On Friday I was downtown Victoria at the H.O.S.T. (Home Office Support Team) meetup group, speaking to those gathered there about the topic of engaging their audience at their next speaking event. While I never refer to myself as a “speaker”, or even usually as a “presenter”, as a facilitator I did think I could bring some useful strategies to the group and, more importantly, use facilitation methods to get the group to brainstorm some ideas together.

I had to chuckle as I was prepping to lead the session in the days leading up to Friday. Having just recently co-facilitated the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW), where we ask participants to facilitate one ten-minute mini lesson every day for the three days of the workshop, I had renewed empathy for the people who always say, “But ten minutes isn’t enough time to be engaging!” As a facilitator of ISW I always gently push back on this, because it can be done and I’ve seen it done many times. And here I was complaining to myself that it was going to be hard to do a lot of activities with the group in the short 30 minutes I was given! But of course I did. (We always want more time than we have been given, we facilitators!)

True to the B.O.P.P.P.S model that we teach in ISW I started off with a Bridge-in, or hook, which was essentially what I said above: I don’t call myself a “speaker” but I do stand up in front of groups a lot and use facilitation methods to engage people in the room. I next polled the group (as a Pre-assessment) to see who was currently speaking at events, who wanted to be but wasn’t currently, and who actually wasn’t interested in the topic at all but just there to network! (I told a funny story of a time when I was asked to speak to a large group about blogging and only one person put up their hand when I asked them who was interested in blogging – and she was the person who asked me to speak to the group!)

I actually forgot to tell the group as I started the session about the Outcome that I had written, but I did have one, and it was that the group should be able to “List at least three strategies to engage participants during your presentations”. (I did tell them the outcome statement later when I made some points about the importance of writing outcomes so that as presenters they thought not just about what they were going to talk about but how they could structure their session so that their participants actually learned.)

Where did the Participatory learning come in? For the bulk of the session actually. Right after I polled the group I asked them to do a Think Pair Share, thinking to themselves for one minute in silence about the strategies that they have used, or seen used, to engage participants at presentations. Then I asked them spend two minutes talking about it in a pair with someone sitting beside them. Then we spent about ten minutes debriefing those conversations as I wrote their ideas up on a flipchart at the front of the room. I led the group in an interactive discussion and they came up with some excellent points and questions. (Of course! When given the opportunity, most adult groups will have a lot to share. This is an excellent reason to engage our audience when speaking!)

Ideas brainstormed by the group (with two or three that I added in as we debriefed) were:

  • Use humour
  • Be flexible (have a Plan B!)
  • Tell stories
  • Use visuals, such as mind mapping or other tools to help give people mental models or structures
  • Engage people in multi-sensory ways, using the five senses
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Asked closed-ended questions (such as the poll activity that I initiated first off)
  • Set the container
  • Have a positive focus
  • Use flipcharting
  • Use activities such as Think Pair Share to get people talking
  • Draw participants in
  • Make eye contact with everyone (not just a small amount of people)
  • Use listening skills
  • Use silence to help people have time to think so that they can respond (wait up to ten seconds after asking a question if you have to!)
  • Know your audience (hint: those pre-assessments help!)
  • Evoke memories/past experiences in the audience
  • Be vulnerable, honest and genuine
  • And last but certainly not least (this may be the most important of them all!) PREPARE

Next, as I mentioned above, I brought up the importance of writing and using outcomes for their own sessions. I told them what my outcome was and I included a Post-assessment activity on it, which was to look at the list of strategies that we had developed on the flipchart together, pick three in their heads that they were going to try in their next presentation, and talk with a new partner about one of them.

Lastly, I did a quick Summary in about ten seconds (due to that timing – ha!) wishing them well when they used these strategies in their own presentations, and thanking them for having me. (And I did end on time, phew!)

As an aside, if you’d like to use the B.O.P.P.P.S. model in your own teaching, check out this UBC wiki article explaining more about what it is and the elements within. Challenge yourself to use this model – and create an engaged learning environment for your participants – even if you just have a ten-minute speaking engagement! (Hint: you can combine elements if you wish.)

If you haven’t been to the H.O.S.T. sessions in Victoria and you own your own business, I strongly suggest that you check this group out. I’ve been to several of these events in the past and always take away a good idea or two. They organize on Meetup.com and when you go to a meeting in person they are just the loveliest group of people. They are very organized, very welcoming, keep the meeting on time, and structure super networking pieces as part of the session so that everyone feels comfortable. If you hate networking events or coming out to groups like this, I think you might actually like this one. I’m going to try to make it out a little more this year to keep connected with these fellow entrepreneurs.

And maybe I’ll see some of them around town in the months to come, leading speaking events and using some of these engaging strategies while doing it!

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