How can workshop be less boring?

It’s so cheesy to be into a pop-psychology book like Flow, but it really has continued to have an impact in my life. For instance, I sometimes get bored in workshop. Forgive me, but I do. I know. It’s awful. This is the reason I am at Hopkins, and here I am, waiting for it to be over. But Flow made me realize two things: A) everything is boring if you’re not paying attention; and B) everything is boring if you don’t put part of yourself into it.

Normally, in workshop, I sort of half pay attention and wait for moments in which I can insert the comments that I came up with when I was reading the story before class. But when I am conducting my own workshop, I hate that! What I most want to happen is for the students to actually respond to each other’s comments and think about what works and doesn’t work for the story. So in yesterday’s workshop, I actually made an effort to listen to what people were saying, to understand their point, and to try to speak whenever I had something to say that was directly related to what they’d said.

I am sure that the end result was only marginally different from how I normally act, but I did enjoy workshop more and pay attention more.

I think that somewhere in here is the secret to active listening. I am awful at every form of listening: I can’t tolerate lectures, readings, and podcasts. But there has to be some way in which I can incorporate what I am hearing into my thought processes in a way that keeps me involved.

 

cover            I think this what happens when I read books. I am a great reader. And I think it’s because I don’t hold myself distant from the book. I engage in active conversation with it as I read. For instance, I recently read another amazing book: Made To Stick, by Dan and Chip Heath. It’s a book about how to communicate ideas in such a way that they, well, stick in peoples’ minds.

The book was extremely unsettling!

For my entire life, I’ve prided myself on my communication skills. I’m not talking about fiction, I’m talking about my blog posts, newspaper articles, journal articles, white papers, speeches, presentations, etc, etc.

Reading this book made me realize that I don’t have the first idea about how to appeal to people. The book is actually the first example of its own effectiveness, because its ideas are very sticky. The book’s schema is that when you convey information, it should be in the form of: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional stories. And then each chapter unpacks each of those words and examines, oh, what do we mean by “simple” or “credible” and includes tons upon tons of examples of great messages.

It was bit humbling to realize how little I know about something so basic. We devote so much thought to how to argue a case in an academic paper, and so little thought towards basic communication.

Anyway, I am already trying to reorient my communication strategy a bit. For instance, I started this blog post with what I hope was an unexpected and concrete admission about workshop and yesterday I did my best to summarize, in a simple way, what this blog is about.

Obv it’s all a work in progress, though.