10 Tiny Tips for Trainers & Teachers


I do a whole load of training these days, both as part of my day-job and my freelance work, so have picked up a few small tricks along the way. There's nothing earth-shattering here - but if you run training or teach infolit classes, you may find some of these useful.  

Here's the short, visual version - then I go into each one in a bit more detail below.

Session structure

1. Start with something practical. Sometimes there is, unavoidably, a bunch of theory or conceptual stuff you have to get through. But if that's the case, if at all possible make this second on your itinerary for the day / hour - and start off with something practical. Diving in with something for people to DO wakes everyone up, and grounds the whole workshop in something tangible rather than abstract. It also makes everyone into active participants early on.

2. Allow time to recharge. A full-day workshop should have coffee-breaks etc built-in, but even a 1hr workshop can be quite overwhelming. Just building in a 3 minute gap for participants to switch-off, chat to each other, relax, will help them focus for the second half of the session and raise the energy level all round. A break 10 minutes in to a 1hr session works brilliantly - surprisingly better then, than half-way through the session or later.

3. Sum up via a Random Slide Challenge (also known as Battle Decks). I love a random slide challenge. Here's how it works:

  1. You create a short simple slide-deck which summarises the session you've just run (I normally create two decks of 5 slides each)
  2. You get participants to deliver the presentation (so in my case, two volunteers)
  3. The volunteers have never seen the slides before, which is part of the fun - so they see each slide for the first time at the same moment the audience does, and have to improvise their presentation based on that
  4. You move the slides along after 15 seconds per slide, so the whole thing takes only just over a minute per presentation

You have to give them the best possible chance of knowing which part of the session each slide is getting at! If you look at slide 41 onwards of the deck embedded here, you'll see an example of a random-slide challenge set of slides.

This works well for two reasons - firstly it is often hilarious. People in the audience shout-out if they pick up on what the slide is about before the presenters, and basically it leaves everyone on a high at the end of the session. Feedback forms at both the British Library, where I've done this on training courses, and for my infolit classes at York, often point towards this as being one of the delegates' favourite parts. The other reason it works is it's often a surpisingly great summary of the session. People say the exact kinds of things I would have said if I was summarising myself, but it has more impact because it's another voice (and, with students, it's one of their peers). Try it! The only thing is, you need a plan B for if you get no volunteers, which once happened to me. Prizes help ensure this doesn't happen...

4. Close after the questions. It's good to end any training or teaching session with a call to action - a clear message as to where participants can go from here. This can be somewhat muddied by a Q&A session (which can of course throw up anything), so build in time for questions just before the end, and leave yourself the last 5 minutes to close the session with something direct and meaningful.


Tablet as teaching assistant

5. Use Padlet on your tablet to remember who's who. Padlet is a great tool that can be used in all sorts of ways. You create an online wall, onto which you and anyone else who has the URL can post notes. Anyone can double-click anywhere to add a sort of virtual post-it. Then they can put in their name as the title, and a note, or a URL - links to pics or videos become embedded objects on the wall. I use it to crowd-source people's ideas in training sessions - like you'd use a flipchart, except everyone can go back and look at the URL after the session, and it becomes a sort of archive for everyone to learn from oneanother.

Anyway, depending on the session I'll go round at the start and ask people to introduce themselves, and say what they want to get out of the day / hour. This is very useful in and of itself, as you can tailor things accordingly. I'll type it into Padlet on the big presenting screen as I go, so we can all refer back to it later in the day and see if we did what we said we'd do! But the really useful thing is, you can choose exactly where your notes go on the screen - so I put the notes in a way which corresponds to the physical layout in the room and where people are sitting, like in the example below. Then when I take it off the big-screen to put my slides up, I put the Padlet wall on my ipad screen - this means I've got everyone's names in the right place for easy reference so I can remember who's who!

(I feel like I didn't explain that very well. Does that make sense? The example below should clear it up.)

A Padlet wall example

A Padlet wall example


6. Skip ahead in the presentation, on your tablet. I like to have my slides or prezi open on my ipad so I can see what's coming. This is particularly handy if you're joint-teaching with somone - while they're speaking, you can recap what you're supposed to be saying next. A massive part of successful teaching and presenting, for me, is feeling in control - and this helps.



7. Hand out the handouts. It's tempting to feel more organised by distributing the handouts, if you use them, before people arrive. Placing one by each PC or on every table. But if the group is of 20 or less, hand them round yourself; it's a great opportunity to meet each person individually and make eye-contact which, however brief, makes the communication easier and fuller for the session proper.

8. Use screengrabs to make exercises easy to find. It's amazing how often people lose their place in a handout. When you get to an excercise in the handout, put a screengrab of the slide that's on the big-screen at the time you're introducing the excercise - it makes it quick and easy for people to know exactly where they should be.



9. Use a free PBworks wiki to store materials for delegates. For all sorts of reasons, it's good to have materials online. Particularly if your session is link-heavy, store a digital copy of the hand-out on a free wiki (PBworks for example) so delegates can access them that way and just click on URLs rather than typing them in. Put the PowerPoint on there too - this means you’ll have a copy of your presentation and hand-outs even if your USB stick falls out of your pocket and your printer breaks…

10. Send the presentation round afterwards with an email. A follow-up email is useful for reinforcing key messages, and making sure people have access to the presentation materials. Don’t rely on people (students especially) tracking it down for themselves; follow up directly, ensuring they have a copy of the presentation AND your contact details. If there are issues around attachment filesizes, upload your slides to Slideshare and your hand-out to Scribd, and include links instead.

As always, I'd welcome comments - add your own tips below and help make this post more useful!

I just mocked up a @buzzfeeduk Libraries edition


I spent my whole lunchtime doing this, a mock up of what Buzzfeed might look like if it was aimed solely at information professionals.

In other news, I need to take a long, hard look at my life.

Click through to view the original on Flickr, in all its utterly pointless, Creative Commons so feel free to use it, glory.

A friendly reminder: revoke access to any Twitter apps you no longer need!


If you tweet, this is just a friendly reminder to periodically go to Twitter.com's Settings, choose Apps (if you're already logged into Twitter, this link'll take you right there), and revoke access to anything you don't still actively need.

I made this - click to view the original on Flickr.

I made this - click to view the original on Flickr.

Often when Twitter accounts are hacked, it's not because a hacker has magically guessed your password, but because a third-party app which has access to your account (and probably thousands of others) has been compromised. Every time you sign into something with Twitter, you're slightly increasing the risk of being hacked.

The sites which only ask for read-only permissions aren't likely to cause any trouble, but any that can read and write tweets - and loads can, even if they don't ever actually write tweets on your behalf under normal circumstances - should only be allowed access to your account if you're using them on an ongoing basis. This particularly important with institutional accounts, obviously, where a hacked account can lead to some reputational harm - but for peace of mind apply it your own personal account too.

I just did this for the first time in a while, and honestly there were apps in there I have no recollection of even existing, let alone being something I've actively taken the decision to link with my Twitter account...

Incidentally, if you ever do find your account has been compromised, here's the Twitter Support page you need.

What does an online identity REALLY need? (Or, Growing Up Online)


Yesterday I wrote this post about stepping back from the conflict in librarianship, and making a new website. There was also a part about changing my online usernames, and the difference between playing at having an online identity and actually having one. It was the last bit people particularly responded to, and I said in the original post that I might write a-whole-nother blog post about it, so here it is.

The background is, I've changed both my blog name and URL (from thewikiman.org to ned-potter.com) and my Twitter username (from @theREALwikiman to @ned_potter).

Creative Commons Image by Jack Dorsey - click the pic to view the original on Flickr

Creative Commons Image by Jack Dorsey - click the pic to view the original on Flickr

Playing at having an online identity versus actually having one

I began life online in 2009. As I've written about before, I saw Jo Alcock's presentation about blogs and twitter at the New Professionals Conference we both presented at, and was completely convinced by her argument that getting online was A Good Thing To Do.

At the time I thought I really needed an angle for an online presence - a specific driver and purpose - and I thought I really needed a sort of 'nom-de-web'. I wasn't thinking in terms of online branding because I didn't know anything about that, I was just looking for somewhere to slot in.

Over time, my feelings about how important that stuff is have changed somewhat. My angle was writing about a wiki I was setting up - I grew tired of that after about 3 posts, unlike the audience, because there WASN'T an audience (it took me 2 years to get 100 subscribers to this blog, then less than a year to get to 1000 after that - the life a new blog is a lonely one). So I quickly learned you don't NEED a special hook for your writing, you can just write in librarianship and will eventually find an audience (and even writing without an audience can have benefits). My nom-de-2.0 I was pleased with because it was distinct and easy to remember, and it did have value in that way. But it was playing at 'having a brand'. I used to sign posts -thewikiman at the end until quite recently, not sure why, but which I look back at with embarrassment.

Now, five years after first getting online, I have an actual online identity and I want to use my own name for it - hence the recent changes. I'm not saying that having a tag or online name is a bad thing, by the way - just that the way I did it was naive, and based on not understanding the world I was getting into. When I began blogging, blogs were the centre of the online universe in librarianship. Now Twitter is the centre. And Twitter is a personal medium - it's about being you. Not 'developing a brand' - for individuals anyway. My favourite quote about the ever-controversial subject of building a brand is this one (read the post this came from):

It’s a mistake to think of personal branding as an end itself. A successful personal brand is a by-product of the successful pursuit of one’s own interest, contribution, and networking in librarianship.
— Bohyun Kim

This is spot-on. In fact sometimes you see people doing the opposite of this, and focusing first and foremost on 'developing their brand' and it simply doesn't work. It turns people off. They position themselves outside the dialogue, which is the opposite of what we should aspire to do with social media.

Anyway, to the point of this post!

What does an online identity really need?

I'd be interested in your views on this in the comments, as it's not immediately obvious to me what an online identity really needs, and in what order of priority.

One thing thewikiman was good for was consistency - it was my username across several platforms. This made it easy for people to find me, and easy for me to monitor links to my stuff (when I typed 'thewikiman' into Twitter, I saw all the links people had posted to my blog, my slideshare account, my Netvibes page - none - in one easy step). So even though I'd recommend the same username across loads of platforms, I've messed that up by changing mine on here and on twitter to two subtly different variants on a theme, which now don't match my YouTube or Slideshare accounts. So for me it turns out not be THAT important after all.

Professional focus is another useful thing from an online identity. If, for example, you're on Facebook for social things, a separate identity for the more work-focused Twitter and LinkedIn could be useful. But if you agree with me that doing things under your own name is a good idea, then that makes focus an all or nothing sort of deal. (I'm not on Facebook so this is less of an issue for me personally.)

Findability is important. As individuals we don't want to be worrying too much about SEO and that sort of thing, but the fact is if someone sees me at a conference and googles me, I want them to find me and not other Ned Potters (like the used car salesman from Essex where I grew up). A distinct online identity helps findability - 'thewikiman' is the search term which over 800 people used to find my old wordpress blog, according to the stats, versus just 81 for 'ned potter'. But findability at the expense of using your own name? For me it was probably worth it back then, but less so now that I have a decent network.

Visual branding I think is not important. It feels like it probably should be, but it isn't. The purpose of branding... actually I'm not going to go into that here, this post is already too long! I'll come back to it at some later date. But basically, having the same shade of green for your website, your twitter background and your business card isn't actually going to have a meaningful impact on your life. There is an argument that the same logo / avatar across several platforms would increase how easily people recognise you from one online zone to another, but again, Twitter is the most important medium and that demands a picture of you as it's a personal medium. So logos are sort of out. Or at best, hard to weave in.

A consistent voice is probably much more important than the rest of the things I've listed put together. If you say things people want to hear in a style that's recognisably yours, THAT'S your online identity - the rest of it is so much window dressing. But for me, the gain of having a larger network on twitter or reaching more people with this blog (like those powerhouse bloggers you see with insane audience sizes) is not worth the loss of posting random nonsense 90% of the time on Twitter, or only posting on this blog when I feel like it rather than on a consistent following-building schedule.

I don't want to be at the behest of my online identity, essentially - which means I reach a smaller group of people than I otherwise might. That's fine, though - for me. Everyone has different needs, and everyone is in different places with what they're doing professionally.

Not adjusting who you are for other people is the final one I can think of. For short-term gain, by all means shape yourself to suit an audience. But ultimately, you're better off attracting the RIGHT audience, as hopelessly cliched and optimistic as that sounds. It's better to let a smaller group of the right people come to you for YOU, than it is to build an online identity on compromise, at the expense of your soul... The kinds of opportunities you may lose probably weren't worth having anyway. (I'm writing this assuming you're a perfectly nice person, not some psychopath with hateful views on everything, by the way. If you fit in the category then censoring yourself is definitely the way to go...)

So, growing up online, having a meaningful online identity - what are your thoughts?


Some changes to my blog & how I write about librarianship


For a while I've been planning to create a new website, so when my hosting of thewikiman.org came up for renewal, I took the plunge and switched over to squarespace. If you're reading this in a feedreader, go to ned-potter.com and have a look! I'm also changing focus somewhat.

A subtle change to the blog

The blog is still the main thing people will look at on the site, and this has been cleaned up a little in keeping with the site's revamp, with a less fussy design.

The tagline used to be 'Ideas about Information' - but I've changed it to Ideas about Communication. That's where most of my interests lie now, and although I'll probably write about librarianship, those posts will be about the communication side of that too. Edtech, scholarly comms, social media, marketing, presentation skills - it's all communication in one form or another.

Librarianship is fairly divided at the moment, at least in the online bubble I inhabit, and I find myself in the tricky position of both disagreeing with a lot of what is said and some of the prevailing ideologies, and agreeing that the increasing infighting isn't getting us anywhere. So I'm choosing, for the most part, not to add to the fractious noise.

When I started blogging, in 2009, it felt like a lot more of us were on the same page, and there was a greater harmony. I may, of course, have simply had too small (and like-minded) a network to form a proper overview of the dialogue within the profession, and just missed all the fighting that was happening back then. Either way, things feel a lot more complicated now - like some cliched coming-of-age movie, where the characters grow apart as their lives become more complex. Part of me thinks this is an almost inevitable consequence of the fragmented world social media enables - as more and more of us get online, and find our tribes, those tribes get more and more granular and specific. We're all finding our people, which is great. But as we sub-divide further, consensus becomes ever harder to achieve.

I'm not sure what we can do about that. Everyone is fighting for what they believe in, and it's very difficult to sit back and not challenge things you find troubling (although I've been doing that a lot on Twitter this year, and it's getting easier) - but if there are very different view-points, from lots of people who don't want to leave things unchallenged, inevitably you get a lot of disagreement. And as a lot of people have been saying recently, it's not really helping anything all that much. There have been times in the past where I've wanted to try and change librarianship or libraries per se, and even felt able to (if only on an absolutely minute scale). But I'm not sure if that's a realistic aim at the moment, so why add to the conflict?

As it happens, I do still believe I can help change individual libraries and organisations for the better, especially in the field of communicating well - and I'm happy with that less lofty aim. So I'll stick with that, for the most part, from now on.

Anyway, on to less contentious things!

What's new on the site?

I've added a couple of pages I should have had years ago. There's a Library Marketing Toolkit page linked from the main Publications page, including details of how to order and lots of reviews (some of which I found whilst preparing the page, having not seen them before, which was nice!).








I've also added a Training page to detail the various workshops I run. This has got fairly comprehensive information about the four main types of training (Presentation Skills, Emerging Technologies, Social Media, and Pure Marketing) I do for various organisations, as well as feedback for previous courses in each area. Part of the reason I've not had a proper page like this before is I've not been actively pushing the training - I have a steady stream of freelance work coming in and there's only so much time in which to do it. But for various reasons I'm looking to increase that side of things slightly in the short term, so if you'd like me to run something for your organisation, please get in touch.

The Publications page has been revamped to be a little less messy, and the Events are now split into Past Talks and Upcoming things, that last one now being now much more useful with proper location details including maps, etc.

Where's thewikiman.org gone?

All the old links to thewikiman.org URLs still work, but I've decided to go with ned-potter.com. I may blog about this at a later date but basically if I knew in 2009 what I know now, I would have done everything online under my own name... So I'm trying to do that now where possible. Speaking of which:

Where's @theREALwikiman gone?

I've also changed my Twitter name to @ned_potter. The name 'thewikiman' was born out of a) the fact that I orginally set up a blog to document the creation of a wiki (I know! I'm sure there IS a less exciting idea in existence, I just can't think of it right now) so it was relevant for about a month until got bored with writing about a wiki, and b) because I didn't really know anything about online footprints, so thought having a sort of 'nom-de-2.0' was important.

@theREALwikiman came about because '@thewikiman' was already taken on twitter at the time - but what I chose was a ridiculous name, and stupidly long for Twitter. People conversing with me used up most of the available characters just on my username and had hardly any space left for conversation... So, it's dispensed with. I feel like back when I joined Twitter and started blogging I was playing at having an online identity, whereas now I actually have one - and I'd rather it was under my own name.

Why make a new site?

If anyone has read this far down and is interested, the reason for doing this is basically that my website making skills are really limited so I wanted a way to make a nicer, more functional site than I had previously. I designed the old version of the site just writing in raw xhtml, and it was fine, but web publishing has moved on. Only the blog part of the old version worked well on mobiles, and that was adaptive - this whole site has a responsive design, which is the way forward. Try resizing your browser window and you'll see all the elements of the site are retained, just repositioned to suit the adjusted size of the screen. So it works well on all sizes of mobile devices without losing anything - adaptive design means you have a separate mobile version, often with some content stripped away. Anyway, overall I think the whole site feels fresher. I like the fact that the shift in focus of the blog is reflected in a shift in the way the whole site works too.

I loved my old wordpress.org blog but there were so many plugins that constantly needed updating, or which no longer worked, and I paid for hosting costs based on the bandwidth I guessed I'd need, which always stressed me out (previously having had to upgrade when the site went down due to the bandwidth of my old package having been exceeded!) - so I've swapped something which needed a bit of upkeep to something with one package that covers everything in a fairly easy to manage way. I've found squarespace to be very helpful with good support etc, so I'm pleased with it all so far.

The only thing I don't know about carrying over is the blog subscriptions. This is the first post under the new system - I really, really hope I've made it so the old thewikiman blog feed still produces posts, as there are between 1500 and 2000 subscribers to the feed - I know that these days that doesn't mean all those people are actually reading the posts, of course! But I'd prefer to keep them as subscribers than have to start afresh. So if you're reading this in a feedreader then can you let me know via a tweet or something?

And if you're reading this in a reader then woohoo, it worked!