The Crate Full Of Content Conference Presentation
Many conference presenters use the Crate Full Of Content development process for their presentations.
They collect book excerpts, jokes, links, magazine articles, pictures, pithy sayings, questionnaires, quotes, videos, websites and anything else that looks like good fodder for their session. They dump them into a crate for use later.
When it’s time to design their conference presentation, the empty the crate on the table and try to assemble their speech from the disjointed bits of content.
Or they do the entire process above online with a folder of odds and ends around several subject matters.
There’s nothing wrong with collecting articles of interest and novelty. Some of them might very well fit into a course design. But ultimately, every item should be measured against the session learning objectives.
The Tip Of The Minute, The Flavor Of The Month
You know these presentations. There is a surplus of these rapid fire ninety-minute kitchen sink presentations in many conferences:
- 40 Hot Tips To Better Position Your Education In A Down Economy
- 50 Web 2.0 Ways To Tell A Story
- 60 Tips For Marketing Your Social Media
- 70 Practical Tips & Tricks To Build Better E-Learning
Yes, all of the above titles are actual presentations. Who wants to sit through a rapid fire presentation where a tip every minute is given…hoping that two or three of the tips or tactics presented resonate? Can you really learn anything at these hot dog eating contest-cram-sessions?
But people love them. And they love to watch. Unfortunately, they also get information indigestion from these sessions.
Sure the attendees may react favorably to these presentations at the end. Yet a few days later, they realize that they haven’t actually learned anything and now only have a printed list of tips. When the jazzed feeling wears off, so does any perception of value. The smile sheets are temporary.
Did Learning Occur Or Was A Temporary Fix The Goal?
Here’s my question. Did any real learning occur? Can the brain really retain any of that rapid fire information? Or was the presenter’s real goal just to get rave smile sheets and provide a temporary fix like a drug pusher providing a short term high?
Heck, why not just turn on the public twitter stream and tell your attendees to watch and learn. It’s not any different. You could read the tweets out loud as they passed by and call it engagement.
Oh, wait, you the presenter say it’s different than the twitter stream. And because attendees want and ask for these type sessions you should provide them.
What are you selling? Crack? Seriously, what benefit are you providing to your attendees? A short term feel good feeling that the attendee got everything they wanted in less than ninety-minutes?
The Crate Full Of Content Provides Brain Drain
These sessions sounds like the drive-through version of fast-food education. Instant education, mind crammed full of content in less than ninety-minutes. It’s like the silicon brain plastic surgery. You’ve provided the bottomless pit of trivial information.
But guess what. It doesn’t work! There is 100%, absolutely no way that the brain learned and retained all of that information. You’ve created the annual association abyss in the conference. You’ve just proven that you are only there to make a buck off the attendee and not really provide any value or learning.
Think I’m joking? Providing too much information during a presentation is probably the number one deadly presenter mistake most speakers make. Less is more and in a one hour talk, it’s best to limit the presentation to three main points, five at the most. Any more than that and it’s not learned or retained. Think I’m off my rocker? Well so are ASTD, Brain Rules’ John Medina, Fred Pryor Seminars Langevin Training, Made To Stick’s Dan Heath, pioneer trainer Bob Pike, Presentation Zen’s Garr Reynolds and presenter Olivia Mitchell, just to name a few. The research has proven that your brain can only retain up to seven chunks of information at any one time.
The Healthy Conference Oasis
In the healthy conference presentation, attendees want value and meaning, not just information. People want to connect with others and enjoy learning. Their lives are already full of email, handouts, junk mail, mandatory meeting, phone calls, spam, status updates, texts, websites and more meetings. Give them a break. Present a small bit of information, no more than 10-15 minutes and then facilitate some type of interaction. Then repeat the process several times. Overwhelming them with data, facts, information or tips is only a disservice to them.
Rapid fire presentations with a horde of tips are only good if you’re hired to entertain and mesmerize! If you’re hired to make a difference in attendees’ lives, to inspire them, help them learn new things and apply that learning, you cannot talk at people for hours.
What’s good for learning and a healthy conference oasis?
- Seek your attendees’ attention sparingly.
- Give them time to process.
Smile Sheets, Evaluations And Real Learning
According to the Kirkpatrick Model of evaluation, presentations and training should be evaluated on four related points:
- Reaction – What the attendees think at the end of the presentation (that’s the smile sheet)
- Learning – What the attendees learned, any new knowledge or skills gained
- Behavior - How their behavior changes following the training
- Results - How those changes affect the business. Was it worth it?
Attendees’ immediate reactions to presentations are easiest and the least expensive to measure. Guess what, they should be what you care about the least! (All presenters should read that statement again!)
Business results due to an attendee attending a conference or session are the most difficult and costliest to measure. They are what you should care about the most and they are what the boss cares about the most. They represent the real reason why attendees come again and tell others about your conference.
Most conference organizers and presenters survey attendees immediately following the session and consider the program fully evaluated. Those evaluations provide immediate and often useful information to speakers. They are important to the training function but not so much to the attendees’ organization. The major limitation of the smile sheet is that it cannot tell you if the session worked. Favorable responses don’t mean that attendees will retain or act on the material. Smile sheets are necessary but not sufficient.
Measuring learning is harder and more time consuming than asking attendees if they liked the presentation. Observing attendees’ behaviors as the result of attending a session is even more complicated. According to studies cited in The Learning Alliance, about 90% of attendees will not be using the new knowledge or skills six months later. So why do presenters provide rapid pace presentations with a tip a minute if the majority of those tips are forgotten before the attendee leaves the room? What value are those presenters bringing to the table? Even more important, why do you as a conference organizer secure speakers with these type of presentations? You’re showing that you do not value the attendee’s learning.
Attendees will love you when they have a fun time learning and are able to retain and apply what they learned. Practicing shovelware (shoveling as much content as possible into attendees’ brains), and “I know this so it must be important to include in the presentation” creates an unhealthy conference environment. It can become the conference abyss.
As a conference organizer or presenter, it should be your job to care about what the attendees learned, how their behavior changed following the session and how their changes ultimately affected their business.
So why do we as attendees love to attend the fast paced tip presentations that are nothing but data dumps? What can conference organizers and presenters do to provide more healthy conference presentations?