An Executive Director's point of view
November 29, 2016: Too much "interactive"
Some presenters even go so far as to insert an "interactive" segment into their presentations, despite it often being out of place and totally unnecessary. Perhaps they believe it will make them more attractive to meeting goers.
But if the program content is not engaging and relevant, the style of presentation isn't going to make much of a difference.
So, when planning an educational session, understand what your audience wants and how it wants to be treated. Then clearly communicate those details.
Just slapping an "interactive" label on it doesn't add value.
June 06, 2016: More than charisma
The organizations they address may provide them with tips that can help them better connect with their audiences.
But those "tips" are frequently intimidating, and give the impression that the speakers need to be top-notch entertainers.
While that may sometimes be nice, it is definitely not always necessary.
Organizations should brief speakers about the people who will be in the audience, including the types of companies or associations that employ them, their positions in those groups, their preferred styles of learning (if those are known), their interests, and the questions they are likely to ask.
Additional tips can be offered about how to present and how to interact with the audience in the way it wants to interact.
Well-received speakers are likely to display an unpredictable combination of charisma, content knowledge, speaking ability, audience insight, and constructive use of feedback.
Charisma, alone, may not be enough.
October 21, 2015: Don't try anything new
Here's an example of the likes and dislikes of the majority of members of a physician group:
- Knowledgeable speakers (they may even refer to them as "faculty")
- Speakers who know something they don't
- Speakers who stand behind a podium
- Speakers who move around the front of the room as long as they don't wander into the audience
- PowerPoint slides packed with copy
- Handouts packed with copy
- Graphs, charts, and relevant pictures
- Classroom style seating
- Q&A at the end of the presentation
- Questions asked during presentations (those are "interruptions")
- Group discussions
- Information they already know
- Comments and facts not included in slides or handouts
- Images on slides and handouts that don't seem relevant to the topic
- Boring speakers (sometimes)
- Sessions that don't offer CMEs
- Interactive seating arrangements
- Too much reliance on technology
- Whimsy and humor
So, be prepared to conduct educational sessions the way your members think is best, not the way you may think is best.
June 30, 2015: More boring sessions?
Whatever techniques you use, keep your session interesting and present in a way that meets attendee needs.
April 10, 2014: Learning can be fun
About half of those in attendance left before the session began. But those who stayed had a blast.
They learned how to create casts and splints for broken limbs and enjoyed experiencing the process from the patient's perspective. They left their seats and congregated around medical supplies and improvised treatment stations.
While they were certainly serious about learning, they also had a lot of fun placing and removing splints and casts from each other. It was a great "wind-down" activity after a full day of presentations.
Most trade and professional associations can create "fun" activities at their educational events.
Just remember, though, that not everybody wants to have "fun." So, schedule the activity at a time when those who want to opt out can do so without interfering with the rest of the program and without calling attention to themselves.
January 10, 2014: No "rookie" tracks
But those folks will often opt for higher level sessions, even if they lack adequate knowledge, because those sessions often sound a lot more interesting.
So, if you think it's really important for less experienced members to learn the basics before they sit in on more advanced sessions, find a way to make them think it's really important. And don't call those sessions "beginning" or "basic" or "foundations" or "boot camp."
Create titles that sound just as exciting as the more advanced sessions.
August 09, 2013: Don't call them "lurkers"
They just don't want to comment - and there's nothing wrong with that.
Those folks may be just as engaged as those who post comments, opine on listservs, and speak up at meetings.
People learn in all different ways. Being quiet, reserved, shy, or just not vocal are not signs of not being engaged. They are signs of being quiet, reserved, shy, or just not vocal.
So don't let outgoing colleagues bully you into being more "engaged."
Gather information, listen to others, read blog posts without commenting, and learn in any way that makes you feel comfortable.
June 23, 2013: Online education?
The biggest attraction of an online course is students' assumption that it will be easy - they can merely boot up their laptops and not have to travel to campus. But it's often more involved than that.
When my son was an undergraduate, he was surprised at the demands placed upon online students. So, he dropped his online course and signed up for a traditional class, instead.
April 25, 2013: Destroy the slides
Each was crammed with details, including statistics, graphs, and charts. Some of the copy was too small to be viewed from the back of a small room. Other presentations were similar.
Attendees had less than one minute to read each detailed slide, listen to the presenter, and think about the information until the next slide appeared. That's not how people should be expected to learn.
A great service would have been done if all of those slides had been placed in a pile, doused with gasoline, set aflame, and burned until nothing remained.
Slides are NOT a script. Slides are NOT a book. Slides are NOT a classroom blackboard (and even a classroom blackboard should not be cluttered with lots and lots of copy).
Slides are visuals that enhance the oral presentation, help attendees understand the information, and keep them engaged. The job of the speaker is to present or facilitate, not to narrate slides.
Even when a speaker is presenting lecture-style, slides should be sparse and should contain lots of images, not lots of copy.
Details can be contained in a handout that attendees can view later and refer to in the future.
If all the details were contained in the slides, there would be no need for speakers or meetings. Associations could simply send slides to everybody and spare the time and expense of a big conference.
So, if you use slides when you present (and you don't have to), be brief. Save the details for the handout.
March 04, 2013: Make me care
1. Recognize that you are a performer. You may be an outstanding educator or facilitator or thinker or technician or tactician or an outstanding something else. But when speaking, presenting, or facilitating, you are also a performer. So be interesting and informative.
2. Prepare your presentation from the attendees' point of view. Make the session useful to them, not to you.
3. Don't go on and on about your qualifications. Briefly (very briefly) state the most significant ones. Don't recite a list of your publications, all the schools you attended, or every job you've ever had. Your selection as a presenter attests to your credentials.
4. Don't talk a lot about your association or company. Nobody cares. Mention it in your title but don't use the opportunity to promote it. Doing so will waste people's time and make them think less of you - and of your association or company. Your presence is the promotion.
5. Start with a grabber. Give attendees a reason to pay attention and, maybe, to participate. Get right to the point. Make them care.
6. If you must give some background about your topic (and that is not always necessary), do it after the grabber.
7. Do not present as if you were delivering a report, even if that's what you are doing. It's boring and does not address attendee needs. Engage attendees immediately and focus on what's important to them.
8. If you use slides (Prezi, PowerPoint, or anything else), keep them uncluttered. Copy should be short and to the point. Don't cram a lot of stuff in your slides. You can include graphs, charts, and details in your handout.
9. Include visuals in your slides, not just copy.
10. The handout should not be a copy of your slides. That does not add anything to the presentation. The handout can be a reference piece, including details that did not appear on slides. It can include references, citations, and other sources attendees can use. Or, it can simply be a leave-behind that outlines major points.
If people are attending your session to receive continuing education credits, they may tolerate just about anything - including boredom. They just want the points.
But if they are attending to learn, you'd better present in a way they can learn. Otherwise, the session will have been a waste of time for everybody.