It often feels as if the speaker part of a session is a sort of holding room until we can get to the part that we really want to do, which is talk--whether it's about the meaning of memorials, the concept of radical trust, the way collaborations work--whatever it is.
My least favorite sessions are those where the presenters talk about their project, not about what was learned in doing their project. We don't need to know all about those gardens and the history of the house, I, at least, want to know about how you, just for instance, involved young people in those gardens. As an exhibit developer and interpretive planner I find it sometimes challenging to get people deeply immersed in their subject matter to step back and think about the big picture and about how to relate their work to an audience that's not as steeped in the subject matter.
What would make me a happier session attender?
- The easiest one but the one I find often not put in use. Have a timekeeper and be really, really, firm with presenters that go over time.
- If you're presenting a specific project from an organization or collaborative effort, ask an outsider to serve on the panel to critically comment and reflect.
- Think about your session as you might an exhibit. Make sure it has a big idea (as per Beverly Serrell's invaluable chapter in her book Exhibit Labels). That means your session should have a subject, verb and consequence!
- Reconsider using that Powerpoint. But if you do, put it online afterwards.
- Think about speaking about failure. One of my favorite training moments ever was when my colleague Christopher Clarke, as an add-on at a session for new directors, shared his 5 things he did right as a new director and 5 things he did wrong. Failure is far more interesting to discuss than a session of mutual congratulations.
- Of course, without saying, make room for discussion. But consider ways to have conversation throughout the session, not just jammed at the end (and a big shout-out to the presenters from the National Gallery of Art at MAAM this week who presented one of the best sessions ever--they not only talked the talk about learning they walked the walk).