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Communicating for Connection Through Inclusive Presentation Practices

Date: 25 August 2021
The photo is taken indoors in a room with natural lighting filtering in from the background of the photo. Viewers will notice in the blurred background a two-level plant stand with plants and a yellow chair or sofa at the right side of the frame. The main subject of the photo is a person with brown skin and short black hair. He is wearing a fitted flannel button up shirt. The main subject is captured in side profile. The person is smiling at a person speaking with him in a video meeting on a laptop. The person speaking with him from the video meeting is slightly out-of-focus. Photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

The photo is taken indoors in a room with natural lighting filtering in from the background. Viewers will notice in the blurred background a two-shelf plant stand in the center of the frame and a yellow chair or sofa at the right side of the frame. The main subject of the photo is a person with brown skin and short black hair. The person is wearing a fitted flannel button-up shirt and is captured in side profile. The person is smiling at another person’s face on the laptop, and it appears they are in a video meeting. The person on the computer screen is slightly out of focus. Photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

When we know who we are speaking with and what needs to be communicated, the “how” presents itself. This applies across all settings — in a team meeting, during a Zoom call and while breaking bread with loved ones. As AEP primes its membership for a second virtual gathering this fall, the institution has invested dedicated space for presenters to think critically and creatively about the “who,” “what” and “how” of their upcoming presentations. This post’s “behind the curtain” look into the inclusive presentation preparation process not only shares transparency into how presenters develop their content but serves as an offering for those among us in roles that require external communication.

I believe that the people I collaborate with harbor deep wisdom simply waiting to be acknowledged, accessed and aligned with a current set of circumstances. As a facilitator, coach and founder of Lightwell Coaching and Consulting, I spend most of my working time asking clarifying and probing questions to unlock this wisdom. The process of working with AEP’s presenter teams is very similar. To develop rapport with presenter teams (the ‘who’ of my audience), I always begin presenter coaching conversations by offering clear outcomes (the ‘what’ of my communication) and a proposed agenda to guide our way (the ‘how’ of my approach to communicating). This early modeling sets the stage for a conversation in which presenter teams are invited to do the same.

I started my coaching work with the AEP virtual gathering presenter team by asking, “What is calling you to present this year?” Each presenter’s answer has been timely, imbued with conviction in a given topic and ripe with applicability across multiple contexts. I refrain from asking a ‘why’ question right out of the gate because of the subjective responses they elicit. (To illustrate this point, you might consider the last time you were asked a ‘why’ question, and while prioritizing your safety, recall the physical feeling(s) and the answer you generated in that setting.) Inviting presenters into the ‘what’ of our societal times becomes the equivalent of being taken on a grand journey into the depths of the present day and what can be.

The “who” and the “what” of coaching

During each coaching session, presenter teams thoughtfully navigate from the “what” of their content to the “who” with precision and intent. At this stage of coaching sessions, I work with presenters to hone their presentation’s content focus and intended audience and ask two specific questions: “What does a successful presentation look like to you?” and “What do you want your audience to take with them?”

AEP staff are committed to requesting demographic data from event registrants to ensure an awareness of the array of roles present and accommodations requested for full participation in the gathering space. As the presentation coach, I equip presenter teams with this information to create tailored and inclusive approaches that deliver critically important information in relevant and applicable ways.

The “how” of coaching

After we understand the “what” and “who” of the presentation, I invite presenters into an exploration of their specific ‘how’ by asking, “What will your audience most need to feel seen and heard?”

At AEP and Lightwell, we know that gathering participants are joining this year’s event for several reasons — from acquiring new knowledge and growing their network to finding inspiration for a new or existing effort and more. I coach gathering presenters to think deeply about what their audience needs and wants most through a “presenting for” approach. When we “present to” an audience, the audience is secondary and at the mercy of the content being shared based on the discretion of the presenter. To determine if a presenter is oriented toward a “presenting for” rather than a “presenting to” communication style, I help presenters think through such questions as, “How might I ensure that what I think my online audience will want is prioritized over the array of topics I might want to share in my online presentation?” and “How will I explicitly communicate to my audience that my presentation is tailored for this specific audience?”

AEP and Lightwell aim to ensure that this year’s virtual gathering audience feels:

  • Knowledgeable about the work of other arts education organizations.
  • Motivated to connect with AEP and other arts education organizations during and after the event.
  • Inspired to apply learnings from the event in their own work and community environments.

Each pre-event coaching session is equally an opportunity for presenters to also feel knowledgeable, motivated and inspired as they prepare for this fall’s gathering. It is an honor to work alongside and get to know the brilliant people featured at this year’s virtual event!

Virtual gathering participants are in for a treat next month. If you haven’t registered yet to participate in the 2021 AEP Virtual Gathering, we hope you’ll join us in September. Registration is free and available to anyone passionate about ensuring high-quality arts education for all learners.