Monday, June 25, 2012

18 Presentations in a Row? What Can You Do?

I recently facilitated a workshop where 18 country teams participated and needed to present their progress and work for the year. They felt they needed to do this to foster peer learning among the countries and to gain an overview of what was happening globally. However, it is hard to imagine any one person listening actively to that many presentations in a row, although for pattern spotting, for good practice ideas and to see who are your resources in the group, it would behoove every one to listen without falling asleep.

So here is what we did...

  1. Expectation Management: We gave each country 7 minutes for their presentation, we told them we would time them; 
  2. Making Inputs Parallel and Comparable: We gave everyone a PPT template of the key questions to fill in which was made up of 6 slides with headings (Frankly I think 4 would have been easier for them to stay in time);
  3. Split Them Up:  I created four sessions over 2 days to spread them out, continuity was created using other tracking and memory tools (below).
  1. Time Keeping: I timed each presentation with my Iphone using the Doorbell sound to signal time up. I also gave 2 minute warnings with two fingers and walked around the room until I could catch the speaker's eye (if they were strategically avoiding me). Everyone but one speaker stopped within 30 seconds of hearing that doorbell ring twice into my hand held microphone (note that if you have interpreters, then don't put the phone right up to the microphone, it apparently drives them crazy, which I can well understand);
  2. Keep it Equal: Why the Iphone is great is that no one imagines that you are judging the time yourself subjectively, the time is up when the timer goes off. This was accepted by the speakers, only one person challenged me, but then I let her watch my phone for the following speaker and that was that.
Listeners as Learners:
  1. Helping Learners Stay Concentrated: Find as many ways as possible to help the people listening to stay engaged: I did three things:
  2. Use the Bell to Set Pace: Once the crisp pace is set, then people can endure presentations that might not be as strong as others, because they know it is for exactly 7 minutes.
  3. Count Down Visually: I created a flipchart checklist (above) at the front of the room of the 18 country presentations in alphabetical order and made a big flourish when checking them off as a presentation was completed. This helped people keep track of who was on and who was next, but also how many presentations there were to go:
  4. Make a Job Aid: As we didn't have time to have a discussion or even take questions between the 18 presentations,  I created a Job Aid (handout) that asked the listener a couple of questions about each presentation - first to reflect on the presentation and identify, "What ideas did I appreciate most from the presentation?" - that was a appreciative frame that assumes that you will get ideas and appreciate them! At least it gets people listening to them to see if they can identify this. The second question asked for "Ideas to follow up on with the team members" - e.g. further questions. By capturing these in real time, they could go find the speaker in the coffee break and follow up on their questions (or ask them in plenary if time). This Job Aid had the benefit of tracking progress too for the individual, and letting them customise their follow up one-on-one with the presenters during coffee/lunch/evenings, rather than having one or two people hijack the plenary after each.

After the Presentations:
  1. Pattern Spotting: Rather than rushing on into the next thing, we built in a good amount of time to discuss the meta-level findings from all the presentations once they were completed - what similarities did participants hear and what diversity? Were there any messages or learning points coming through loud and clear in many of them?  As people used the Job Aid to capture their thoughts and organize them, when it came to the pattern spotting, it was easier for people to thoughtfully contribute.
In the end, we did it - people made it through all of them - both presenters and listeners, and identified some fascinating interconnections and good practice. And although it seemed easy, it took quite a bit of work to design it so that, in spite of 18 presentations, people can stay engaged and learning throughout the whole event.

What facilitation and learning tips do you have when dealing with a slew of presentations?

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