At Volunteer Maryland, we’re all about professional development and training. Our members are with us for one short year, and many are beginning or transitioning into nonprofit and/or professional careers. Considering the commitment that they make to us and their host sites, we very seriously take our commitment to do everything we can to make sure that their experience with Volunteer Maryland and AmeriCorps is as beneficial as possible. On Tuesday I conducted a webinar, our newest tool for bringing VISTA members together for professional development. This is the third webinar I have under my belt, and I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it!

The first challenge is to make sure that your presentation is worth the time for your participants and that it’s held when they can call in. When I decided both the time and the topic, participation was pretty low. The next time around, I chose the time but did a doodle survey to ask about topics of interest. I suggested a few to choose from, plus added a line for write-ins. For this week, I used a topic which was written in by several members last time (project management), and sent out another doodle survey to determine the best time. Surely enough, participation is on the rise. I want my communication with VISTA members to be both meaningful and convenient and, as with everything else, it turns out that the easiest way to see what they want is to just ask.

Asking what they want, however, provided a challenge in itself. In all honesty, I’m not terribly familiar with project management. I understood it as a concept, but certainly had no capability to speak about it intelligently for any length of time. It’s what my members want to know though, so I did the research that they don’t necessarily have time to do. One of our regional coordinators Laura had mentioned in a previous support team meeting that www.mindtools.com is a great resource for brainstorming ideas, and I found that it also have a project management section jam-packed with short articles, examples, worksheets and charts. Thank goodness! I used this and other resources to give myself a crash course, create a power point presentation, and generally get an idea of what I was talking about. Then it was just time to present.

Participating in webinars, I’ve often enjoyed the faceless nature of them- if it’s a big group of people and the information is straight forward, it’s nice to efficiently breeze through and maybe ask a question at the very end. As a presenter, though, it’s hard to get used to! I certainly welcome everyone to interrupt me at any given time, but for the most part people are on mute and (hopefully) listening. Unlike in a room full of people, I don’t’ get any eye contact and can’t tell whether people are taking notes, looking bored, or flat out napping at their desks. It’s a bit like talking into a void. Now that I have the content down, that’s my next step in this new realm of presenting. How can I engage listeners in future presentations, so I’m not just talking at them for thirty or forty minutes. I think there must be a way to do a short solo exercise and ask for a quick report back, or even to just ask for examples or to pointedly ask questions to my audience. As always, I’m open to suggestions if you have any tips!


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