Show and tell

Rebecca Atkinson, 18.03.2014
Sharing practice is good practice
Show and tell assemblies at school are a rite of passage – for many children, they are their first foray into public speaking and can help build confidence and communication skills.

But our willingness to get up in front of an audience and tell them what we’ve been up to is often lost in later life; maybe we’re worried about boring people or sounding like we’re showing off? Perhaps, deep in our subconscious, there lurks a nightmare scenario of being booed, laughed at or told to shut up. Our doubts and insecurities can result in stage fright that prevents us from sharing with peers, friends and colleagues.

I can relate to this fear (my mind always turns to mush during the Museums Association’s monthly staffing updates), but I’m also a big believer in the benefits of sharing what we do with others – from raising awareness of important work to revealing unthought-of connections and ideas.

That sharing can take place on Twitter, in email or blogs, but there’s something to be said for telling a group or room full of people what you’ve been up to, and then letting the conversation evolve from there.

The “show and tell” approach is being used by museum professionals across the country – at the Museums Association members’ meetings and other regional get-togethers, as well as informal meet-ups such as Museums Showoff, Art History in the Pub and the Twitter-led #drinkingaboutmuseums.

Last week I went to my first Heritage Show + Tell at Leeds Museum. This free event is for people working in heritage in Yorkshire to come together and share their work, get feedback on ideas and meet new people.

Each speaker has three minutes to discuss their project, and then there is time for mingling and discussion.

It’s a format that works really well, and Heritage Show + Tell has seen the number of people attending increasing since it first launched over a year ago.

Last week the eclectic mix of presentations included Sue Ottley-Hughes from the Friends of Stank Hall Barn discussing its campaign to save the building, one of the oldest in Leeds; Nick Cass, from the University of Leeds, sharing the challenges of displaying contemporary art in sites such as the Bronte Parsonage Museum; and Jude Woods from Leeds Art Gallery delivering an A-to-Z of queer culture.

Being able to hear about this varied work in an evening, and having the chance to chat to the speakers afterwards, was one of the most valuable aspects of Heritage Show + Tell for me – and I hope we see these events continue in the future.