Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Best Conference Session Ever?

Susie Wilkening of Reach Advisors and I are creating a session at the American Association for State and Local History conference in Richmond, in September, called The End of Powerpoint about how to make your conference presentations fun, engaging and meaningful (and less full of Powerpoint!).  As we think about the session, we'd love to hear your opinions about what makes a great conference presentation.  Is it the format?  the topic?  the interactivity?  the room arrangement?  a sense of humor?  the other attendees?

Please share your best, and your worst, conference session experiences.  I'll start off with two of mine from the last year or so.  At one, I slipped in a bit early, and someone was speaking, on and on, with a single slide on the screen.  "Okay, just an introductory slide,"  I thought.  Until he suddenly looked up, and said, "oh, I'm supposed to wrap up now, so I'll show the slides,"  and then went high speed clicking through, saying,  "oh, this isn't important, oh, you can ignore this..."  Yikes!  I couldn't even tell you what he was speaking about, I was so annoyed. 

But then at that same conference I attended a session designed to be a bit more interactive;  an Idea Lounge.  At that session, two well-prepared and engaging presenters used a sense of humor, their research, and small everyday objects to involve all of us there in a thoughtful discussion about learning from objects.   What made it work?  They had clearly planned their presentation,  they used different techniques during the course of the session, and they had a sense of humor (even after I broke an object!).

Comment away to help us create a great session!


Ron Potvin said...

So much depends on the quality of the speakers, but that is the element that is the most difficult to predict and control. So we need to work harder on the things that we can control, like the format. The sessions that I enjoy the most are the ones that have variety in presentation method. I remember one session that began with a PowerPoint presentation, followed by a video of a performance, followed by live readings from students who worked on this particular project, and ending with a Q & A. Not all sessions can be like this, but people get tired of sitting in their seats and want to get up, do something different, and stretch their mental legs, especially after the second or even third day. It's surprising that despite our being PUBLIC humanists, we still resort to traditional academic models of presentation.

Ann said...

What I don't like about Power point presentations is that people do not usually know how to use colours and put too much text on the slide or even read the same text, instead of commenting. I have nothing against Power point, and I use it extensively at my lectures, previously having studied the common mistakes and the use of colour. The best presentation I've seen so far was by a museum director from the Netherlands. There were no words on the slides only pictures and some of them were unexpected, for instance, a huge question mark against green background, audience reaction was “WOW!”.
And another good example is connected with Power point as well. My colleague from the Czech Republic was presenting a very complicated subject on terms… And some of his slides made us laugh, because there were funny stickmen showing how difficult it was for him to come to his conclusions:

As I am not “auditory” person I need pictures synchronized with text, so for me a good power point presentation is still the best means.

Ginny MacKenzie Magan said...

I agree. A PowerPoint is only as good as its designer. It can be a great supplement to the spoken presentation of words and ideas, can inspire and engage in its own way if done well visually, and is appropriated integrated. I guess it is often distained because it is used badly, but--just as an exhibit needs good graphics as well as content--a good PowerPoint presentation can compliment and add to a presentation.

Linda Norris said...

I agree, a good powerpoint (like Ann, I don't just learn verbally) is a great thing...but I think Ron's point about variety in a single session is really important. So for Ann and Ginny (and everyone else) what besides powerpoint has really inspired you?

Ginny MacKenzie Magan said...

Variety, because people DO learn and respond differently.

A knowledgable and enthusiastic presenter who has a good sense of his subject and can use the language well to convey it.

Enough options from which to pick and choose subjects.

Less expected topics, minimum of superficiality, good interaction with a variety of opinions and ideas...

Jamie said...

I have found that the set-up of a space makes a huge difference in how enjoyable a conference session is. I am a visual/kinesthetic learner, so I'm almost always taking notes - having access to a table or other surface is much more comfortable and conducive to me than plain rows of chairs. I have also found, in both participating in and teaching classes, that fidget toys, hard candy and other small amenities go a long way towards being able to pay attention and enjoy the learning experience.

The other biggie for me has been interactive formats. If you have to wait for the q&a portion, you'll likely either have forgotten your question or have to do so much backtracking that it isn't worth it. When there's flexibility to ask relevant questions promptly, I've seen great exchanges and excellent examples come from the ensuing discussion. I know it isn't always possible, but I appreciate when it is.

Samantha said...

I love speakers that engage the audience--ask us for advice, comments or have a game. It just takes a few people to start, before others will want to join in.

My worst conference was actually a library conference last November. Quite a few speakers rushed through the slides. I couldn't remember enough from the presentations to ask questions. I was esp. interested in cataloging processes discussions, but the speaker was very dry, made zero eye contact with the audience and didn't fully describe the process. I left confused.

Hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

Hi. Just found your site. Also obsessed with museums. But I have to say what I want to know is: what is that blue piece with glued objects? Is it a piece of furniture? I'm intrigued.

Linda Norris said...

Hi Anonymous--no, it's not a piece of furniture--it wonderfully is, as is the top picture, from the Art Car Parade in Houston. The blue car was entirely covered this way and I just thought it was terrific--glad you liked it!