Edupreneur: Know What They'll Ask

SXSWedu opened up Panel Picker 2020 and my gears have been turning to submit a session. Looking ahead to conferences got me thinking about presentations, both at conferences and pitches to potential clients. Over the past couple of years I’ve done quite a bit of both, traveling to and presenting at various conferences as a way of building social proof and pitching schools and cultural centers to get my business off the ground. One piece of advice: Know what your audience is going to ask before they ask it.

You don't have to be clairvoyant, (though that certainly wouldn't hurt!) you just have to be self-reflective and critical enough to analyze your previous work. For example, after doing a few conference presentations I noticed the same questions popping up again and again in the Q&As. People would ask me how I work with non-verbal students. I’d explain the ways I make the workshops adaptable and inclusive through sensory activities, word walls, close coordination with speech therapists, and the like. Eventually, I learned to anticipate the question.

With this knowledge I could do two things: build it into my presentation or purposefully leave it out. There’s an argument for both and for me it really depends on who my audience is going to be. I'll give reasoning for both strategies in the case of the non-verbal student question.

Donnie Welch, a young bearded man with glasses, speaks in a school auditorium, gesturing with his hands out. Next to him is a projector displaying a slide on a screen him.

Donnie Welch, a young bearded man with glasses, speaks in a school auditorium, gesturing with his hands out. Next to him is a projector displaying a slide on a screen him.

Building it into the presentation gives me the opportunity to better control the conversation. Someone might ask the question about a specific student they have and want the kind of answer that’s better handled one on one or they might use wording I don’t feel comfortable with necessitating that I switch up their language when I reiterate the question. Building it into a presentation ensures that the language surrounding non-verbal students is in my own words and that the ideas I share connect to the full range of my audience. It also gives me the chance to say something like, “ If you’re interested in a specific student or classroom, you can feel free to email me and we can talk about how I can best help and consult,” which both avoids questions that can derail the group and sets up new client opportunities.

That said, If I’m giving a broad, quick overview of my workshops at an education conference like SXSWedu as opposed to specialized conference, like the Council for Exceptional Children, diving too much into a specific aspect or student profile could very well interrupt the flow and my greater goal of introducing my theories and curriculum.

In these situations I might not address my work with non-verbal students in detail because there’s so much content to cover. In doing so though, I know in the back of my mind that the question will come up during the Q&A. It’s a bit like a magic act, pretending to pull a card out of an audience member’s ear when it’s been up your sleeve the whole time. A mark of a good presenter is someone who is able to give clear, informed answers to whatever questions pop-up. It showcases a depth of knowledge and a calmness under pressure. Once again, like magic, there’s a bit of an illusion to it (you can’t substitute knowledge or experience, got to have that) because you can be prepared for the question and have an answer ready.

This certainly isn’t to say there won’t be new questions that throw you off guard or bring you pause, just that there are some you can predict, that you’ll be able to prepare for, answer with poise, and these moments of confidence will make lasting impressions that on your audience.

What makes this skill so important in presenting in the education sector especially is that people always want to have best practice in mind. Teachers and administrators want strategies that will effectively reach all their students. Answering confidently proves that this is a fully formed curriculum, ed-tech app, or product that you’ve thoroughly considered the insides and outs of.