What you like vs. what I value: Lessons in rehearsal and audience
So, Saturday marked the first time my students have consistently and pretty much across the board produced knock out worst case scenario team presentations. For a bit of context, check out the assignment here. Normally, groups either get the demonstration down, but skimp on actual information, they provide great information, but fail to demonstrate their process, make a complete mockery of the assignment by not following it at all, not rehearsing, and not working together, or put together something that is perfect on paper, but doesn’t come through in delivery. Well, this time, overall they were excellent (and this doesn’t mean there weren’t areas of improvement in each presentation, most notably the lack of mutual contribution in one group).
So, what made this bunch different? Some part of me believes it’s that they all wanted to help me break the streak of sub par presentations (which to them equals sub par grades) that their friends who’d survived PCP even noted. Another part of me knows that there was one huge difference from previous months: the dress rehearsal. I gave each group the chance to rehearse before class with me, to go over slides, to get feedback, to plan out movement and pacing. Four out of five groups chose to do this and four out of five groups did an amazing job and showed significant improvement from their rehearsal with me. Whether it was smoothening out transitions, ironing out awkward phrasing, or downright revising their entire direction in terms of delivery, the dress rehearsal not only allowed students to see what they did well and what parts needed visual or verbal tweaking, but what my reaction as audience member (and the amazing Alex Rister, queen of Public Speaking, hopefully soon to be gone, terribly missed super teacher) was to their approach in presenting this information.
So, in my efforts to tweak this class to better fit the super small workshop environment created by my class’s current small on campus numbers, I am blending in two new elements next month. More live presenting—typed homework is eliminated as well as the mini-discussions on design. These will now become short speeches delivered at the beginning of the TED and design units. The second will be the dress rehearsal. No longer optional, this 10 minute rehearsal slot will be used to help students better meet the requirements of the assignment and strengthen their commitment to rehearsal and preparation.
Something else very curious happened at the end of presentation day. After speaking to all of the groups, I took a bit of time with one group—my fearless naked presenters, Jen and Leah, whose incredible zombie apocalypse presentation ended with us actually killing zombies—to ask them which presentation they felt did the best job. Now, let me preface this epiphany by explaining that the presentation that clearly best matched not only the assignment objectives, but the gradeable elements on the rubric was on the topic of first meeting your significant other’s parents. Both Alex and I agreed that it was polished, well developed, rehearsed, included dynamic visuals, engaging demonstration, a strong hook, a great clincher, summary, and excellent coordination between the group members. I told the two gentlemen who delivered this presentation right after class that they were amazing and that I’d been looking for a great example video for future classes and that I was so happy they finally gave me one to use! These dudes kicked presentation butt and exceeded my expectations.
However, this is not who Jen and Leah chose as the best presentation. They chose instead a presentation entitled “How to De-hipster a Hipster” (a title I came up with by the way, and which was the third iteration of this group’s purpose and focus). This presentation was a great improvement from rehearsal, which was at times awkward, clunky, and definitely disconnected, featuring an awkward sort of accent, unnecessary sidebars, and a borderline ethos and pathos fail—too much mockery, not enough substance. The actual presentation clarified the focus, redistributed the presenters’ responsibilities, included more demo, and ditched the accent. However, from my perspective, it was just not as good as the meet the parents scenario. It wasn’t as polished, on target with the objectives, as carefully planned out, or devoid of awkwardness. But, I add that I was proud of their revisions and their ability to step up to the plate and make their presentation work. They were also funny as hell and right on target with their analysis of hipsters.
It made me think long and hard about the disconnect between what I look for and value in an amazing presentation and what students look for and value. Jen made a very good point—you (and here she means me) tell us to adapt to our audience, to make the presentation about them, well, that’s what the hipster presentation did; it made us laugh, it related to us. She admitted that the meet the parents presentation was better put together, but noted that she still connected to and engaged with the other. So, this disconnect fascinates me. Why is it that what I want and value is not what my students want and value? Why do they still admire the presentation that makes them laugh more over the presentation that best encapsulates the spirit of the assignment and the class values?