Making Presentations Count

Posted on by Brandon Klein

There is often a pressure to insert presentations (also known by us as Sit ‘n Get sessions) into events. It doesn’t work well. The collaborative process is based in part on the notion that people don’t absorb information well from a lecture format; that it’s only when you work with information and ideas do you really understand them. Our approach is to use the design process to define the information that a group needs to find a solution; presentations don’t apply this methodology. So our bias is against using presentations, even when there is a sizable body of information that a group needs to absorb. However, there are exceptions. Presentations can be integrated into the process when necessary. The main example that comes to mind is when a task force or working group has studied a problem at length, and their work represents a foundation upon which any subsequent work should be built. The main rule is: avoid situations that would require you to interrupt the flow of the design process to meet the schedule of a presentation. Since the design process is highly variable, this is harder than it sounds. Generally, the way to do it is to start your process with whatever presentations are needed (keeping them as short as possible), then make a clean transition to the “design” phase of work.

To provide a group with up-to-date information (“a body of knowledge” about a subject). Often, to allow for some face-to-face exchange and for questions to be asked.

Ideally, position the presentation session as a pre-session to the design phase of work; keep it short, to 45 minutes or less if possible.

Strengths — Creates a common exposure to “up-to-date” information around a topic. May accomplish a hand-off of the topic from a leadership team or task force to the DesignShop participants. Weaknesses — Information alone doesn’t usually solve problems; receiving a large amount of information in this way can bias a group into assuming certain conclusions and away from asking fundamental questions. Long presentations tend to put the audience to sleep (figuratively if not literally). Can be an opening for add-on communications that take a group off-task.

Specifications for Success — 1. 2. 3. reason why this group of people have been assembled to work intensively together. Keep the presentations short and focused. Encourage the use of strong graphics or demos. Don’t accept add-ons that diffuse the purpose, or interfere with the core.

• Present – Design – Present. This goes against the general advice given here, but if there is no way around a lengthy series of presentations, consider inserting short design-and-report modules between blocks of presentations. This format allows participants to absorb the information better, by working with it and clarifying their understanding of it.

Also see Guide to Better Panel Discussions