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?