Reflection on a workshop that was…


I co-facilitated a workshop at NLS6 a couple of weeks ago titled ‘Building and managing your professional identity’, with nearly 40 participants. Surprising turnout, I must say. I thought, “People actually want to see me speak?…..Cool!” (…followed by, “Oh crap!”)

I couldn’t be happier with how it went.

For those not so familiar with the New Librarians Symposium, here’s the description for the workshop from the program –

New to the online networking scene? Not sure if building an online presence is for you? Don’t know when to share something personal or professional? This workshop is for you. Let’s talk about the drivers for being in the online space. Differing perspectives and experiences about being online will be offered for discussion, as well as fine tuning of your use of some professional networking tools.

The objectives, directly from our lesson plan, that guided the workshop were: –

  • provide participants with an understanding of an online professional identity, what is means to them and to the profession
  • overcome any fears or barriers keeping participants from active involvement in the online professional community space
  • enable participants to make informed decisions about interacting with others online and how to present themselves
  • provide participants with an overview of key social networking tools – how to use them, what to watch out for

The approach we took in preparing for the workshop was to split the workshop into three, well-defined parts, but kept the agenda flexible enough to adjust to participants needs. We wanted to allow conversation to flow where it needed to go. We prepared a lesson plan that kept us to the objectives of the workshop; thought about who might be in the workshop, so what we were assuming and expecting from participants’ prior knowledge and experience; did up some slides to guide the structure of the workshop (nothing fancy), and came up with simple activities and discussion topics to get conversation going. Both my co-facilitator and I were on the symposium committee, so this approach worked for us and thankfully, the participants.

At the beginning of the workshop, when people were arriving, I felt uncomfortable sitting up the front. I didn’t want to feel or be seen as this ‘hot shot’ who was about to impart my lessons and wisdom. I wanted to be part of the conversation, THEIR conversation. I introduced myself and encouraged participants to introduce themselves and get talking among themselves, because hey, they were going to talk to each other whether they liked it or not! This made me feel more comfortable and hopefully, this had the same effect on them.

Okay, so I mentioned there were three parts.

1. Why actively develop a professional identity online?

In this section, we explored what was meant by ‘professional identity’; compared ‘professional identity’ with ‘personal brand’, and discussed drivers for being in the online space and actively developing a professional identity. We used butchers paper for brainstorming what ‘professional identity’ means to the participants, then for the discussion about drivers, we had participants brainstorm in groups and had one person from each group share what their group came up with. We stuck up their ideas on the walls.

2. How to play nicely with others

Here my co-facilitator, Matthias Liffers, led the participants through some of the common social networking tools – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, as well as some hobby related ones like Flickr and Runkeeper, just briefly. We also looked at when to share or not share, personal and professional accounts.

3. But….what about?

We delved into some interesting discussions around some scenarios Matthias put forward to the participants. These scenarios centred on one thing – “What if your employer discovers your content?”  We also spoke about and shared experiences with what to put on our resumes. I finished this part of the workshop with a mini-lecture/ presentation on my views about professional identity and how it fits into the wider context of learning as a profession. I could have done this first thing, but then the participants would walk away with my views and not their own. I wanted the participants to formulate their own ideas, the way it makes sense for them, then put the ‘spanner in the works’, so to spark.

A few things made this workshop awesome, or made it the one people wanted to be in.

  • Interaction and discussion – this was by far the biggest strength in this workshop, and was partly due to the great bunch of people Matthias and I had the pleasure to work with. Participants had the opportunity to have their ideas and experiences heard and boy(!) did they bounce around the room! It was fabulous to see. Matthias and I valued what the participants had to say. This was their workshop. Interaction is what a workshop is meant to be about!
  • We were real – Matthias and I openly shared our experiences. We didn’t say ‘this is the way to do it’, instead we said something like ‘this was our experience and we’re sharing our lessons and tips’. We kept it real. This approach certainly worked with both our personal styles, in my opinion. It was great to bounce off another person. We worked well – I kept him to time, he kept me from freaking out from nerves.
  • Flexibility – We aimed for the participants to get as much out of a discussion as possible, and if it needed an extra 10 minutes to do that, so be it. We adjusted time, activities and discussions accordingly.

To wrap it all up, we did some informal feedback in the form of post its. Our questions were:-

1. What did you like about this workshop?

2. What did you learn and will take away from the workshop?

3. What didn’t we cover that you think we should have?

4. What could we (as presenters) improve on?

Feedback was overall very positive. I’m really stoked participants got so much out of it. We got a a few on Twitter! We got a few thinking about their professional identities. We got people thinking about a landing page to bring all their online presence together. Here are some of my favourite pieces of feedback.

“what I liked about the session was the engagement/ bounding around of ideas between tables, the group and the presenters”

“both discussions were informal which I find enjoyable and less nerve racking”

“the candour of the presenters”

“that developing an online presence could be a really fun way to add to my professional development”

“connectivism – think more about what I share with the world in return for what I gain”

“everybody has something to contribute no matter what”

What we could improve on….


“maybe more table discussion in 2nd half – just to balance out”

“I think the 2 group discussions were great where small groups reported back to the larger group. We could have done more of that.”  << I didn’t anticipate participants being comfortable with this! So much so, they wanted more!

All in all, I declare this workshop a success! Many thanks to Matthias for co-facilitating, the symposium committee who agreed to have us on the program, and to the participants. You guys rock!

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