Beyond the Explosions: How Kate the Chemist Captivates with more than Chemistry

Recently, I attended a DEVLEARN conference in Las Vegas. I made the trip with a few of my favourite colleagues and for this reason alone, it was a memorable trip. I saw a lot of cool stuff and learned many things at this conference, however, there is one presenter I will never forget… Kate the Chemist.  

In preparation for the conference, I mapped out everything I believed to be worth attending. Now, I have to admit, I read Kate’s keynote speech overview and immediately decided I didn’t stand to gain anything as a Senior Instructional Designer. I even went a step further and googled her and still my assumption remained – Kate the Chemist wouldn’t have anything of value to offer a room full of Learning and Development (L&D) professionals.  

Well, I ended up attending her keynote and to say I was wrong would be an understatement. She blew my mind (no pun intended). Of course, her experiments and explosions were cool, but that wasn’t how she captivated her audience. She had an incredible ability to connect. Although Kate normally presents to school-aged children, it was amazing watching her establish commonality, share her passion, and inspire L&D professionals with such ease.  

It was more than her connection with the audience that made her so memorable for me. It might have a little to do with my inaccurate perception, but mostly it’s all the valuable takeaways she gave me, that I am still using in my everyday life.   

I remember it clearly, she had me in the first 60 seconds. She introduced herself and told us how she walked the convention halls listening to conversations of the attendees, pointing out what we all had in common – we all cared about learning and having fun. That is, essentially, who the DEVLEARN conference attendees are in a nutshell. She also shared her presentation goals up front; to give us just one or two things we could use in our world of training adult learners.

Kate’s presentation was titled, “How to be a Good Educator” and there was no doubt she was a credible speaker on this topic. Kate was electric. She was passionate. She was knowledgeable and experienced. And, lucky for me…she was practical and tactical – she gave me not one or two, but five take aways that help me be a better instructional designer and member of the L&D community:   

  • William James Theory of Emotional Memory to training: The theory is when you have an emotional response to something, you are more likely to have a memory. I apply this theory to training to evoke an emotional response. Keeping in mind there is a 60 second window to teach learners something they will remember after creating an emotional response. And I find this approach to be particularly helpful teaching complicated concepts. It is my favourite takeaway from Kate. I love the art of connecting with people on an emotional level, in everyday life and in training. 
  • Train outside of your work environment: The idea is to go out into your community and find people who need your help. Sharing your skills will help you hone your skills. By educating others, we can improve our ability to educate. I apply this technique by volunteering in classrooms at my children’s school. I quite enjoy the challenge of having to adapt my teaching approach for different audiences and learners with unique needs. It helps me remember how important it is to understand and empathize with learners whenever I begin work on a new project.  
  • Always consider your image: It is important to think about who you are representing. You never know who could be looking up to you. This wasn’t something I thought about until hearing Kate speak about it but, it made me think about who might be looking up to me – new teachers…new Instructional Designers…my children. Since becoming a parent and going through the work/life balance challenges that come with it, it is important that I represent a successful working mom. I am passionate about being a mother and being an Instructional Designer. I want everyone to know that with the right support you can be great at both.  
  • Be a good mentor: Kate uses the “Slingshot Method” to reach back and bring others forward. You can use your experience to make things easier for those coming behind you. Share your knowledge and skills to help others excel. I tried to research this but sadly, I couldn’t find much on it. I like to think of it as building up anyone within reach. I apply this in my personal and professional life, as well as in my training. In my experience positive experiences and feedback can motivate, improve performance, enhance self-esteem, and strengthen relationships.  
  • Engage in hard conversations: Use your voice to make education and training a better place. If you sense stereotypes or bias, speak up. The more we talk about difficult things, the more we learn about them. Then we are more capable of educating others. This one can be challenging to apply, but the more you engage, the easier it gets. Luckily, I have had the privilege of working on training around tough topics. This training is so valuable because teachers and learners stand to gain something – learning from one another and working together to create safe spaces in learning. 

The old saying goes, “Never judge a book by its cover.” And this was a perfect example of why I shouldn’t. I learned a lot from Kate, and I also learned how lucky we are that Smartfirm is a company that makes professional growth a priority. By providing opportunities to learn about and engage in conversations around cutting-edge training, we are able to apply much of what we learn to our work, and it encourages creativity.

If you are interested in learning about the innovative work we do at Smartfirm, I encourage you to reach out.

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