On conference presentations and workshops

I promised to report on the act-km conference (day 2) that I attended on the 15th October. The papers from the conference are up on the web site.

I won’t go through my notes on this one because I want to focus my thoughts on a broader discussion around conference formats. In particular, I want to discuss conference presentations and workshops.

Most conferences have traditional stand-up-the-front presentations, usually accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation of varying degrees of quality. Such presentations usually take 20-60 minutes, depending on whether the presentation is a keynote or not. The presenter is often rushed because of insufficient time – a problem that many speakers don’t address before getting started. But still there is the challenge of makng presentations more interesting. [On a personal note, I’d love to be able to give a conference and Powerpoint presentation like Al Gore in the documentary, An inconvenient truth!]

One response from conference organisers is to make the conference sessions more interactive. This at least keeps the audience on their toes! And one method of audience interaction used at conferences is what might be described as a mini-workshop.

A mini-workshop approach was used by a couple of presenters on the day I attended the act-km conference in Canberra. One workshop in particular was of great interest. The workshop by Laurie Lok Lee from Optimice on value networks was really very interesting – people at tables had to play the part of two archetypes and discuss how they would view the value of their particular knowledge management initiative and the value of the initiative from the other archetype. Value was to be determined using a scorecard that covered a value for both tangible and intangible activities. The archetypes would need to work together (partner) to get the knowledge management activity happening.

The workshop would have been improved with more time and this is often a problem. The benefits are not fully realised because the workshop is allocated the same time as for a stock-standard presentation format. A workshop and a presentation have different time management needs.

I am wondering if the workshop approach needs to be an actual conference highlight, akin to a keynote, where extra time can be allocated. The impact of the workshop could be enhanced by linking the issues with later standard presentations. A final workshop wrap-up (with sufficient allocated time) would tie everything up and maintain a good level of participation and thinking. Too often the final conference presentation is a panel where not much happens, or where a couple of selected presenters give their impressions of the conference for the rest of us.

I must say in this penultimate paragraph that I really enjoyed the act-km day, appreciate the efforts of all involved, and thank them for stimulating my thinking about a range of issues, including workshops and conference design.

I’d be interested in hearing any opinions on whether workshops really do add value to conferences and/or how conferences can be improved through different presentation delivery methods.


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