Show up Unprepared
When we started the Lawrence project, this is what success looked like: amazing lectures and breakout activities.
From the get-go, things went wrong. For one, we had to communicate bilingually, which meant everything took twice as long. When we nearly lost everyone's interest, we began to improvise instead, and discovered that the added flexibility and humility from a lack of preparation were game changers in achieving our goal.
1. When you need to break down barriers with your audience
In the beginning, our users were hostile. After all, we were outsiders who didn’t understand their day-to-day struggle. Surprisingly, when we fumbled on a Spanish word or didn't know what to do next, that won major points with them. We suddenly appeared relatable. Eventually, our sessions were always held at eye-level as we sat and mixed in with students around us.
2. When you are trying to learn from your audience
We wanted to share tips and tools that mattered most to the users. We put up a “parking lot” for questions. Nothing happened. Then, by letting users talk freely about their days, topics naturally surfaced. We prodded the conversation to learn about priorities and interests, which would inform our content for the next class.
3. When you teach in a chaotic environment
Most of our users had at least one toddler in the class. We gathered these toddlers in a corner with toys, a very temporary distraction. When we lectured, we would simply raise our voices and ignore the tiny bodies shuttling back and forth. However, with a flexible mindset, we could take a minute to reset the room layout and give users different roles to contain the situation.
And there you have it, a complete paradox: Prepare less to learn more!