Crafting 40 minutes of workshop value

Career development professionals have plenty of opportunities to present conference workshops – CDAA, NAGCAS, CDANZ, APCDA and NCDA, to name a few associations that hold conferences. Presenters are encouraged to provide engaging, outcomes-focused experiences for a target audience.

Time is short – 30 to 40 minutes. Every minute counts, yet many are wasted.

Several people, including Winston Churchill, have been credited with stating that how long they spend on preparing a presentation is inversely proportional to its length. It is easy to talk for an hour or two, but the shorter a presentation is, the greater the time invested in preparation. And that preparation needs specialised skills and knowledge that is not provided by experience or qualifications in training, teaching and lecturing.

To ensure you craft 40 minutes of value, here are six points to consider next time you are preparing a conference workshop.

1. Write an introduction.

Despite advice to the contrary from some conference organisers, your bio is not your intro! An introduction is an advertisement, designed to elicit anticipation from your audience. It should focus on what value is to be gained from your presentation, rather than on your background details.

2. Focus on the must-knows and delete or edit everything else.

You know lots of stuff. Surely it is better to be generous with information? Actually, no. Ask yourself: Does my audience know and understand this information? If the answer is yes, then delete it. Another option is to include the detail elsewhere, such as in a handout or online.

3. Drop ‘My story’.

Unless there’s a critically relevant point about you that hasn’t been mentioned in your bio or introduction, drop telling people your life story. It takes up valuable time and adds little of value.

4. Rigorously edit description.

If you’ve included detailed descriptions of process, research methods, a model or tool, edit this material to the essentials. People attend conferences to gain value – new information that they can use post-conference. Balance description with application. Ask yourself: what are the lessons you have learnt, what are the traps you have identified, who does the model/tool work well with, what skills are needed to effectively apply your information?

5. Focus on value.

Value means giving information that is relevant to your audience, is usable in a range of contexts, and provides confidence to adapt and apply the information with awareness of the traps and pitfalls. This means spending less time on giving information, and more time on helping your audience to understand and apply it.

6. Apply some stage craft.

Speaking is as much a physical activity as it is a mental and vocal one.

Do you keep moving as you speak, or wave your arms around? Random movement is distracting.

Stage craft concerns deciding where you are and what you do during a presentation. These movements are deliberate and have purpose. Practice standing still. Think about where you are in the speaking space and what gestures are relevant to the point you are making. If this is unfamiliar ground, learn some stage craft.

A workshop that is well-crafted, skilfully presented, and full of value will win an audience every time, and help cement your reputation as a must-see and hear presenter.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.