10

As an initiative to increase knowledge and competence at my workplace, I have approached my team with the idea to have a mini-conference with technology topics. The plan is to have this for half a day a few times a year. My colleagues like the idea, but it seems no one is interested in doing a talk or hosting a workshop except me. So this mini-conference idea does not work if only one person (me) wants to contribute.

What can I do to get my co-workers to contribute? We are a team of 7-8 people.

  • 1
    When are you expecting people to prepare for their presentation? Personally I would want to avoid volunteering if it meant spending off-hours time working on this. – numaroth Feb 26 '15 at 22:04
8

I've found that with technical teams, folks are usually reticent when presented with a blank slate. If everyone thinks the initiative is a generally worthwhile idea, then your best step may next be to brainstorm with them a collection of ideas for the first one. Don't worry about making it yearly yet - worry about what to present.

If you can figure out 3-5 hour or less topics that can be chained together to form something useful, then it's likely that the presenters may become obvious. Ideally you'll find something where most folks on your team can provide some expertise so that there some balance among potential presenters.

Once a set of topics is clear, you can probably cajole people into presenting - try to get a point person for each major chunk, but allow them to draft assistance as needed. This can mean that more tentative presenters end up working with a collegue who has more comfort with public speaking. For a first attempt, I'd say do it however it works... on the second round, it may be optimal to mix up the group and get less comfortable folks being to a point where they feel more prepared. With the caveat that there are some folks who just will NEVER want to do a presentation - and that's OK too.

  • Suggest getting some help for those who cannot do a presentation. Is Speech 101 no longer required for a 4-yr degree? – user8365 Oct 16 '12 at 21:43
  • It wasn't for my BS, or MS for that matter. I learned how to give a good presentation because I was interested in giving better presentations. I know 30-year engineers who still aren't either good or interested in this skill. – bethlakshmi Oct 17 '12 at 14:55
  • 2
    Congrats on becoming the leader on the leaderboard. I always get so much out of your answers. – HLGEM Oct 18 '12 at 17:19
  • @HLGEM - we are a mutual admiration society! :) – bethlakshmi Oct 18 '12 at 20:55
4

Some are not interested because they hate public speaking...

Some are not interested because they don't think they have the level of knowledge about a interesting topic...

What you are proposing can put pressure on some people to do something they despise doing. Another approach is to bring in some outside speaker or outside group to demo some tool or technology.

When you tell the group they will get a half a day to goof off they will love the idea. But when you want them to do the work, they will naturally become less interested. Asking the team members to talk or demonstrate will mean that they will have to spend many hours before the meeting preparing their talk. Asking them to spend anything less can limit the effectiveness of the talk. How is this time covered? Asking me to spending these hours off the clock would limit my enthusiasm for the task.

These mini-conferences can very easily become a joke/pain unless the first few are successful. The way to make them a success is to make sure the quality is high and that the participants walk away feeling that it wasn't a waste of their time.

  • Getting an outside group in is a good idea. See if there are any technical sales guys for products you're interested in (or currently use). See if there is a professional (volunteer) organization like the IEEE or similar. – Peter K. Oct 16 '12 at 23:35
2

Suggest a rotating rota that includes everyone in the team and draw up the schedule - including the name of the person that will give the talk/workshop.

For engagement, let your team members come up with their own topics for these. Depending on company culture you may be able to have topics that are not directly relevant to your work, but that may spark ideas or expose the team to the larger world and new ways of doing things (technologies, processes, team building etc...).

Volunteer to be the first one to give a talk - put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. This will show them how it is done and that they too can do this.

1

There are a number of reasons people might not be interested in giving a talk:

  1. Some people really don't like public speaking, even to a few people
  2. Some people think they have so much work to do that anything taking them away from it is a waste of time. Don't underestimate the amount of time needed to prepare a talk. An hour talk can easily take ten hours to prepare properly - more for a formal presentation.
  3. Some people think they don't have enough knowledge to talk about a subject, and are scared of being shown uip
  4. Some people think that agreeing to give a talk is an indication that they don't have enough to do, and that they will be given more work or fired.

You are probably going to have to address all of these. Start by making sure that your boss thinks these are useful things to do. Do this even if you are the lead of the team in question. That should reassure people that this is not a frivolous exercise to keep people busy, and that volunteering won't harm their career. Then make sure you emphasize that these do not need to be formal talks with lots of preparation - a few Powerpoint slides, or no Powerpoint slides, will be fine. That should reduce the public speaking/lack of knowledge fears.

I would suggest taking an alternate approach to finding speakers. Instead of asking people to speak, ask people what talks they would like to hear. Then when you have that list, find people on the team willing to talk about it. That guarantees that a) at least some people are going to be interested in the subject b) that your volunteer knows the subject at least better than their peers.

If nobody on the team feels qualified to talk about the subject, give them time to research it before they present. That means everyone on the team is learning together.

@mhoran_psprep is absolutely right about two things. If you don't make the first few of these a success, they will die. And you must give your speakers enough time to prepare. A half-day conference is going to need several days of prep from several people.

0

This is going to sound a bit childish but a previous employer of mine used to do this on friday afternoons/evenings with surprising results, we had accountants mentioning that they picked up on details of things that manufacturing guys would be putting together, we gathered a lot of knowledge about people's area's of expertise. We even had a guy from accounting stand up and talk about his processes and procedures and how if other departments slightly changed how they did things then they could save everyone time in general.

Come 3pm on a friday there would be between 1 and 3 presenters, and between 15 and 30 people watching., people from around the entire company would gather around ( from sales, to manufacturing, to engineering, to accounts. ) Sometimes people would be prodded by their managers to be one of the first few. The topic was open, so you could talk about anything from current/past/future projects, sales opportunities at customer sites, inter/infra-departmental inefficiencies/efficiencies,

Sit around in the sales area, (because it has lots of chairs and benches to sit on as well as large whiteboards. ) A director comes down with a couple of slabs of beer. (for the non-australian's a slab is a 24 pack of beer.)

While presentations were going the beer supply was being replenished if it ran low, it was a extremely casual setting, you could ask questions during said presentations. When the presentations finished sometimes people would do 'improptu' ones. I would never stay past 7pm, but it I have heard that there were times when engineering and manufacturing guys would stay back past 10pm. both departments would normally close at 3:45/4:30 on those days.

Pretty much the deal was as long as someone was talking beer would be supplied and paid for by the company. And people were more than happy to stay back for hours unpaid to simply hang out and exchange information.

0

I would suggest doing a few yourself so everyone can see what is expected. Hopefully they'll see the audience is very forgiving and will alleviate some of the stress. You could also show a video presentation that you found online that could facilitate some discussion. There may be a local speaker group that has members looking for a place to practice. Some of your team members may know someone who frequently gives talks and could come in.

This could take some time, so don't give up because you expected to do it more frequently. It could be that no one wants to go first.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.