“Look at Erin. She gets more done in a few hours than most of us accomplish in a full day.”
Like many Americans you probably are excited for the upcoming Independence Day, more commonly referred to as July 4. While the independence associated with this holiday certainly merits celebrating, I’m not sure independence in and of itself is an entirely desirable goal today.
In our organizations, individuals and departments try to reduce what they perceive as “dependence” on others in order to get their work done. While independent mindsets can lead to greater initiative and speed-to-market, we might be better served in organizations if we acknowledged and embraced our interdependence.
Imagine right now if a portion of your salary was dependent on how well you contributed to the ability of your colleagues to complete their work successfully. Actually, it's not necessary to imagine that's the case because it actually is.
What indeed? That’s the beauty (or agony depending on your perspective) of interdependence: it asks us to be as concerned with the efforts of others as we are with our own. It asks us to own the whole, not just our individual piece of the puzzle.
It asks us to readjust our priorities for any given day at work in order to support colleagues who may need our time and attention in order to complete their necessary assignments.
It prompts us to be concerned with the welfare of those with whom we work and live.
It requires us to acknowledge that some things do exist that we simply cannot do independently.
It asks us to understand our self-interest is inexplicably tied to some community interests.
So by all means let's celebrate independence on July 4, but let's also acknowledge and celebrate the freedom we possess to intentionally act in and embrace more interdependent ways.
What does acting more interdependently look like in action to you?
Note: I wrote the following article for ASAE-The Center for Association Leadership, and it was originally published in their Associations Now Plus members-only resource. It is used here with permission and ASAE retains the copyright.
A full commitment to diversity and inclusion means that an association’s educational programming—and the speakers providing it—reflect the learning community. Here are some practical steps associations can take to help presenters prepare sessions that reject assumptions about the audience and meet diverse attendee needs.
Association resource materials for speakers traditionally include key dates and deadlines, room and AV logistics, and suggestions for slide and handout presentation. Some also include basic tips on adult learning and how to create more engaging and interactive sessions.
Yet additional guidance in a critical area too often is missing: designing for the composition and culture of your learning community. Although this may be particularly valuable to presenters from outside your organization, even internal subject-matter experts can benefit from more specific instruction on how to design and deliver a session that not only is inclusive of the diverse participants they will address, but also reflects a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusiveness as core values. Learners want to both see themselves and hear themselves reflected in session content and delivery.
Here are a few examples of what associations are doing to help presenters prepare.
Guidance and Orientation
LeadingAge Illinois, like some associations, includes a brief statement in their speaker guidelines “to sensitize speakers to the potential diversity in the audience.” It urges speakers to review their course content and style for inclusive language, professional content versus personal beliefs, and potential sexist, discriminatory, or similarly insensitive language.
Presenter standards from the Promotional Products Association International also include advice on introducing panelists in a non-sexist manner and avoiding visual aids that show people in stereotypical roles. The latter echoes encouragement from the LeadingAge Illinois statement to “make no assumptions about those in the group other than a common interest in the content area delineated in the printed meeting materials.”
One way to prevent speakers from making assumptions about attendees is to provide them an accurate profile of their audience. No doubt you orient new employees to key elements of your profession or industry, demographic data about your membership, and some of the cultural norms that may be unique to your organization. Speakers would benefit from the same insights.
As a presenter, I find it useful to also receive detailed event or conference profiles that provide similar information for the specific conference community. Several years ago, I benefited from conversations with staff at the Foundation to Prevent Blindness about what types of visuals I could use effectively given the range of sightedness in the audience. Based on their guidance, I included more and differently designed visuals than I would otherwise have used.
Other orientation materials could include
- a glossary of key terms and acronyms to use (as well as ones to avoid) and other tips on appropriate language.
- insights about learner preferences that you have gleaned from previous evaluations.
- a brief overview of the current environment for your profession or industry (trends, challenges, opportunities) to help presenters customize content with the most relevant examples for your current context.
Broadening Participant Perspectives
To help its subject-matter experts and other presenters infuse equity and inclusion into their conference presentations, ACPA-College Student Educators International offers comprehensive guidance for speakers in a micro-site. Dr. Kathy Obear, a diversity educator and organizational development consultant who led the development team for the guidelines, describes them as a “proactive step to help presenters develop formats, curriculum, and facilitator techniques to better meet the needs of an increasingly diverse membership.”
While the ACPA guidelines help prepare speakers to design more inclusive sessions, Obear says they also are intended to “help facilitators infuse issues and images in presentations that help participants deepen their multicultural competencies and challenge implicit, unconscious bias.” In other words, presenter preparation should include planning how to help learners broaden, deepen, and be more inclusive of the perspectives that they themselves consider.
Doing so is both art and science. Associations should engage speakers in sharing advice with each other about strategies they use to challenge the potentially limiting perspectives of participants on ways that facilitate growth and learning.
A Self-awareness Checklist
In my undergraduate coursework as an English major, one of my instructors taught my class to proof our work seven times, each time focusing on a specific variable: tone; spelling, grammar, and punctuation; cohesiveness of argument; and so on. Associations looking to help busy presenters design and deliver more inclusive presentations may be wise to create a similar checklist, one that includes such proofing criteria as inflammatory or unhelpful language, diversity of content sources referenced and examples offered, visual portrayal of people and groups in materials, and presenter confirmation bias. Until diversity in presentation design and delivery is your default, a checklist is a helpful tool to make sure you aren’t missing a critical program enhancement.
Other presenter support—such as webinars, online resource centers, and speaker coaching—can address these same opportunities but in more specific ways. To make tangible improvements in their programs, analytical and more detailed-oriented presenters will appreciate having “before and after” examples of infusing inclusion into a session design, a particular teaching technique, or even a slide.
Finally, associations should consider including a speaker-prep workshop at their conferences to continually build the capabilities and confidence of their members to be better presenters and learning facilitators.
The Person Behind the Presenter
Statements, tips, and checklists can definitely enhance a speaker’s presentation mechanics so that sessions better exemplify an inclusive design. But every presenter is also a person, and for these mechanics to have authentic meaning presenters may need to do their own inner work related to diversity and inclusion.
That work has value beyond the conference itself. As Obear aptly notes, “Most organizations are preparing members to serve increasingly diverse populations locally, nationally, and globally, so their members may want more knowledge and skills for better serving others across all group identities.” Evidence that an association is truly committed to equity and inclusion should include support and learning opportunities for the person, the professional, and the presenter.
I facilitated a session a few weeks ago where some participants talked about the need to replace the "old guard" with some new faces and fresh thinking.
It's a common concern and a common expression. No doubt for even the most dedicated of lifelong learners there is an expiration date on the value of their tenure in a particular role.
But remember, just because you're changing the guard doesn't mean you necessarily want to change what they were guarding.
People and programs will come and go.
Purpose and principles should be more permanent.
When recruiting and orienting new leadership be sure to explore their commitment to the purpose and principles you want to preserve, as well as their ideas for new ways to amplify them in the programs and practices they want to pursue.
Double our membership.
In terms of negative consequences, organizations that pursue explosive growth sometimes fall prey to the following:
- Inadequate competence or capacity to scale their efforts.
- Incomplete criteria and/or processes for evaluating potential growth opportunities, be they partnerships or new programs.
- Insufficient shared clarity around what truly constitutes the organization’s core and its historic success, brand value, and market position and differentiators.
The issues raised in the three points above sometimes cause an organization to pursue opportunities that promise significant enhanced revenue streams, but are not fully aligned with its core values, market position, or competencies.
The potential negative consequences of this are several, including:
- Diminished quality control on their existing successes which in turn can reduce market interest/demand for these programs or services, creating new financial pressures for growth.
- Fragmenting their identity in the marketplace as prospects and/or long-term partners wonder “why are they doing that?”
- Pursuing new opportunities because of convenience, timing, or personalities of those advocating for an idea versus thoughtful and consistent application of evaluation criteria.
None of this happens overnight; none of it is usually irreversible.
All of it likely can be avoided by proactively addressing the three points previously outlined before launching major growth initiatives and/or new programs.
To do so, I find it effective to have staff, board members, and other volunteers discuss and apply the following observations and frameworks for organizational strategy. Notice how they differ somewhat in content and tone from traditional (and too often predictable) goal-setting.
I invite you to try them on for size in your own discussions about strategic direction and growth.
It is the term used to describe the various ways that cities, buildings, parks, transit systems, and more help people find their way and avoid getting lost.
I find that more successful organizations pay great attention to wayfinding. Doing so usually accelerates group progress and often increases the satisfaction of group members.
During the early stages of every new group—a committee, a staff project team, a board, et al—a handful of basic wayfinding questions need to be answered.
They are not particularly sexy.
They are not particularly challenging.
They are not difficult to answer.
Yet they often go unasked and unanswered, essentially leaving those convened to accomplish something to feel rather lost in how to do so.
That's a huge missed opportunity.
When you next convene a group of people address the following, at minimum:
- What are we here to do and how does it relate to other efforts? Clarify purpose and overall strategy.
- How will we know we are successful? Explore desired results, key metrics for progress, and feedback opportunities.
- Who’s here to do it (background info), what can they contribute, what are their interests, how to they engage? We don't trust people we don't know. Help us get to know each other.
- How does work usually get done? Review structure, legal obligations, processes, systems, and the range of permissions for people to exercise initiative.
- What agreements do we need to make with each other? Calibrate individual preferences with group and organizational needs.
- What relevant “insider” info will help me contribute more effectively? Help orient me to the existing culture, relevant historical data/efforts related to our current charge, and available resources we can access.
- What should I do between meetings? I'm here to work. What should I do besides showing up for meetings?
This orientation shouldn't be tedious and complex, but it should be done. Consistently.
What other core questions would you add to this list?