Three Five Seven – #226

Three, five, and seven
3 5 7
By Stan Shapiro MD, Grand Lodge Education Officer G.L. of MN

“A man only learns in two ways, one by reading and the other by associating with smarter people”- Will Rogers, American Humorist and Freemason

The following article was written by Worshipful Brother Gerald Edgar, who lives in Garner Iowa, belongs to the Mosaic #125 Lodge AF&AM at Dubuque, Iowa and is a member of our Education Committee and Writers Guild. He is a gifted writer and speaker.

LEO Presentation —Questions

There are several natural tendencies that may minimize the effectiveness of your Masonic Ed presentation. I am going to focus on “questioning”; i.e. encouraging the listeners to provide feedback. However let’s quickly consider a few other hurdles that prevent good results. One, the comfort of the room you are presenting in: seating, air temps, odors, crowdedness and acoustics to name a few. Many Lodge rooms are NOT ideal for a verbal presentation; consider using other parts of the Lodge Hall or ask the WM for permission to temporarily allow all in attendance to seek alternate seating (sometimes those Master & Warden chairs are THE most uncomfortable!).

Assuming you have a good physical room and environment, absent any of the barriers I just suggested AND an interesting topic, it now comes down to your presentation skills. Further assuming you are a reasonably good speaker, using expression, phrasing, gestures, a ‘catchy’ opener and perhaps A/V aids and/or handouts, effective communications means gaining feedback. HOW do you know the listeners understand the topic as you meant for it to be understood? Indeed, isn’t much of our ritual, from the opening thru the Third Degree dependent on questions to and from the Craft?

Business communication courses always stress that communications only occur when the message goes from A and is received by B intact. How do you know if this has occurred? The best method is to ask ‘do you understand?”. The problem with this is that most of us are unlikely to admit before a group that we truly do NOT ‘understand’. Think about your school days. Recall when a teacher asked the class “does everyone understand this?” You did not but rather than raise your hand you looked furtively to the left and right hoping and praying Tom or Suzie would raise THEIR hands. And of course they were hoping the same. If you were lucky someone was brave and asked for a rehash, if not, there was a missed question or two on the next test!

What we need to do is gain the audience’s willingness to question. Begin with some simple but fun questions someone is likely to answer, even if only to raise their hands. “How many of your have ever wondered what ‘esoteric’ means?” If no one raises their hands say ‘fine, guess that ends the topic for the night unless one of you wishes to take over’ (said with a broad smile of course). “Everyone over 60 please raise your hands – baby boomers may have a little different take on what I am going to speak on”. Or if there is at least one person in the group you are close with or whom you know is interested in your topic (ritual, lodge history, Masonic jurisprudence, etc) say “Tom, have you had any background in _____? You may want to add a comment or two when we sum up”.

After you make a significant point, ask the group – ‘does this seem surprising (or new) to you?’ If you get a head nod, ask the Brother, ‘how so?’ You are not engaging in a group discussion but neither are you usually doing a straight lecture: “no interruptions class!” You may also pause during your presentation to say ‘Most local histories say our Lodge first met above the Johnson Hardware – has anyone heard differently? Or “most Masonic authorities feel only these few landmarks as universal but a few add____. What do you think?”

When someone does reply or asks a question remember the first dictum of any learning scenario – there are no dumb questions or replies. If someone says something off topic or truly offbeat, you can always smooth over by saying ‘that’s a very interesting thought but since it’s not found in my current research, perhaps you and I can discuss it later’ (be sure to have pen & paper with you because jotting down something that you promise to consider or “get back to you on” tells all present you not just giving lip service).

There will be evenings when it’s pulling teeth to get audience responses but work at it and vary your methods depending on the group. An engaged audience tells you whether the message is getting across. It also tells you its being absorbed. The oldest method is to ask the person(s) to reiterate or summarize what you just told them. This is usually a tool to reduce errors i.e. “to count towards the Lodge of the Year Award you need to do three things: have the project pre-approved, submitted no later than ‘x’ and provide a measurable summary of the results”. A less challenging way is to offer a little outline AFTER you finish (otherwise the Brothers will be reading it rather than listening to you!) or a brief written or verbal quiz. Whatever you do however do NOT wait till you are finished to ask if there are any questions as a) some questions that would have been asked have been forgotten and b) you learn belatedly several fellows had no idea what you were talking about or have a completely different frame of reference.

Unlike a concert or drama, a Masonic Ed program is usually designed to permanently add some ‘facts’ to the listener’s memory. Engaging listeners and getting feedback lets you know the message you intended to give is received as intended AND is at least in part added to collective memories. It may also reveal new information heretofore unknown to you and/or correct some errors you inadvertently made. Adding the caveat that your presentation is one man’s view of the subject lets the Lodge know they are welcome to join the presentation. Questions tell you the group is engaged, that you are on the right track and just maybe, “education” was indeed accomplished.

Gerald Edgar Mosaic #125 Lodge AF&AM Dubuque, Iowa

Words To Live By: “If you have knowledge let others light their candles at it”—Thomas Fuller
“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill f creative effort”—Franklin D. Roosevelt, President and Freemason

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