This spring I gave a talk at the NCSM ignite session and here it is!  Below the video is how it felt through the process of making this talk happening.

Before the talk:

Going into the talk I was as rattled as I had ever been about doing anything.  I’ll give you a taste.  Here is an unedited snippet from my journal on the morning of the talk:

This talk is going to be fine.  I am in a safe space.  I am going to do my best, and the people are going to be appreciative.  It will look like I tried hard, and that is what matters.  It’s not my job to be perfect, I am trying to be as faithful as possible to the information and I will do that by delivering the presentation to the best of my ability.

Sounds a little like Stuart Smalley, right? Well don’t judge me until you’re in the same situation. These affirmations were what I needed to get out of the door and to the bus station to make it to Boston on time.  I had also just woken up from a pretty sleepless night.  The safe space imagery helped me shake off the late night/early morning visions of me messing up on the talk and every one looking at me like I tripped in the middle of a dance battle.  Sharing something with nearly 100 people is pretty scary, even if I regularly present information to nearly 100 students for a lot longer than 5 minutes.


In the conference room waiting to talk, there is a little bit of gallows humor, but not really a lot of fear.  As you see more and more people going up and giving their talks, starting with Annie and Max, you realize that the fears that you have about the talks and their outcomes really don’t matter because the audience is the most wonderful audience in the world.  It is as warm and accepting as the crowd at a summer camp talent show, or the shows around the holidays when all the little kids make everyone watch them sing by the mantle.  You wouldn’t believe it if you were in the room but the energy is amazingly supportive.  EVERYONE IS THERE TO SUPPORT YOU!

Getting up to talk your mind goes completely blank.  I whispered to Suzanne “I forgot everything.” who comforted me by saying.  “Everybody does, it’ll come back.”  She was kind of right.  I remembered through the talk what happened, but I don’t remember any of it now.  I think I got the laughs I wanted, there was conversation when I wanted, and people were quiet and thought when I wanted.  I finished with not only a weight off my shoulders but still slightly burdened by the mistakes I might have made.  “I didn’t plug twitter!”

A Little While After:

Once the talk has finished and the adrenaline is gone, the experience of the talk really inspires you.  When I finished running a Tough Mudder I remember getting injured and having to limp the last 20 miles to the finish line.  So much of that race was filled with dread and disdain, but once I crossed the finish line and met the rest of my team I couldn’t help but feel anything but pride and gratitude.  With the Ignite talk there was a similar feeling.  It was great to finish, and while people may nitpick pronunciations and powerpoint slides as they watch the video again, there was still nothing like being in front of such a large group of supportive people who wanted you to do well, and wanted to learn from what you had to say.

My talk:

So I have two videos below.  The first is cell phone footage of my self talking, the second is the video of the slides behind me.  Sync them up at the same time and it will feel like you were there!

Cell phone video of me talking:

Video of the slides (start this at :07):

The Powerpoint file of the slides for my talk is below, and you can also set this in motion by starting the slide show on the second slide.  It will run through the entire talk automatically:

Quick and Dirty Version

The whole idea of the talk is that there are a lot of changes that are hampered because certain people have what is called “competing commitments.”  These commitments compete against the change that you want to happen.  The example that I gave was that I wanted students to change and become better problem solvers, but I am committed to preventing students from having to struggle for long periods of time.  Unless I deal with my issue, I am never going to make that change happen. This talk is proposing that until we as a math community deal with all the collective commitments we are going to see numerous efforts to change, efforts with great promise and potential, fall flat because we are committed to keep things the same.  On an individual level, this change process could take place by examining what outcomes you assume these commitments are supposed to prevent like a scientist experimenting with a hypothesis.  Does it really make sense for me to always avoid students from struggling?  What if I experiemented with a lesson plan of “struggle” problems from a reputable source, like the Math forum?  Perhaps trying this experiment would be enough to stop my allegiance to that unproductive commitment.

Make sense?

I’m curious what kind of Changes, Fears/Commitments, Assumptions and Experiments the blogosphere has, so if you can think through this, please leave your thoughts at this link:

Here is the book that inspired the talk:

How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation by Robert Kegan et al.
How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation
by Robert Kegan et al.