As part of my current job, I often give training presentations or workshops, either in-house or for other organizations or conferences. I just started one in-house presentation yesterday -- a multi-week affair that most people have to attend because it looks good for promotion. I have done this particular series before and found that most people's complaints revolved around it being too much work. It also was too much work for me. This time around I've revamped it to be the sort of thing that people (including me) can just show up to and have an interesting discussion. But there is always the worry that people will not take it seriously at all, and then things will truly fall apart before the end of the series with possible damage to my reputation from people thinking that I am a "joke" or can otherwise be taken advantage of. My plan of action (a risky plan of action) is to have the class be easy but to maintain appearances is to be seen as an authority such that they are afraid of my judgment, and also highlight the accomplishments and good ideas of their colleagues to foment peer pressure. This way they will feel both vertical and horizontal pressure to put forth their better efforts, despite the casual structure of the class.
To establish myself as an authority, I told them that I chose this particular topic because it is something that I didn't know much about but wanted to learn. I then told a story about someone famous in my field who happens to be in his 80s, and how he does a similar series with an emphasis on technology because that's the only way he can keep up with the latest and still remain relevant. Still, I really played up my ignorance, turning to particular articles written by experts and saying I don't even know what they're talking about, and could someone get more esoteric? I then proceeded to lead the discussion by asking insightful questions that I knew would be some people's specialities or at least a handful of people would know because of current events. I stirred up this almost feeding frenzy of bragging, everyone eager to try to show off their own knowledge and expertise lest they be thought the lone idiot in the seminar, but I never let anyone get too comfortable either. Finally at the end I take them along a particular polished thought experiment that blew their minds. The truth is that although I am not an authority in this general subject area, I am in the particular subject matter we discussed this week and will discuss next week. So now I've basically told them I'm an ignorant dilettante... who can also blow their minds. If my plan has worked correctly, the thing they should be asking themselves today is -- if I think I'm an idiot at something in which I am so far above them, how good am I at the things that I would actually admit expertise?