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Do Workshops Suck?

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on June 1, 2012 | Comments (7)

Babalon Rising

Next week, starting on June 6, I’ll be in French Lick, Indiana, at the Babalon Rising festival. As with most festivals, there will be lots of music, rituals, dancing, bonfires and workshops. I’ll be giving three workshops, one on a form of numerology most people don’t know about (hint: it’s Kabalistic), one on the five types of magick generally practiced by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (they call it the Magic of Light), and one on the practice of sex magick. I encourage adults—this is an adults-only festival—in the area (and even out of the area) to consider attending.

One of the people giving workshops is the noted hypnotherapist, NLP trainer, magician, and author, Phil Farber. In one workshop he’ll be sharing exercises for developing rapport leading to a group mind ritual. In another workshop he’ll be sharing “Techniques to create and manage wonderful feelings…with an eye (or other body part) aimed toward applying them to magick,…using some choice bits from hypnosis and NLP to explore how we can influence each other toward peak states of pleasure and intelligence.”

Phillip H. Farber

There are lots of other presenters and performers who will be there, and their schedule is posted. If I can find a link to the internet I’ll try to do a post from the site.

Workshops

I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to give presentations at festivals and conventions and trainings from Washington State to Florida, from Hawaii to New York, as well as in Europe. I’ve given workshops and talks to a few people and to groups of many hundreds. I consider myself very fortunate.

Although sometimes I present by myself, most often there are many people presenting. For example, a few years ago I was presenting at a festival where I was also able to attend a workshop by Phil Farber called something like “How to be a Megalomanic and Start Your Own Cult.” Well, that’s what I remember as the name. It was a great workshop. He demonstrated some amazing techniques, shared a lot of information, and we had a lot of fun.

On the Other Hand…

Unfortunately, not all workshops are that good. To be blunt, most of them suck. They’re excruciating to sit through and poorly presented. Some time ago I presented at a college. There were professors—professional presenters—from all over the world who were also giving presentations (“delivering papers”). Later, with more surprise than ego, I asked my girlfriend (Now my wife…Hi, Holly!), “Am I crazy, or am I that good a presenter and were those professors really bad?” Now, she may be prejudiced (she did agree to marry me), but she said I was correct. She told me that’s the way most professors are giving lectures and talks. They’re bad because those are the type of lectures they observed and that’s all they know how to present.

So this is not just a rant about presenters at festivals—most of whom are not professionals—nor is it a dis of teachers and presenters. Rather, it’s meant as a dual plea. My first plea is to presenters,

Note To Presenters:

Wise up! You’re in competition with books and ebooks and HBO and Xboxes and the internet. If you think you can survive by reading some notes that you project with Powerpoint, you’re living in 1990. Welcome to the 21st century.

When you give a presentation, there is a triad of things you need to be aware of: audiovisuals (including charts, Powerpoint or Keynote slides, a whiteboard, etc.), handouts, and you, the presenter. Each point on this triangle (if you use two or three points) has its own value, and simply repeating what is on one of the other points won’t cut it. For example, I’ve seen presenters who have handouts that include a written paragraph, a Powerpoint slide with the same paragraph, and then they read, out loud, the same freakin’ paragraph with all the emotion of a dead jellyfish! This is the worst of the worst.

As a presenter, the most important aspect of the presentation should be you. Any audiovisuals and handouts should support what you’re doing, not repeat or replace it. Putting up a paragraph for people to read is BORING. Having it on handouts as well as on a screen and reading it is BORING and redundant. How about, instead, showing photos or illustrations that demonstrate what you’re talking about or a photo of the person you’re quoting. While people watch the screen you can summarize the paragraph. The handout could contain the paragraph in full. Each point of the presenters’ triad—presenter, audiovisual, handouts—reinforces what you’re doing, they don’t replace it.

Is this going to be a bit more work for the presenter? Absolutely. And the presenters willing to do more and give more are the ones who will be asked back repeatedly.

Do you have to use all three points of the triad? No. Look at what I wrote above about Phil Farber’s workshop: “He demonstrated some amazing techniques, shared a lot of information, and we had a lot of fun.” He didn’t have handouts. He didn’t use audiovisuals. But his workshop was not just an in-person version of a book. A book can share lots of information, but it can’t give demonstrations (this may change in the future with eBooks). A book can’t immediately respond to the feelings and actions of the participants to make itself fun.

I hope, presenters, that you can understand what I’m sharing here. DON’T just read something you’ve written. Give a presentation. Learn about the dynamics of presenter and audience. Understand what I’ve called the presentation triad and its three points. Yes, you do need to provide information, but if people can find it in a book or on line, why should they listen to you? I would add that when presentations are involving and fun, rather than someone just reading something in a boring voice (“Bueller?…Bueller?”) your participants will learn more, retain more, and enjoy it more.

Note to Participants:

My second plea it to all of us who attend (or might attend) workshops at festivals and conventions. Part of the reason presentations and workshops suck is because we, the people who attend such things, don’t demand more. If you accept poor workshops and poor presentations, why should the presenters give you anything else? Why should the people putting on the workshop or presentation ask more of the workshop presenters?

You can stop “Death by Powerpoint” and other horrible presentations and workshop! Be polite, but tell the people putting on the event that although you found the material interesting (if you did), the presenter did a poor job. Don’t just say it was bad, however, explain what you didn’t like and how the presenter could improve. Share this with the presenter, too. We need the feedback. Unless we demand it, workshops and presentations will not meet the level of quality I think we all deserve.

And when someone gives an excellent presentation or workshop, let the presenter and the people putting on the workshops know.

What Do You Think?

Have you attended some excellent workshops?
Who gave it and what it about?
What did they do that made the presentation excellent?

Have you attended some awful workshops?
No need to name who gave it, but what did he or she do that you didn’t like.

Let us know in the comments section below.

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Andrieh Vitimus
on June 1st, 2012 @ 10:44 am

“Wise up! You’re in competition with books and ebooks and HBO and Xboxes and the internet. If you think you can survive by reading some notes that you project with Powerpoint, you’re living in 1990. Welcome to the 21st century.”

While I agree with you, that the majority of presentations suck and it is real work to get the presentations to be great. Real work. I know personally, I work very hard at bettering my presentations.

What this post doesn’t account for is that there is very little financial gain for better presentations in the culture of paganism and occultism to develop those skills. In fact, I have NLP certification and am pursuing my Master NLP. The fact is that to get good at presenting opens an area of motivational speaking ( which Phil Farber often does) that is far more lucrative then metaphysics. So in away, asking people to demand more and pay those presenters less ( as in not paying, or letting them in for free at best) is still keeping the same “profit” structure to not only be unfair to most presenters, it continue a model with little financial motivation. For participants, it continues the entitlement of modern society and we are left with a continuing unfair imbalance of “free should be great”. Simply put, that never works except for the few people at the top of the occult world that can make back the income through rock-star status.

Market forces apply still and great presentations are a skill that should be learned and compensated for and selected for in that compensation.

Sorry to play the devil’s advocate, I still think your a hell of a writer and love your work as well enjoyed meeting you at Starwood, I just disagree here.

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#2 
Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on June 1st, 2012 @ 11:13 am

Thank you, Andrieh! I enjoyed meeting you, too. And, having a degree in philosophy, I think it’s great that we can disagree without being disagreeable. And part of disagreeing means supporting differing positions strongly.

I do understand what you’re saying. You are right. Most presenters at Pagan festivals and conventions make very little. Some do it for nothing. I don’t know of any presenter who can live only off what he or she earns speaking at festivals. So I sympathize (believe me, I DO sympathize) with your point.

However, I have this old philosophy that if you’re going to do something you should do it to the best of your ability. Watching professors—many of whom get paid very well—bore students into a coma is not my idea of doing your best. The same is true of workshops at festivals.

Perhaps I’m just naive, but I have the belief that most presenters at festivals want to do the very best they can. So I don’t think it’s a question of being a slacker, it’s more a situation of not knowing there is something they can do to be more effective. My first plea hints at the technique: the triad of presentation. But unless a presenter learns that he or she should do better, they will have no reason to find out how to improve. That’s where attendees offering feedback is important.

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#3 
Written By Christiana Gaudet
on June 1st, 2012 @ 11:22 am

Wise words from one of the best presenter ever! Thanks for this.

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#4 
Written By Taliesin Govannon
on June 1st, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

Another thing people need to remember is that there are multiple techniques to giving good presentations.

One reason people tend to give such awful presentations is because they (think) that they have no idea of how to talk to a group of people. Our very society re-enforces this, by treating public speaking as something to be feared and loathed. Seriously… I saw a poll once that listed public speaking as the thing that people feared most… death came in second! In other words, at a funeral, more people would rather be IN the casket than give the eulogy!

Most of us, however, DO know how to convey information to a group of people… that group often being called “friends”. That funny thing that happened at work? The date you went on (recently or in the past) that was so bad you’ll always remember it? What your kid did yesterday? Those are all stories… all bits of information… that we regularly convey to others. And most of us do a good enough job getting that information across. If people would just RELAX and tell the story (even if the story is something factual as opposed to anecdotal), then most people would get it, and enjoy doing so.

This is the approach I take when doing my workshops (like my “History of Modern Paganism” workshop). History is just stories that we have some reason to think are true. But they’re stories, all the same. I try to tell them to people as if I knew all of the parties involved (even the ones who died before I was born). I stole this technique from Shelby Foote, the Colonel Sanders-looking gent from Ken Burns’ “Civil War” documentary.

Even when I’m doing things like “Make Your Own Movie: How Anyone Can Be A Film-maker””, where I tell people how I made “Dark of Moon”, I STILL talk like I’m talking to my friends, with perhaps a few more jokes thrown in. I’ve never taken a class in anything approaching public speaking, but I’ve always gotten great feedback about my workshops.

Now, if someone wants to be a presenter, yet have a complete inability to convey things well to even their friends (I’ve met them)? THEY should go take a class and learn how to string words together. Their friends will thank them for it.

By the way: I’ve seen you at Starwood before… always a fun time!

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#5 
Written By Phil Farber
on June 1st, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

Hey Don! Thanks for the kind words. I’ve been to a few of your presentations over the years, too, and they are always fun and informative. See you next week! I’m looking forward to Louis Martinie’s workshops, too.

Taliesin, I agree that most people have the resources they need to be good public speakers. I would also add that most people have also seen and heard enough good speakers to be able to pick up some skills from doing that, too. With that said, tho, I’ve been presenting on various subjects since I was a teenager and as an adult I considered myself pretty good… but when I took some NLP-based presentation training, my skill level jumped an order of magnitude. You don’t have to suck to benefit from training… it can make a really good instructor into a great one.

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#6 
Written By Taylor Ellwood
on June 1st, 2012 @ 11:54 pm

I agree with Andrieh’s point, but I also your point Donald. As someone who presents both in the Pagan world and in the professional world, I think it’s wise to invest in training on your speaking and presenting skills. After all you do want to put your best foot forward and make an impression. At any presentation I do, regardless of who the audience is, my goal is always to make a memorable impression through an energetic presentation, and through audience participation (one of the best ways to get people out of being bored…get them involved)!

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