Eight years ago I left the classroom for the glamorous occupation of scraping and painting historic homes in Hutchinson, KS. I was able to pay myself $10 per hour without benefits. Pursuing this underpriced occupation was not paying the mortgage no matter how many hours were invested. It became clear that it never would. One day my cell phone rang, and on a ladder in the hot sun, I took a call that would change my life.
The decision makers at ESSDACK, a nonprofit educational service agency headquartered in Hutchinson, Ks, had heard of my innovative classroom instructional methods, witnessed my presentations at local conferences, and was aware of my success with difficult to reach students. Unaware of their musings on my potential employment, I eagerly accepted their offer to discuss employment as a technology integration consultant.
ESSDACK is in the business of finding and developing exceptional presenter/trainers and providing them to schools to help improve instruction and evolve new approaches to teaching. To be called into a meeting at ESSDACK for employment consideration was one of my two fantasies (receiving a call from Steve Jobs is my second). Sweaty and covered in paint chips (likely lead based) I met with Dr. Mike Cook and Dr. Steve Wyckoff. After many questions, they offered me the use of a laptop that paralleled a Ferrari should I come aboard. Thinking of the hot sun, lead based paint chips, and the reality of underpaid manual labor, these men and their offer seemed a nice alternative.
Little did I know that in the next year I would come to learn more than I had in my previous 37 years of life. When you become a consultant at ESSDACK you enter a new world. Your role is to become what schools need. To do that, you must become a super bionic, always-on learner. This fit me perfectly! I was addicted to learning. The Internet had arrived and was a game changer for those wise enough to utilize it for learning. ESSDACK had assumed that my experience in making full-length feature films with kids, meant that I was a master with the software and hardware needed to do such and could help teachers learn likewise. The truth was I knew just enough to get the job done and be dangerous. The next few months I knew I would have to become what they believed they had hired.
With very little sleep over the subsequent months, I went on a personal learning spree; accessing forums groups, blogs, online resource, and any other things that could help me grow and learn. Jerry Butler, a tech guru at ESSDACK was instrumental to my ‘learning on the fly’ as this compressed doctoral program took on a life of it’s own. Colleagues Glenn Wiebe, Dr. Steve Wyckoff, as well as my boss Dr. Mike Cook, and many others, guided me as I developed. As my knowledge and skills developed, I transitioned to designing technology integration workshops that very few people attended.
When you become an ESSDACK employee several things are made clear to you:
1. They have faith in you and will carry you.
2. You must quickly develop services schools need and are willing to pay for.
3. The clock is ticking…. learn!
Although ESSDACK is a nonprofit, they are not in favor of a loss. Money generated by consultants pays for copiers, accountants, secretaries, your employment, equipment (you get the picture) and ultimately the capacity to help schools. I soon felt the pressure to generate revenues that would carry my salary, expenses, some support staff time, and all the ancillary business expenses a position requires. There was just one small problem in my case; there weren’t enough customers in Central Kansas for what I was teaching, never mind that I was a good trainer.
After researching and designing a technology integration training, I’d find myself in a room with three participants on delivery day! What became clear to me was there just wasn’t enough market for ed tech in Central Kansas. I might not keep my new job if I didn’t find a solution. Lead paint chips were once again in my dreams. I cast about looking for options. A wild thought, “If I could reach a more national market I might just have a chance”. Podcasting had just hit the scene. I had taught radio, been a DJ in college, and realized the many parallels. Creating an experiment to test this new approach, I started doing a podcast titled “Driving Questions In Education”. Episodes were recorded on my long drives across Kansas (thus, the name). I spoke to my imagined audience about books I’d read and conversations with authors. In time, Driving Questions included interviews with many education experts including Ruby Payne and Dan Pink (two of my favorites!). I watched in amazement as Driving Questions climbed the American Tech Ed Video podcast charts.
Attending and doing break-out sessions at national and regional conferences was yielding work outside the state. Several times per year, trainings were now being booked around the Midwest region. Then the next tech craze hit! As social networking sites began to appear, I jumped on everything I could find; Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, etc. Engaging in conversations with teachers all over the world, I was constantly sharing ideas, building trainings, and creating new expertise from this techno-social craze. As I continued to build and offer trainings in Kansas and nearby states, it became apparent that the primary demand resided outside the wheat fields of Kansas. I was meeting wonderful and influential people both online and in real life. Many of these relationships resulted in being hired for speaking engagements and trainings in their states. Word of mouth, social media and relationships were helping me grow my brand.
A significant part of my success stemmed from my theater and art background. Utilizing this, I designed my own promotional materials and website, as well as feeling right at home on stage. The focus was on ‘infotainment’ that would allow every skill I had to be interweaved into my presentations. The ‘infotainment’ thing was always focused on improving the learning process through technology integration, web tools, and the latest brain research. After much thought, my guitar even made it’s way into the presentations. I was determined to not to waste a single skill I had, not even a minimal one, if it helped reach the learning audience. The things a presenter is passionate about can become the audiences’ passion.
Over eight years of following my plan and including strategies and tools like Google Analytics to track audience interest before and after my bookings, I have grown an audience and reached the point where I have all the work I can handle. This is not to say I’m stopping, resting or even taking a break from learning. I continue to study ways to leverage emerging technologies to reach a broader audience and become more effective as a presenter/trainer, but now, I have a new goal in mind.
After doing what I do for the past several years, I have come to the conclusion that selling me one day at a time has limited shelf life. I now want to help other people who have a passion and talent for presenting and training to find their audience and make a living doing what they love. I want to take all the lessons I’ve learned about presenting and marketing and launch your name and reputation out there by teaching it to you, the next up and comer. Calling this initiative ‘Launch Me’, the first training will be on May 25th in Hutchinson, Kansas at the ESSDACK Office. The second will be on the preconference day, July 18, 2012, before Podstock 2012 in Wichita, Kansas, at the Hotel at Old Town convention center.
During this training, I’ll help participants focus on developing their presentation skills, their brand and their online presence as well as their ability to market their skills to a global audience. Ideally, together, we’ll create a ‘Yoda developing Jedi Knights’ environment where I can coach and support a high quality group of friends who seek to make the education world better while paying their bills.
Having been groomed and developed at ESSDACK has given me strong moral ethics and a laser focus on customer service. As a speaker/presenter, I bring these to every job. The people I seek to work with have to have the same dedication to these principles. It’s the little things that differentiate the best in this field from those who only seek to make money. Some of these guiding principles are:
1. Do whatever it takes to meet the needs of the customer.
2. Arrive early and stay late. It’s ok to set up chairs and help clean up after the event.
3. Make time to be available after your work is done. Talk to as many participants as possible.
4. Never lose your sense of camaraderie with daily educators, learn with them and from them.
5. Seek opportunities to work in classrooms, alongside teachers to maintain your instructional skills and true sense of the plight of teachers.
6. Teach by example and do the things you teach.
7. Keep your sense of humility and NEVER put your own needs above those of the customer/learner.
8. Be kind.
9. Be an inventive problem solver, looking for solutions to the challenges your customers face.
Love the work or find something else to do.
At Launch Me we’ll explore people’s natural talents, help them align their techniques more closely to their natural skills, do a makeover on their digital footprints, and help build strategies geared toward helping them achieve their goals. I am so excited about this new phase of my career and look forward to helping other people get where they want to go while helping move education in positive, new directions. Hope to see you on the launch pad. Kevin