by Steven S. Vrooman
When I was driving in to San Antonio the morning of my IAEE presentation in November 2017, I passed under a jumper perched on the edge of a bridge over the I-10. She had climbed over the wall/barrier and has holding herself up by grabbing the top of it. It looked like she could let go at any moment. The police had closed the bridge up top, and I was one of the last cars through before they closed down that side of the freeway.
I found someone else from Seguin at #TCEA....@MoreBrainz from #TLU. "Integrating Social Media and E-Learning." I went in thinking no way can I use social media with 8th graders but he made me think of ways to possibly integrate it. @matadoredtech pic.twitter.com/LwxJ6c0Zfx— Max Brandenberger (@mr_b_science) February 6, 2019
I did not give a great presentation in 2017. And I could feel the weight of that last week as I spoke at Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio for the first time since 2017. But I made it through what haunted me, and this post will take you through that journey.
An Unexpected Event
My presentation at IAEE was a great opportunity for me, and I was not pleased with the result. I didn't have the energy or focus I needed.
Yesterday, I found myself paying attention to the bridges as I drove in to town. But all was well.
I Admit that the Word "Dongle" Still Makes Me Giggle
— Melissa Bartlett (@bartletm) February 4, 2019
There I discovered a bare HDMI cable. I had forgotten that I was supposed to have brought my own laptop to project from. After a moment of panic, I remembered that I was prepared for this. I have been teaching class with a thing called a WiFi display dongle.
It works well, and the name makes my inner 13-year old (never far below the surface anyway) giggle. I had been using this for teaching in an the old, haunted theater where I teach most of my classes at TLU. I can walk around the room and use the web. I like both the Internet and pacing, so this is a good tool for me.
Thankfully, I also had the right adapter, so I plugged it all in and crossed my fingers:
The Friendly Face Phenomenon
But then I found my friend Max and my former student Megan in the audience, and that relaxed me.
In my textbook, The Zombie Guide to Public Speaking, I point out that you should use the "friendly face phenomenon" when you have anxiety. Find a person in the room who looks friendly, maybe the first person to laugh when you risk a joke, and look at them a lot. Well, when you have actual friendly faces in the audience, it's even better! Afterwards I joked with Megan that it was just like old times. She'd scowl at me and look at me like I was nuts while I was speaking, but that was exactly what it was like to have her in the classroom, so it worked perfectly!
I was able to keep my attention for a hard task in this talk, where I was asking them to consider using social media in the classroom, and at every point I had to work with the three parts of the audience, college, high school and middle school, each of whom tends to have different types of concerns when it comes to using social media for their class.
For example, many in the audience knew their administration would never go for it, so I had to make sure I emphasized other takeaways for them. Middle school teachers worried about bullying, etc.
In November 2017, I had a hard time even keeping one idea on track. But this time, I think I was able to stay on all three tracks.
Is Failure the Right Word to Use?
But how should we think about levels here, as professionals?
There are small errors and big catastrophes. Neither encapsulates my time at IAEE. My presentation was good. I got some additional speaking gigs from audience members, which wouldn't have happened if I'd blown it.
One of those gigs, at the TSAE Tech Talks the following March, went so well I got almost universal positive feedback on the audience evaluation forms. One guy in the audience recommended me to his father's business as a speaker. He forwarded me the email he sent, which had the phrase "the best keynote speaker I have ever seen," so I'm going to take that as a clear win.
But that IAEE talk still grated on me. I could feel all the issues that were there in my focus and energy. I can imagine how I would have graded it using my 55-point grading rubric for speeches.
And that's the thing. I push students out of the A or F mentality all of the time. I want them to see what they can do with a B and to see it simply as a "not A."
But I was having a hard time doing that myself.
There's a lot more to unpack here about the ways that failure is a set of nuances or degrees, not the either-or that seems to be how we talk about it as we build a motivational mythology of failing forward.