My wife, Rozz, and I have been going to and participating in Teachmeets for a number of years and always enjoy them. The informal nature of these events where teachers get together to share ideas in a show and tell format is not only great fun but we always leave learning something new. While Teachmeets aren’t always about technology, most of the ones that take place in Ireland centre around technology. However, even if they aren’t, there’s a lot of technology at play in them.
When Fionnuala from Educate Together asked Rozz and me to host a Teachmeet at Educate Together’s first ever Ethical Education Conference, we were delighted. We thought we’d share our own thoughts on setting up and running a Teachmeet and all the various things one might need to think about if thinking of running one.
First, the initial background work: the stuff that no one sees. A Teachmeet needs presenters. This can be harder than one thinks. We managed to get 9 after much begging and lying and bribery.Once you have the presenters, you need them to send you the topics they are going to talk about and hope that no one clashes. Once that’s in order, you need to make sure that all presenters either send you whatever is needed to be on the big screen on the day, that is PowerPoints or links to videos, presentations, websites, etc. It’s really important to do all of this as early as possible.
Next, the venue, which is probably the most important aspect of a Teachmeet. We didn’t have a choice in ours but we landed on our feet! Our event was in the main function room of the Alexander Hotel in Dublin city. In our experience, hotels can be a mixed affair, especially in terms of Internet access, (see later), but this venue had everything one could ever wish for. Firstly, there were two screens available to us with two projectors. This is really important. I find the main screen is best used solely for the presentations. The other screen is great for showing a Twitter feed. We also used it for choosing the next speaker. It gave us a chance to load up presentations more quickly. Apart from the screens, good sound is essential. Again we were lucky that we had a room with a brilliant speaker system. No matter where one was in the room, you could hear. We also found it was good to have a roaming microphone as well as one on the speaker’s stand. This gives the presenters a chance to walk about and interact with the crowd if they wish.
Another tip we have learned over the years is the layout of the room. We think the best layout is a banquet layout, much like you’d find at a wedding rather than lecture styles of rows of seating. This allows people to chat at their tables and gives a more informal atmosphere.
Another practicality is the “stage” area or the front of the room. I think it’s best to have a podium with a microphone for the presenters just off the centre and the big screen in the middle. The smaller screen is best off to the side and then there might be a table for the hosts of the Teachmeet while the presenters are up. We had some tables to show off the spot prizes so people knew what they had.
Speaking of spot prizes, these add a nice dimension to a Teachmeet and make a welcome break in between the presentations. We were lucky enough to get a number of prizes. The better the prizes, the better! It’s very important, of course, to mention the people/companies who donate the prizes at least twice in the Teachmeet, in our opinion and to display their logos, etc. on the big screen at the start and end of the proceedings. The most common way to give spot prizes is through a raffle. We enlisted some help at the entrance whereby everyone who came in got a raffle ticket. However, apart from straight raffles, it’s also fun to mix things up a bit. We did a Kahoot quiz in the middle of the Teachmeet and had over 110 people playing a quiz off their mobile phones!
Of course, this only worked because of the excellent Internet connection in the venue. Whatever venue you pick, it’s really important to check the Internet connection. It can make or ruin a Teachmeet. A fast, reliable broadband connection will allow presenters to use the Internet during their presentations. It will also allow people in the venue to use their Internet and tweet about the event or take part in web-based quizzes. If you have a slow connection, it’s important to let presenters know about this and ensure that all content is offline, so YouTube videos and Prezi presentations need to be downloaded to the computer.
How long should a Teachmeet last and how many presenters should you have? In our experience, we think ten presenters is plenty. We had nine and the event last 90 minutes, which is probably enough. Two hours is probably acceptable if there is a lot of variety such as mini-contests or soapboxes. Most Teachmeets allow presenters on for 2 or 7 minutes but we decided to keep things simple with 5 minutes for everyone. One thing that really annoys us at Teachmeets are the presenters that go past their time, especially if their presentation isn’t that interesting. It also is a bit disrespectful to the ethos of the event so we came up with the idea of a one-minute warning. We had two musical instruments: a tambourine and a pair of cymbals. I guess no one likes to have a pair of cymbals clashed in the middle of their talk but it also adds a touch of humour to the event and when it’s done with a smile and is consistent, no one gets offended!
Manpower is a consideration. We think 3 people is the minimum number you need to present a Teachmeet even though there are quite a number of roles that are needed. There’s the tech person who has to make sure all the technology is in order and that presentations are ready to work on the main computer. There’s the person at the door giving out raffle tickets including latecomers. There’s the main host and sometimes a second host to tag team with. There’s the person doing the timing. Rozz and I shared the hosting duties, which I think worked well. I did the timing and tech stuff and a teacher friend of ours did the raffle tickets. Rozz banged the cymbals as I was too chicken! The event was also videoed by Educate Together so if you are doing that or getting the event streamed, you’ll need someone for that.
It may seem a bit obvious but a good idea is to have a plan of the flow of the Teachmeet handy as it’s very hard to remember everything! We made a plan which outlined who was saying what and when. We felt this helped us know exactly what was going on at all times and helped us relax as we knew what we were both doing.
Other little tips we thought worked included asking the presenters to send a bio. While we were setting up their presentations on the main laptop, we could read out their bios so there was never a stop in the flow of the Teachmeet. We also love the random nature of calling presenters up so nobody knows when their presentation is coming. I don’t think anything beats ClassTools.net and their various random name generator tools so we used those. We also like BrainPop’s explanation of Teachmeets so we felt it was a good idea to show this video to explain what a Teachmeet was to the audience as many of them had never been to one. Finally, it’s probably a good idea to try and get hosts who aren’t shy and aren’t afraid to talk into a microphone. The presenters are going to be nervous enough especially if they haven’t presented before so having hosts who are comfortable and assured relaxes everyone. I’m not claiming that we were comfortable or not nervous but it was something we knew we had to put to the back of our heads for the 90 minutes.
I hope this gives you some idea of how a Teachmeet can be organised. We had great fun running our first Teachmeet and we’d really recommend anyone to either go to one, present at one or even run one in your own area.