Last week I concluded a presentation at TechKnowledge by reminding people, "Don't forget to turn in your Level 1 assessments."

Presenters at conferences get to see one thing participants don’t: the Evaluations. Having read more than a thousand of these quick-and-dirty assessments, I’ve concluded that most evals tell more about the evaluator than about the presenter.

Some people show their inner schoolmarm by critiquing form rather than substance. Yes, I know I should alternate colors on my flipcharts, and I understand you lowered my grade for my own good. Uh, thanks. Guess I had other things on my mind.

Others are extremely cynical. On the issue of whether our four panelists improperly promoted their wares, one participant wrote “You must be joking!” In our case, we had studiously avoided even a hint of impropriety. Neither I nor my colleagues even told people what we did. You hear what you expect to hear.

At training conferences, lots of participants come to be trained. They want things spelled out clearly. They expect to receive “the school solution.” They consider ambiguity a sin. I wish they’d come to learn. Then we could co-create some new ideas. Be positive; you might hear something you like.

And then there’s the matter of handouts. I invariably make improvements to a presentation the night before. I find a better way to express an idea or a local angle. Apparently, some in the audience would prefer that I not improve the presentation because it means the handout doesn’t synchronize perfectly with the words on screen.

At a recent event, five of us spoke in the course of 90 minutes. Among other things, participants were asked to rate our appropriateness, adherence to the written description, clarity, and the quality of delivery of each speaker. On the rating scale, “5” was tops and “1” was awful.

What are the odds that someone really found everything awful? Several people responded 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1. Conversely, wasn’t there some room for improvement? Lots of people rated us 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5. Hardly anyone rated any item 2 or 3. I guess we had a room full of extremists. This provides no guidance to anyone.

Let me offer a few suggestions on getting the most from conference sessions.

  1. Come to the session as a learner, not an evaluator. Let go. Be open. Forget that you know more about presentation skills than the presenter. You’re here to learn, not to coach the presenter.
  2. Don’t assume the presenter is only out for his or her own interests. Some of us are “paying back” for the help they’ve received from others. Many of us are really trying to make the world a better place. Remember, speakers at breakout sessions don't getting paid to do this.
  3. Nothing in this world is certain. Few things beyond second grade can be nailed down with three bullet points. Pat answers are usually wrong answers. Furthermore, uncertainty engages the mind. You want to learn? Expect to leave your comfort zone.
  4. Regarding handouts, Emerson pegged it with, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
  5. If you want to give the presenter meaningful feedback, put it in words. Multiple choice items convey scant information.
  6. If you attend sessions to learn, evaluate your own performance. Were you attentive? Did you try to link the speaker’s ideas with your professional challenges? Did you take meaningful notes? Did you learn enough to justify investing your time? Is this the optimal mode for you to learn?

When Lance Dublin and I were making many joint presentations at the time our book came out, we marveled at people who rated us sub-par, but stayed with it for an hour or more. (There’s always at least one character who would have criticized Abe Lincoln at Gettysburg for speaking too long.) We started telling people that if they weren’t getting something out of our session, please leave. We didn’t want their ratings to ruin our averages.

Posted by Jay Cross at February 16, 2004 01:29 PM | TrackBack

yum yum gimme sum

Posted by: juicycash at June 28, 2004 10:38 PM

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