Shorter education sessions are not the secret sauce for making boring or ineffective conferences appetizing.
They may be more innovative and less predictable. They are even more entertaining.
Unfortunately, rapid-fire five-to-18-minute presentations don’t improve learning. Unless you intentionally add time for context and meaning making.
Shorter Conference Session Trends
There is a growing trend for conference organizers to design shorter education sessions into their programs. Some of these formats include:
A presenter delivers a presentation on an idea or passion for up to 18 minutes.
Twenty slides automatically advance at 20-second intervals for a total presentation time of six minutes and 40 seconds.
Similar to Pecha Kucha, but the 20 slides advance every 15 seconds. The talk is five minutes in length.
A form of Powerpoint Karaoke Improv, where participants extemporaneously speak about each slide in a Pecha Kucha or Ignite slide deck that they’ve never seen before. If you want learning, scratch that Battle Decks presentation off your list. This is more for entertainment only!
Tips For Improving Shorter Conference Sessions
Have you attended one of these sessions? Do you remember what you heard? How much of it did you really learn? Was there relevant information that you could apply to your job?
What I’ve observed is that the energy and entertainment value of these bite-sized presentations is very high. Yet little learning occurs. Rarely can we recall the content.
Here are a few tips on how to get the best of both worlds.
1. Include discussion time.
Depending on your setup, schedule five to 10 minutes between each presentation for small-group discussion. This is imperative if learning and recall are your goals. If the room is set theater-style, ask participants to converse with their neighbors. Debrief with the entire audience and consider publishing a written recap.
2. Select industry influencers as presenters and emcees.
Search for the influencers or rising stars that are also good presenters. Many attendees select an education session because the cool kids will be there. Hand-pick a great emcee, too.
3. Choose industry related topics.
Select presenters who are passionate about their topics. The topic should also relate to the industry or personal professional development. Thread multiple presentations around a single problem.
4. Choose the right room setup.
The right presenters and topics usually attract a jam-packed room. Theater-style works best if you are trying to accommodate a lot of people. Rounds also work if you are having short discussion between presentations. Add hi-boys (42″-high cocktail round tables) to the sides or rear.
5. Coach presenters.
Preparing a short presentation is hard work. Many presenters will spend hours designing and scripting a five-minute Ignite presentation. Give them tips on how to prepare the shorter sessions. The abbreviated format forces speakers to focus on the main points and tell a compelling story.
6. Capture the content
Try to record these moments. Video quality matters less than exceptional sound. Brief presentations, delivered by passionate members, get lots of eyeballs after the conference.
Adapted from Dave’s People & Processes column in PCMA’s October edition of Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2011.
What do you like about shorter conference education formats? What do you wish shorter sessions included?
I’m all for learning in small bites AND for the all important structures and processes that support learning in small bites (which, to your point, are often overlooked). I’d not only like to see more conversation (digital and/or F2F) integrated into conference sessions/meetings but also a harvesting of those conversations in ways that can be shared during and after the conference. A fan of graphic recording, I find that visual queues are great for bringing content back to the forefront of my mind long after the conference. Lastly, I wish more conferences and attendees put a twitter feed (hashtag) to good use. These feeds capture key content and draw people into the conversation from offsite as well as among attendees. All to often a missed opportunity.
Elizabeth Henderson says
I personally like a diversity of session lengths. I do like pecha kuchas etc., (I have also heard that virtual audiences find these presentations compelling) but I also agree for the need to interpret this information. An innovative concept being tested at the 2012 GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference is that of “weavers”, or people who attend two shorter sessions and then are given 3-5 minutes to synthesize, or weave together, their thoughts on how the content generated new ideas, created connections, or prompted questions. Shorter sessions are “paired up” to create this opportunity. The idea was borrowed from the Wosk Centre for Dialogue at SImon Fraser University in British Columbia, where they have used weavers for a number of years. I had to opportunity to be a weaver at one event, and found the experience very rich.
Jeffrey Cufaude says
Whether it be in specific session formats such as those outlined above or utilized as part of a longer session, tapping into the power of content snacking (a term coined in WIRED magazine several years ago, is definitely an approach more groups and presenters should incorporate whenever it supports their overall learning experience objectives. I’ve found it quite useful to use an IGNITE or Pecha Kucha style talk as a preview of a longer session’s content or as a summary of a session. The former becomes useful in session marketing and the later becomes a nice tool for participants to facilitate their recall, transfer, and application of the session’s content.
Dave Lutz says
@LaDonna Thanks for your comment! I really like your content harvesting suggestion of creating graphic recordings from bite-size learning sessions. Those tend to be shared widely in addition to helping the learning stick. Nice!
@Elizabeth The “weaver” suggestion sounds like a great concept. It adds a degree of learning expectation on the front side and provides great follow through. Hope it is valuable for the GMIC 12 participants.
@Jeffrey Great addition…using IGNITE type sessions as a preview. Before a participant invests 90 minutes, giving them a small taste is a great way for organizers to put the learner’s needs first.
Traci Browne says
Love Jeffrey’s idea also, using PK and Ignite presentations as a preview of what’s to come. In our #eventprofs chat last night Greg Ruby also had a great suggestion of using them as a way for sponsors to deliver their message quickly and succinctly. Much more entertaining than the 10 minute intro or dog and pony show they are normally given/giving.