MINDSET SHIFT: HOW TO EMBRACE THE POWER OF INFORMATION
As I said way back in Episode 12 which shared 6 best practices for sharing information, many of us are experts in our field – possibly art historians, historians or archaeologists – and want to share that incredible knowledge with the groups we lead in our programmes.
But sometimes having that knowledge can be a burden. It can weigh heavy on us.
Knowing what information to share, when to share it and how to share it is tricky. How much is too much?
And how can you share it in way that engages the group, energises the discussion and inspires new thinking?
In this blog, I want to shift your mindset about information. I want you to encourage you to think carefully about how you view information and how and when you share it in your programmes.
I’m exploring the 6 main problems with sharing contextual information in museum programmes and providing you with a series of coaching questions to help you work out how you really feel about sharing your knowledge.
I’m introducing you to my What? How? When? framework which allows you focus on knowing what information to share, and how and when to share it.
I’ll end by sharing my thoughts about how I genuinely feel about information. Does it help to deepen and enrich experiences in the museum or does it hinder personal discoveries?
6 PROBLEMS WITH INFORMATION SHARING
So let’s look first at some problems with sharing information. Let’s see if you recognise any of them:
Memorising information & transmitting it in rote fashion.
This includes dates, facts, figures, and everything you remember. Delivery might sound as though the information has been memorised and is just being regurgitated.
Giving information in one big ‘information dump’
This is when you are on a roll and start oversharing. You may not even notice you’re doing it as you’re enthused by your passion for the subject. You get excited by sharing your knowledge and go off on a monologue sharing everything you know about this one subject. You are so engrossed in your subject that you don’t notice your participants starting to fidget and look away. You have lost their attention. The energy in the group has disappeared. How can you get it back?
Sharing information too fast or, perhaps worse, too slowly…
This is when you don’t think about pacing and share everything much too quickly or too slowly. Again, are you reading the group and seeing how they are responding to your information. You have to give people time to process information – a few minutes for every piece of information or they get overloaded. Too fast and our brains can’t cope in the audience. Too slow and we’re mentally trying to get you to speed up.
Doing all the talking and not allowing interaction from the group or between group members
This is when you have so much to share that you really don’t want to encourage any responses or questions from your audience. It would stop you transmitting all that information to everyone and they would miss out. But you’re really sending a signal that you don’t want interaction and if you’re not encouraging interaction within 5 mins of a programme starting, people will get apathetic about contributing and wonder whether there is any point.
Sharing information that is irrelevant to the theme of the programme
You may think of this as bonus information that you’re sharing out of the kindness of your heart but it’s not. Unless someone has specifically requested it, don’t share it. Information needs to be organised, relevant and enjoyable. Don’t go off on tangents.
Sharing all the knowledge about any given subject.
This is for the uber-specialists out there. Those that have a pet-subject or passion or specialism. They decide to download their entire back catalogue onto their audience thinking that they are sharing the benefit of their wisdom. It’s just too much. I’ve seen all of these over the years. And you may or may not identify with some of these. Or have seen them in action. Or parts of them at least. Some of these examples may seem quite extreme but they still exist, believe me. The number one reason I am brought in to museums to do team trainings is to provide tools and techniques to stop teams of museum guides or educators ‘sending’ or ‘transmitting’ information to their audiences. I’m often brought in to offer skills-based classes on techniques to encourage more interaction – such as questioning skills or facilitation techniques or more method-based trainings such as my Visible Thinking in the Museum team trainings. But I’m increasingly being asked to provide training on how to handle information in a more productive and strategic way.
Many museums will focus on providing more content training for their teams rather than skills or method-based trainings. Every time a new exhibition opens, the team will get an overview of the information they need to know and share.
But do they get tools and ideas for how to share that information? And what information might suit certain age groups or specialist groups more than others? And what about when to share that information? Most likely not.
So I really want to challenge you today to think about the way YOU view information. And I want to challenge your existing mindset.
WHAT IS A MINDSET?
Let’s look first at what a mindset is. Your mindset is the lens of how you look at things, it’s your outlook or your world view.
It is an expression of a belief that you hold. It’s a fundamental belief that shapes how you see things.
You may have heard of “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. These terms were coined by Stanford researcher and professor Carol Dweck to describe belief systems about your ability to change, grow and develop over time.
Now, here’s the important part, if you realise that your mindset is just the expression of a belief, then you know that to change your mindset, you just need to embrace a new belief.
By challenging yourself with new experiences and perspectives, you can form new neural connections or mindsets at any point in your life.
3 QUESTIONS TO CHALLENGE YOUR INFORMATION MINDSET
How do you feel about information in your programmes? Here are a few questions to think about. If you like, pause for a moment and write down some thoughts.
How do I feel, on a gut level, about the way I share my knowledge in my programmes? What works well? and what could you change?
Think about a time recently when you shared some contextual information in a programme. How did I share the information? How much information did I share? What was the reaction from the group?
What role does information play in my programmes? How much does it matter to you?
Now that you’ve had time to think about how you really feel about information and how you share it with others. Think about whether you need to change your mindset.
WHAT? HOW? WHEN? FRAMEWORK
If you’re ready to take the first steps to rethinking about the way you work with information in your programmes, there are 3 important things to focus on when you are thinking about sharing information: you need to think about the what. What information am I going to share? The How? How am I going to share it? And the When? When am I going to share it.
It’s all about balance. In your role as a facilitator, you need to strike a delicate balance – between providing information and knowledge and getting participants own views and experiences. You need to remember to establish connection before content – that is connection with your participants, connection with the object or artwork and connections with you and with each other. You need to strike a balance between managing the group and maintaining a feeling of openness and curiosity.
In some programmes we may place so much emphasis on the delivery of content, information or knowledge or linking to the school curriculum that we forget we are also helping to develop skills in our programmes, skills such as : observing and describing, comparing and contrasting, identifying and classifying and so on.
INFORMATION AS A POWERFUL TOOL
We need to think of information as another tool in our toolbox. And a powerful one at that. It doesn’t need to be brought out all the time. We need to use this tool at appropriate times. I’m asking you lots of questions today to get you thinking about how you feel about information. You may not feel the same way as I do. But it’s important to understand that there are lots of different perspectives out there because it will help you to understand your audience better – your audience may all have differing attitudes towards information too!
2 FURTHER QUESTIONS TO CHALLENGE YOUR INFORMATION MINDSET
So here are 2 more questions to think about vis-a-vis your information mindset. Take a moment and think about how you would respond to these questions honestly:
Can information help to deepen and enrich participants’ experiences? If so, how?
Does information prevent a more personal experience with an artwork? If so, how?
So, here are some of my thoughts to end with.
It’s not that information is a problem in itself, it’s what you do with the information.
Information should only be added when it doesn’t stop the free-flow of ideas and when it can help with understanding.
It should be offered in small amounts and at the right moments.
If your programme, class or guided tour is based purely on information delivery, participants will soon realise their participation is irrelevant and will tune out.
Information is a tool and we should share it productively and strategically.
How do you feel about information? Have I challenged your mindset? Have I given you food for thought? Sharing information that is engaging and memorable (without overloading your participants) is a great skill to master.
SLOW LOOKING CLUB
And don’t forget my FREE new Facebook group The Slow Looking Club created especially for podcast listeners. It’s a place for conversation and discussion about engaging with art, objects and life slowly. I’ll share resources, ideas and tips for anyone interested in looking at art – whether it’s for your personal enjoyment or your practice as a cultural educator. And we’ll have regular slow looking moments together too!