Tuesday, April 5, 2011

No Rope Child Left Behind

This is gonna be a post that might seem a little snarky. So be it. They’re my opinions based on attending several conferences as one of those “clueless people in the audience”. One who at one time wanted to learn rope. And one who was turned off it for reasons unrelated to this post. Or perhaps not. That's a question I'll have to ponder some more.

I’d wondered WHY more than 1/2 of the attendees at a recent event were newcomers. You’d normally say “HEY, THAT’S GREAT!”. But while the numbers of attendees are increasing, the amount of people coming back is appallingly low. If 1/2 of the attendees are newcomers, then lots of the people at the last event didn’t come back. [edited, my math skills may suck, but I noticed that many of the "usual faces" didn't come back this time]

I personally think (and yeah, your mileage may vary) that as instructors, we’re failing to meet the needs of our students. We offer the same classes that have been done time and time again, and we’re losing people in the process. Yes, some classes need to be offered, especially in light of the newcomer attendance. But there’s a definite lack of sparkle in the offerings. But that’s a different subject.

This post is about how I felt teaching, getting feedback, and ATTENDING rope events. Maybe it’ll help those of us who teach this skill with things that I look for, have had happened, and have noticed myself.

First, be aware that when getting feedback (and I’ve gotten my share as a presenter as well), see if someone else can read and filter it to you. If one or two are awful, having someone else there to put perspective on it is helpful. “Oh...two people were unhappy? Out of the 60 that attended?” “That’s not really all that bad ya know”

Realize that feedback is not JUST a reflection upon you, as a teacher, but also is a reflection of the student’s version of what’s going on. Not everyone learns the same. Some classes that sounded okay might not live up to the expectation of the student. Or the hotel may have been out of hot water that morning. I find it a good measure on feedback to ask “did this class match it’s description?”. If lots of those answers are in the negative, that’s a problem that needs attention. Pronto. And I mean before you teach or submit another class anywhere.

If people complain about the same sort of thing “not enough hands on”, realize that it might not have been “just” about your class in particular, but about the event overall. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve attended a “hands on” class, only to find out that the class was the Presenter’s hands on their Demo-bottom. If it’s a hands on class, then GIVE the people help in starting. Many are shy, unpartnered, and newbies. Rope is intimidating. Good teachers make it look easy which also intimidates. Be aware that the audience, invited to start tying, may just not know how to BEGIN to duplicate what they’re seeing.

Be specific with descriptions. What the audience REALLY needs to know. Inform them at the start that if they can’t tie a box tie, and one is required to do it, then this class will not meet their expectations. That way when you get a feedback form that says “instructor didn’t teach how to do the box tie”, you’ll know it was the attendee who didn’t pay attention to the description and not teacher that didn’t pay attention to the student’s needs. Don't be so concerned with inclusiveness that you're afraid to exclude people who will have difficulty simply because they overestimate their own skills. Don't let them set themselves up for failure from the get-go.

IF you’re going to teach three complicated ties in an hour, you’re gonna get some negative feedback. Especially in large classes. Especially when you’ve got a lot of new people. Especially when the only other classes in that time slot have nothing to do with rope or are for even “more advanced” students.

And in that vein, pay attention to what’s scheduled opposite your own class. That way when only a few dozen show up, you’ll realize your class was opposite a Graydancer or a Lqqkout and be grateful for the two dozen. They’re just as important (and I personally think more so because they obviously didn’t KNOW who Graydancer or Lqqkout was or they’d be there as well) as everyone else who paid money to attend an event.

Be aware that when doing floor work in a huge class, you’re gonna get negative feedback from the people who got to the class late and ended up in the back of the room. Find a way to work around that and you’ll make those people very happy.

GET A TEACHING ASSISTANT. Or two, three or four if needed in large classes. It makes a HUGE difference to someone learning rope to have someone who can help without slowing down the entire class. Or getting frustrated enough that they give up. Trust me on this one. Asking for help can be intimidating. Having TA's around, especially if they're paying attention and can see someone having difficulty, makes it a win/win all around.

DON’T use the class to show how YOU play with your demo bunny. Unless that’s the point of the class. Watching some scenes to do with pain, can and does squick some newbies. That’s why there’s classes and why there’s parties. For the new-to-rope couple looking for a little bedroom fun, seeing a demo bottom getting their nipples pinched and tears start can be unsettling. If you’re going to do that, warn the audience. Believe it or not, not every person who attends a rope event is into pain.

Basically, remember that people have paid money (sometimes quite a lot after transportation and hotel fees are added to the ticket price) to learn about rope. Help them do THAT and you’ll have people that enjoy coming back to an event. Don’t let that other 1/2 keep leaving.


Trialsinner said...

After this past BIB, and reading my feedback, I also realized that very often attendees don't read class descriptions at all. People went into my class thinking it was about reading your bottom while playing.

If you read the description for the class, I think it's pretty obviously not focused on reading rope bottoms:

This is an analysis and hands-on exploration of the many things that go on while tying during a scene, that aren't the tying itself. This is a very physical and 3 dimensional workshop on playing and dominating with rope. The dominance being explored involves both dominating your partner and dominating the rope and scene. We will go over both physical skills and choreographic elements for adding drama and intensity to your play. While the skills in this class are top-centric, it will be exciting and stimulating for bottoms too. This is an intermediate-advanced spectrum class, please be comfortable and competent in your rope handling abilities, they will be challenged in a fun and positive way. This class is most ideal for people comfortable getting physically (not explicitly sexually) involved with their partner, and it will require movement and dynamic motion. Get your Sunday started with some hot refreshing fun.
Bring: Rope, and ideally a partner you are comfortable being physical with.

Now, granted, I had mostly lost my voice by sunday morning, so my class was a lot less academic than I had planned. But is it my fault for having a possibly misleading title, or the attendees' fault for not reading the description? It seems everyone that went in there with an open mind, or a correct understanding as to what the class would be had an amazing time, but some folks had an incorrect assumption, which I have to assume was because they didn't read the description.

Also, just want to speak to this

"If 1/2 of the attendees are newcomers, then 1/2 of the people at the last event didn’t come back."

It's not as bad as you think, you also have to account for the growth of the event. If the event is getting bigger, it also means that new people have to be joining. It might not mean that veterans aren't coming back, it might just mean there are a ton of new people. This past BIB was the biggest one ever, which would account for a lot of new people.

silverdreams said...

Yeah, math isn't a great skill :)

I've noticed that a lot of people who usually attend some events don't come back. There were a lot of new people and that is good. The test will be if those people come back. Too many don't.

And this wasn't specifically about the BiB. I used rope because many events I attend are rope-centric, but in no way is it JUST rope events.

As to whether the description failed or the reader failed, I'd say that IF something was lost in the translation, it needs to be fixed somehow. It's not a good thing for either the presenter or the attendee to have mixed expectations.