Archaeology

I’m sharing my process for preparing the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is Part Four; you can now find an index of all previous posts in this series on my new #ShareHuman page.

For a few years, when I was about six through nine years old, I was really interested in being an archaeologist. At the time it probably came from a fascination with dinosaurs I shared with many kids at that age, as well as my general ongoing interest in Science! as a thing I enjoyed learning about. I was also excited by discovery, digging and unearthing pieces of a puzzle, figuring out how the pieces connect and learning the story they tell.

My interest in dinosaurs faded by the time I was ten, replaced by science fiction and space exploration (Lego!) and something in our new “computer lab” called an Apple II (Logo!). But my love for discovery and unearthing the bones of a story have never really gone away.

Which is a good thing, because now I find myself at the stage of putting together my presentation where I have unearthed a whole mess of bones, but I have no idea which ones actually belong to the skeleton I’m trying to assemble and which ones are part of a different beast altogether. 

 

My weekend workspace

The chaotic arrangement in the photo above illustrates this stage of the process pretty well. I’ve got all kinds of random scrap notes to make sense of—some are sources, some quotes, many just ideas I wanted to incorporate—and I’m trying to review and declutter it all, organize the ideas into patterns or themes, and see where the connections can be made to start linking themes together.

I know myself pretty well, and this is the stage I struggle with most, the part that feels the most like work. This is the tipping point where research notes begin to merge into drafts; where it’s easy to get bogged down and lose time futzing with settings and layouts of my organizational tools and software rather than actually creating a presentation.

And I can’t say I’ve overcome all those stumbling blocks completely. Astute observers may notice evidence of my go-to procrastination tools at the fringes of that photo: the sketch pad, the playing cards, the epic post-postmodern novel (and there’s beer but that’s not procrastination – it’s brain fuel). But one thing I think I have figured out is the tools I need to get this all organized.

Most of my notes fall into two types: stuff I’ve jotted on paper by hand, and stuff I’ve captured into either text files or an Evernote notebook. So my first goal was to try and collect all the written notes into digital form. I started out trying to create a new project in Scrivener for this, remembering how good it can be for pulling together research and writing drafts. But I hadn’t used that software in a while and became so bogged down in the features/options I had forgotten that I realized it was taking more time to make it work than I was actually getting anything done (sorry, Scrivener).

So I took a step back and thought about what it was I actually needed in the end: a slide deck, and some sense of what to talk about along with those slides. I had already started a few ideas for a slide deck in Keynote just to play with style choices like fonts and themes (I’ll share more about creating slides in a future post), but I couldn’t really go to far with that until I had the content. And that means I need a script.

The script is the meat my presentation—the full “dinosaur” of ideas I’m trying to bring to life from this pile of bones. And if I’m going to build a dinosaur, we need to start with the skeleton that everything else rests on. That means an outline, and thanks to an example set by a colleague of mine in recent web project meetings, I realized that mind mapping software was the perfect tool for me to do this.

I’m using XMind and it has turned out to be the perfect place to start putting ideas together. Starting with a simple focus, I was quickly able to hang my basic armature of themes in place, and start building out from there. Here’s my head, here’s my tail; there’s an appendage of some kind – maybe it’s another tail? Or is that a foot? I can move things around easily along the spine that I choose, and slowly it forms an outline that makes sense. I have my skeleton, which means I can write my script, which means I can build my slide deck. Everything that was buried is now falling into place

And all of a sudden I’ve become the archaeologist that my 2nd-grade self longed to be. I’m discovering a brand new dinosaur of my very own, and the excitement I imagined all those years ago flutters back into my chest and my eyes open wide.

Of course, one of the privileges of being the one to discover a new dinosaur means I get to name it, too. Given the subject of my presentation, that’s kind of a no brainer:

I’m calling this one Cher.

 

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