The Benefit Of Shifting From Presenting To Participating

“Not a presentation, a participation,” says Scott Gould.

Image by Felix42 contra la censura

The Typical Presentation

Like Minds Conference founder Scott Gould raised an interesting question on his blog this week. 

He was talking to his compadre Robin Dickinson about an upcoming presentation he was delivering. The presentation was on participation. Robin challenged Scott to move from presenting information about participation to involving the audience. 

That’s where Scott’s idea light bulb turned on.

He was going to talk about four lessons he learned. (Great, three to five points, not an information dump.) He was going to share slides. (Great, add some provocative visuals to hook learning and the brain.) He was going to be humorous and outrageous. (More greatness, add some emotional connections and tell stories.)

The Final Ingredient That Turned A Presentation Into A Participation

Then Robin landed the AHA statement. “If you are talking about participation, why not let the audience participate?”

BINGO! There’s the final ingredient to create a winning presentation. Participation!

Today’s participatory culture wants to participate. They want to be involved. They want to talk to each about your content. They will flock around the content and discuss it, if you allow them.

So why not build time for you audience to become participants in your conference education and presentations?

Scott closed his post by asking a very provocative question.

“What is the benefit of shifting from one mindset to the other?”

Here’s my response to Scott.

The Benefit Of Shifting From Lecture To Participation

What is the benefit from shifting from one mindset to the other?

It benefits the participants’ learning. That’s our goal, isn’t it? To help the learner.

Learning is fundamentally social. True learning is an act of participation. The depth of our learning depends on the depth of our participation.

Who learns the most from presenting? Typically the presenter, not the audience. Thus the depth of our learning depends on the depth of our participation.

Engagement is joined at the hip with empowerment. If you want someone to feel empowered during your presentation, craft the presentation so that there is time for them to engage with each other as they engage with your content. Chunk your content into 10-min segments and then let the participants digest that content together through conversations and discussions for 10-20 minutes. Then repeat, wash and rinse. 😉

Exclusion from active participation equals failure to learn.

It’s about shifting from the being speaker-centric to the audience-centric. From a focus on sharing information to active learning and participation. From the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. From presenting to facilitating learning. From passive audiences to active participants.

BTW, everything I wrote above is founded in andragogy, the science of how adults learn.

Keep pushing those boundaries and focusing on what’s best for you audiences, the participants, the learners. That’s where you’ll find true success.

What keeps conference organizers from securing presenters that treat their audiences as participants? Why do some feel that participation means a decrease in learning and ROI?

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  2. Hi- I’m responding from my background experience of 10 yrs. of secondary school teaching. From my experience, there’s two schools of thought on the issue of effective education: breadth of factual knowledge vs. depth of conceptual understanding. Each has its pros and cons. Perhaps many presenters are of the former school of thought. Or, maybe presenters are afraid of losing control of their audience because they don’t know how to facilitate large group discussion & activities. Truthfully, I’m not familiar with how well theories around andragogy have been proven, but I do agree strongly with and actively practice experiential learning. To that end, if a presenter is struggling to turn a shy audience into active participants, strategic questioning has always worked very well for me. Some examples here: My apologies if posting the link is inappropriate! Please feel free to delete the previous sentence if you’d like to approve the comment otherwise.
    Lily Iatridis

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and responding. I am a former educator too! Hats off to you for spending those years in the classroom!

      What’s interesting about Malcolm Knowles study of adult learning is that many of his theories are now being confirmed by today’s neuroscientists like John Medina and Daniel Willingham as well as educators like Ruth Colvin Clark.

      For example, these researchers have shown that in order for someone to learn, they have to be able to connect the new information to previous knowledge. That requires time to think about the new information. It means engaging with the content and digesting that content with others. If presenters allow people to discuss the content, within context of their own experiences, the likelihood they will learn and recall the information increases dramatically. That information moves from the working memory (short-term memory) to long-term memory.

      And, thank you so much for the link to strategic questioning. That’s a great resource for presenters to use!

  3. Hi Jeff-
    So glad to meet up with a fellow former teacher online! What I don’t understand is why some folks don’t believe that those educational theories should apply completely to kids as well. Hopefully pedagogy is moving more in that direction now.

    Have a lovely weekend,


  4. Scott Gould says:

    Jeff – as always, you bring the same lessons to the table wrapped in a slightly different way that helps me understand them on a new level.

    I’m embarrassed, to be honest, that I couldn’t see my own hypocrisy but there we go! I spend all my time making sure people engage at Like Minds, but then don’t do it myself when I’m the one on stage!

    What would help me is knowing where you learnt about andragogy?

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Oh nooo, you should not be embarrassed. It’s so easy as speakers/presenters to get wrapped up in what we are doing that we forget our audience. I’ve done it many times…and I should know better! I hope it was ok to refer to you post and video clip. It was so authentic and transparent that I didn’t think you would mind.

      Where did I learn about andragogy? University. 😉 Seriously though, you might read books by John Medina (Brain Rules), Ruth Colvin Clark (Evidenced Based Training Methods) or Daniel T Willinham (Why Students Don’t Like School which has a ton of application for adults.). Malcom Knowles, the father of andragogy has a book co-authored and updated by Elwood Holton and Richard Swanson called the Adult Learner. Parts of it are really dry and academic. You might also like to read some of the stuff by Jay Cross on Informal Learning! Now that’s good reading.

      Hope that helps.

  5. Scott Gould says:

    Jeff thanks for flagging these for me – I’ll check them out!

  6. Ellen says:

    Jeff — You know I’m on your side with this one 🙂 And I’m with Lily, wondering why no one is advocating that relevancy is important to kids, too.

    I’m sure we can all think of examples where kids pursued learning something *on their own* because it related to them on some level and they got curious about it. No kid (or adult!) will pick up a book (for example) that doesn’t interest them in the least and read it from cover to cover anyway.

    What motivates us to learn when we’re kids isn’t much different than what motivates us to learn when we’re adults.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      So well stated. Thank you for reminding us about the importance of curiosity in learning!

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