Recently I presented 3 x 3 hour workshops on the subject of Web Optimisation, they were easily the biggest sessions I had run to date and I was excited and nervous at the same time, I really didn't want the sessions to suck.
I learnt a lot about the approach to presenting technical information to a mix of technical and non technical people and as a result my presentation style evolved from the first session to the last where I found I had the format and timings down to a tee. After the first session I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with a person, who had many years experience in presenting workshops and courses. He gave me some great tips which allowed me to adjust for the following sessions and I think the subsequent groups really benefitted from it.
Here are a couple of the tips which I applied and which I found worked really well.
1) Popcorn style is hard to control
Popcorn style is likened to having un popped kernels of corn in amongst the group and applying the heat (in this case start presenting) and waiting to see which pops, often if you have watched popcorn being cooked, you start to notice the result is a process which is chaotic and uncontrollable. I opened the session with an open invite to ask questions through the session, what I found in the first session was these questions were sometimes so specific to the person asking I quickly became involved in a 1 on 1 conversation, leaving the rest of the group behind and not involved.
Lesson – The style worked and got people feeling comfortable, though if the question does not benefit a majority of the group, take it offline. I also recommend setting a context for the questions up front, this sets expectations of what you will and won’t cover. If a question is covered later in the presentation, park it until then.
2) Prizes can distract
I offered bribes to get people talking in the form of chocolate, and the game was who collected the most chocolate at the end of the session would receive a 2hr consultation with me. First session – Offered chocolates in the popcorn style and it was very hard to control. Prizes were awarded to people who asked a question or interacted. This meant questions sometimes were not relevant though as I hadn’t set context, I was obliged to give the prize otherwise my integrity would be lost. Second session, I didn’t offer any. Not by design, purely because I was thrown by IT issues and I had to present the first 1hr of the session, without slides and illustrating the points on the white board. I simply forgot that component, however it did not distract and people were still very engaged and did participate in a very positive way. Third session – Chocolates came back, I controlled the questions a lot more and found this was productive, though still very hard to keep on track.
Lesson – The prizes were a major distraction and a lot harder to control then I anticipated. Questions were varied and took me on many tangents and off the lesson plan I had set. My suggestion is to offer incentive points, or knowledge checks in the form of questions to the group. This allows you to keep on point, control the group and promote active participation.
3) Set goals and targets
I had prepared my slides around the topics I wanted to cover through the night. Though I had no set target or end game. What did I want people to learn?, what were the key takeaways? I knew I wanted people to learn from me, but what? I found this evolving as I got to know each audience.
Lesson – Have a clear set of targets and goals defined. They will help you to stay on point, and take the participants on the journey with you. People don’t want a set of facts thrown at them, they want to consume knowledge and how you present that knowledge is key. In my last session, I set knowledge checks where I would get everyone on the same page before stepping into the live demo. For instance. "Who understands how a search engine works?" A very simple check to see if the next chunk of information is going to make sense. I found in each session, over 70% did not know how a search engine worked, therefore it would have made jumping into Google Webmaster Tools to explain how Googles sees their site (index stats, keywords and density, sitemaps, crawl rates) was going to be a lot harder without some foundation knowledge.
I hope these help you when your presenting your next topic, if you have any tips yourself please feel free to share I'm always learning.