Express Yourself - How to Conduct a Seminar (Part I)

 


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Conducting a seminar is a great way to communicate your ideas or introduce new technologies. It is useful to know some guidelines when you have to conduct a seminar. I understood the importance of this both as a attendee and a presenter myself.

Preparing your presentation

A successful seminar is the result of careful preparation of your speech and your presentation material. Here is how you can do it.

Research your subject

If you are called to speak on a topic, probably thats because you are already have some knowledge of it. Even so, you need to reference from at least 2 different books. This helps you address and include points you have not thought about. It also helps you determine a flow for the seminar.

Preparing the presentation

Include a presentation. Presentations help the audience to understand the underlying points that the speaker has to say especially if the subject is rather vague.

The presentation should have an Introduction and a conclusion. The introduction can include a summary of the topic and a brief overview of what the speaker will be saying for the rest of the duration of the seminar.

The speaker should determine how long the seminar will take and accordingly create the presentation slides. Thumb of rule is approximately 2-3 minutes per slide if the speaker intends to skim through the slides quickly. And around 5 minutes per slide if the speaker intends to explain the slides with small examples. For example, if the seminar is supposed to be 40 minutes long, there should be around 16 slides if the speaker intends to quickly skim the contents of the slide.

Make sure the content has a ``flow'’ to it. By flow I mean that the content that comes later can depend on the content which comes in first, but not the other way around. This is a common mistake. The speaker tends to explains a point that should have come in later, in the beginning itself. This tends to confuse the attendees because they have not gained enough insight into the topic to be able to grasp the new information.

The Look and feel of the presentation is extremely important. Avoid too flashy and too plain presentations. A presentation with extraordinary text effects look naive and detracts from the importance of what the speaker has to say.

At the same time, avoid plain presentations as the attendees perceive that the speaker has probably not prepared enough. Use well designed presentation templates which are freely available or at a low cost. The text size of primary points should be uniform as far as possible. Secondary points should have a smaller font size to show its reduced significance. Secondary points are indented under primary points.

Include pictures or graphs instead of text wherever possible. Management Guru CK Prahalad, in a seminar on India's innovation possibilities, explained the efficacy of the Jaipur Foot in a picture that showed a physically challenged person running with the Jaipur foot. Though the audience had already heard about the Foot, they were visibly amazed and touched as they saw the picture.

The way text is arranged on the presentation slides is also important. Speakers sometimes make the mistake of putting up points and their respective explanations also. Not only does this practice increase the number of slides, but it is a sure shot way to lull the audience into sleep. So thumb of rule is to use minimum text, and make sure whatever text you put up is a point, not an explanation of a point. If you intend to give out detailed points for reference, do not include them in the slide. It just makes them cluttered and anyway the audience just cannot keep up with the stream of points you list out to them during the seminar. Use handouts instead for such points.

It is very important to include within the seminar content, examples and case studies. Examples illustrate the speaker's point in a more interesting way which the audience is immediately able to relate to. Examples and case studies have the power to touch an audience, relate to similar experiences and thereby be eager to learn more. Sometimes small jokes too make the seminar livelier.

Handouts

The speaker should prepare handouts as well, especially if the audience is small. Handouts will contain all main points of the seminar as well as those detailed points which cannot be included in the seminar slides but are useful for reference later. Include within the handout, a list of any reference books used to prepare for the seminar. This helps the audience to read or followup on the same topic later.

Listen to your voice

The speaker should listen to his seminar using a Dictaphone( or tape recorder) and play it back. It is possible to immediately detect the parts of the seminar that could be corrected or which don't sound right. If the seminar sounds interesting to the speaker, chances are that others would also feel so.

During the seminar

Once the seminar is prepared, relax!! Most of the work is done.

List out your seminar itinerary The speaker should make sure that the audience knows how long this is going to take. Give a brief idea on the important aspects of your speech so that the audience is aware where they are during the seminar. Then start with an introduction. Many people fail to give out a decent introduction before they delve into the subject, perhaps because they want to be quickly done with the main parts. An introduction helps bring people into sync with the subject. The speaker can also emphasize the benefit the audience will get by hearing the seminar out. It would be something like this “The topic I am going to speak today is about xxxxxx and through this I hope you will be able to gain yyyyyy. "

Style of speaking

The speaker's voice should reach everyone, especially if it is a large audience and if there is no adequate sound system. Not able to clearly hear is probably the first way to lose interest. Similarly the seating should be such where everyone can easily see the speaker and the presentation.

The speaker should be relaxed and should be able to casually bring out examples of as many points he is taking. Examples have the power to immediately make the audience understand the point and be in sync with the speaker.

Speaker's attention has to be on the audience. The speaker can probably glance occasionally at the presentation, but remember to make eye contact as often as possible.

The general thumb rule in a seminar is for the audience to understand the subject first before asking questions Interactions can be initiated after the seminar. But during the seminar the speaker is the one who has to be strictly speaking. While an interactive seminar may seem more lively for the speaker, in fact it is lively only for the speaker and for the person who is asking questions. Others immediately lose interest. So in the interest of the larger audience, the speaker has to make sure he does not lose grip over the audience even for a minute. That means avoiding asking audiences questions during the seminar or encouraging discussions during the seminar.

So how do people ask questions. They should do it after the seminar during a Question answer session. Any questions they have during the seminar should be written down by the audience and asked after the seminar. The speaker could make these rules clear to the audience prior to starting with the seminar.

After the seminar

After the seminar is over, there could be a question answer session where audience can ask questions. As the audience is more aware of the subject now and not burdened with their own questions, they can easily understand the replies to other questions.

Now the speaker could try to get feedback from the audience about your seminar. Of course this applies only if the seminar is conducted within a company or among people who will come back for more seminars. The speaker should try to understand if the subject was interesting to the audience and in particular “useful" to them or their department. This way it is possible to understand whether to continue to build on the details of the same or similar subjects in your next seminar.

In Poornam's Development department, we conduct feedback sessions after every seminar to know whether the topic is useful for further implementation within the department. This way we were able to include JAD (Joint Application Development) and Inspection Review methods to our processes. The seminar became an extremely useful method to increase the knowledge level of staff and to improve our processes also. If the feedback session wasn't there, probably people would have forgotten about the seminar and its uses to the department. Remember the speaker is a powerhouse of information on the topic and that knowledge should not go waste if it is useful to the organization.

Conclusion

Finally ensure that seminars are always are conducted in an organisation. Besides drastically improving kowledge levels, it brings about an understanding of the immensity of the vast unknowns in our profession or for that matter any profession. This in turn eradicates complacancy.

Another surprising benefit of conducting seminars within organisations is the increased confidence levels found in the speakers. Generally once a speaker has conducted a seminar, he rarely stops conducting seminars and goes on to become good enough to speak outside the company to a more general audience.

As complacancy is eradicated, a renewed interest in learning is developed and most speakers turn to writing articles and reading more books. Most importantly, the fresh inflow of new ideas enters the organisation as many of these ideas are implemented. The audience which listens to the seminar already know much of what is spoken and are ready to accept changes brought about by the new systems introduced as a result of the new ideas introduced by the speaker.

All in all, seminars benefit the orgnisation, the audience and most importantly the speaker.

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