. Having everyone give a presentation also helps to create the feeling of a safe space to give and receive criticism; I don’t feel it is fair to the rest of the group if there are people who don’t take part in giving presentations. I have asked colleagues to look over the sections relating to the task and make sure that it is clear, as several people I had to turn away stated they didn’t realise it was mandatory.

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Did someone say poster?

It’s that time of year again where I find myself planning and prepping for that special day that takes place every year that we all look forward to.  Of course you will all know I’m referring to the Annual Research Poster Conference.  The conference isn’t until June 12th 2013 however, being our flagship event, it’s large and complex and requires a lot of planning.  Applications have been emailed in for the Project Support Assistant (PSA) roles and the next stage is to shortlist these with my colleague, Erika Hawkes.  I have completed all of the project plans and will begin to put them into practice with my new A Team of PSAs in January.

The Research Poster Conference 2012

The Research Poster Conference 2012

What is the Research Poster Conference I hear you ask?  Well, it’s a great opportunity for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) to practice talking about their research and to people of all levels, become familiar to a conference environment and generally develop skills.  It’s a busy but fun day where PGRs have the chance to be recognised by the University and wider community and celebrate all of their hard work and achievements.

Last year was a great success with over 250 PGRs presenting (the largest number we’ve ever had!) and trying to improve on it will be the challenge for 2013.  (Take a look at the photographs from last year) I’ve already planned several changes including reverting back to a simpler judging system.  For 2012 my team of PSAs and I experimented with a complex system of judging which ultimately created huge amounts of work for us (and one PSA in particular who probably hasn’t been near a spreadsheet since)  and, after reading feedback, seemed to be disliked by some presenters.  Another major change for the 2013 event will be, for the first time, a filtering system whereby we will only chose the highest quality applications to go forward to present at the conference.  This is due to the increasing number of applicants each year with the Great Hall finally reaching capacity at last year’s event.  We’re also looking to invite a greater variety of external guests to add more networking opportunities for our PGRs.

If you are thinking of applying to present (and I think you should!) the applications will open in February.  If you are accepted you will be expected to submit your poster by April and then you simply need to attend the conference on June 12th in the Great Hall.  Easy!  I’m always happy to receive suggestions and particularly of people to invite so please feel free to get in touch any time at k.loynes@bham.ac.uk .  If I don’t see you at a TGS Friday before the holidays, enjoy your time off and we will see you in the New Year.

Kimberley Loynes,

Marketing and Events project officer

University Graduate School

Speedy Reading

Four blue books in a pile

Reading piling up? The Speed Reading workshop helps develop techniques to get through text more quickly.

On Wednesday 14 November I ran the first Speed Reading workshop of the year. Speed Reading is the longest workshop we run at the UGS, lasting most of the day. As such it’s a challenge for both the facilitator and the participants. It can be tiring, but feedback generally shows that people value what they learned in the workshop.
I had a smaller group than I had expected recurring power cuts on campus may have influenced some people’s decision to stay home! While they were quiet at first they did seem to enjoy the small group discussions about reading styles and their attitudes to reading, and fed back some interesting points.  I encourage people to reflect on their reading habits which is often something they have previously given much thought to- when was the last time you thought about how you read, rather than what you were reading?

The majority of the day is given over to trying out different speed reading techniques- using a pacer or pointer, grouping words, or focussing on moving forward through the text. After each technique is introduced I ask the group to do a one minute reading test, and capture their reading scores. This is really useful as it gives the group concrete evidence that their hard work is paying off. At the end of the day when they compared their final score to the baseline exercises we do first thing in the morning, it was really satisfying to see that several people had doubled or even tripled their read speed, and that everyone was reading more quickly.

One of the concerns raised in the workshop was around the issue of comprehension several PGRs were concerned that they were reading quickly, but not always retaining or understanding everything they read. I tried to  reassure people by pointing out that we were focusing on the technique, and that once that had been mastered, comprehension would rise again. I also recommended that they practice on material they were familiar with, or material in the language they were most comfortable reading.

We spent some time discussing different note taking techniques. I found it challenging to draw out people’s different approaches to note taking, and the section on Mindmaps (along with the lunchtime task to draw a mind map) seemed to be less well-received than it has been in previous versions. This could mean I need to think more carefully about how to introduce different concepts of note taking, and maybe include different examples of people’s note taking approaches in the workshop slides to stimulate discussion.
The main challenge I found in facilitating this workshop is the length and the amount of concentration it needed both on my part and on the part of the group. This made the workshop mentally and physically tiring and in the afternoon session it was clear that many participants were lacking in energy. It became harder to motivate participants because I myself was tired.  I finished the workshop early in part because of this, and also due to power cuts elsewhere on campus.  Feedback on the day indicated that a lot of the group found the workshop tiring. This confirms my observations over several iterations of this workshop, so I’m going to take time to look at the workshop and see if it could be condensed into a morning or afternoon session.

Watch this Space

I’m still getting everything set up around here but this will be the reflective blog for the Universtiy of Birmingham Graduate School. Expect to find reflections from trainers on our workshop and activities, discussions around postgraduate researcher development, and links to interesting posts elsewhere.

By using this blog to reflect on my practice, I’m hoping to gain deeper insights into how I facilitate training, and also give insights into some of our workshops. Comments and suggestions are welcomed!

Check back soon for reflections on the Speed Reading and Starting to Write Workshops. In the meantime you can check out our website or follow us on twitter @uobGradSchool.