Sunday, June 25, 2023

Teaching Techniques: Instructional Strategies for Large-Scale Presentations (1/3)


In recent years, there has been a growing trend of incorporating more diverse and frequent interactive techniques in large-scale presentations. Gone are the days of predominantly one-way communication through storytelling, case studies, or explanations. Instead, we now see the inclusion of question and answer sessions, polling, ranking exercises, and even more advanced case discussions. These changes have opened up new possibilities for engaging large audiences, transforming their role from passive listeners to active participants in the captivating presentation. I am delighted to have been involved in the development of these interactive techniques for large-scale presentations.

Did you know that grouping is a key element in interactive sessions? And did you know that when dealing with a larger audience, smaller group sizes work better? Apart from simple Q&A sessions, what other interactive methods can be employed in large-scale presentations? Drawing from my experiences in conducting such presentations throughout different periods, I would like to share with you these key techniques.

1. Introduction Stage

During the early years (prior to 2010), my presentations primarily relied on simple Q&A interactions. I would design questions and encourage audience participation by offering incentives. This approach was used in corporate presentations I previously shared, such as the one on Blue Ocean Strategy, as well as the Joomla presentation I gave when I first met Mr. Quan. For example, during a 200-person lecture on Joomla content management systems, I started by presenting a case study requirement and then asked the audience, "How long do you think it would take to develop a program like this?" I would then request participants to raise their hands to answer. This method was commonly employed by many speakers for large-scale interactive sessions.

However, this method presented two major challenges. Firstly, the interactive atmosphere lacked enthusiasm and sustainability. Only a few proactive participants would raise their hands, while others either hesitated or remained passive observers. If the same individuals kept answering, the atmosphere could feel forced, as if it were prearranged. During this stage, implementing effective interaction was challenging. It often required constantly selecting participants to encourage engagement, but the sparks would quickly fade away.

The second major issue was the difficulty of providing incentives. Unless a substantial number of small prizes were prepared, the motivational factor would be exhausted after a few participants had received rewards. Moreover, in large venues (such as with 350 participants), those in the middle and back rows would find it harder to receive prizes, and the rhythm of the entire presentation would be interrupted during the prize distribution process. If someone consistently answered questions, they might be perceived as too eager and be alienated by their peers who wanted to grab more prizes. If the speaker intentionally ignored certain participants, proactive engagement would decline, and others would not become more active. These intricacies are the challenges that arise when conducting one-on-one interactions. (Take a moment to consider if you have encountered similar situations while facilitating large-scale interactive sessions.)

Teaching Techniques: Instructional Strategies for Large-Scale Presentations (Part 2)

2. Transition Stage

Every large-scale presentation has prompted me to think about better instructional interactive methods. In 2011, during a 90-minute presentation for a hundred attendees at the HPX event, I attempted to introduce a grouping mechanism using rows of seats as small groups. I sought to combine the interactive techniques typically used in small classroom settings with the challenges of engaging a larger audience. I posed open-ended discussion questions such as, "What are common issues in presentations?" and presented several case studies, asking participants to analyze and suggest improvements. Finally, I would reveal the answer. At this stage, it was akin to magnifying a small classroom (20 students) into a larger classroom (100 participants). The facilitator would pose questions, and participants would engage in group discussions and presentations, introducing the concept of "What would you do?".

During the 2013 Presentation Skills Summit, attended mostly by healthcare professionals, I had limited time on stage (20 minutes), but I aimed to demonstrate professional-level instructional interactive techniques. The venue had tables, so the previous grouping method was impractical due to the large number of participants in each row hindering effective group discussions (participants would be physically separated by tables, preventing interaction). This led me to consider smaller group sizes of 3-4 people, where participants could freely discuss with their immediate neighbors without any obstructions. Three participants worked best, but groups of four were also feasible (to maintain flexibility). Throughout the event, several interactive activities were implemented, such as live slide drawing and observations on the opening techniques of other speakers, which received significant feedback from the audience.

3. Application Stage

After publishing "The Techniques of Taking the Stage," in 2015, I had several large-scale book sharing events. I not only needed to share with readers what it means to take the stage but also apply these techniques subtly, allowing participants to experience them firsthand and reflect on the essence of taking the stage. This aspect truly required a considerable amount of thought, and I ultimately found inspiration from real-life examples presented in the book.

To start, I formed groups according to previous experiences, with fewer members in each group for larger venues (3-4 people per group). To expedite the grouping process, I asked everyone to stand up and find 3-4 people to sit with. The reason for standing was to ensure active participation rather than mere compliance. When standing, participants would quickly find their groups to sit with. I then instructed each group to select a leader who lived farthest from the venue, asking the leaders to stand up. This served as a verification to confirm the formation of groups. By going through the three stages of standing up, sitting down, and having group leaders stand up, the group leaders could be appointed swiftly. (This is the know-how of rapid grouping! Explaining it is easy, but understanding it without prior knowledge could take a while to figure out XD).

Once the groups were formed, subsequent activities such as selecting and ranking, or even open discussions, could be conducted effectively (how to execute these activities will be discussed in the next article).

Before we continue with the next article, I'll leave you with two assignments to ponder:

1. Why do we still need to select group leaders in large-scale presentations? What is the role of a group leader?

2. How does the interaction between the speaker and individuals differ from the interaction between the speaker and small groups, and what changes does it bring about in the live setting?

I managed to write 1,600 words in 70 minutes. I wish writing academic papers could be this fast XD. See you next time!

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