When Should Presenters Stop the Slides?

When Should Presenters Stop the Slides?

A few weeks ago at the Edscape Conference I co-facilitated a one-hour session titled, Non-Negotiables of Professional Development. 

The Problem 

My partner, Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5), and I only made it through 6 of our 23 planned slides. All it took were the first few slides and a thinking routine to generate an intense, on-topic discussion that lasted the entire hour and could have easily gone on for much longer.

My decision to stop the slides took place with about 15 minutes remaining in the session. I determined that it would have been nonsensical for me to abruptly halt an engaging conversation because I found the need to carry out what had been planned (even if the content took several hours to put together). So, I stepped away from the computer, pulled up a chair, and fully committed myself to the dialogue.

The Solution

As the session concluded and participants started to file out, Gerald Aungst (@geraldaungst) asked if I was upset that our presentation did not follow its intended path.

My initial thoughts…

At a conference, prioritizing your slides over a stimulating conversation is equivalent to telling students that it is time to move on because there is a lot to cover.

In other words, harness the teachable moments and emphasize depth over breadth. Be grateful if your conference presentation is “hijacked” by those in attendance because they have taken a genuine interest in your topic. After all, the more common problem is attendees being indifferent, nonparticipants, who succumb to being talked at while turning their attention to what’s next on their program.

Another Point of View

Interestingly enough, yesterday I was having lunch with Dr. Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) at Roberta’s, Brooklyn. He was in the room during the presentation, and here is his take on the situation:

“Honestly, I left wanting to hear more of what you had to say. When I go to a session because of who’s presenting, I want to hear what that person has to offer…But, in that situation [Edscape], you did the right thing.”

In the End

Right now, I feel the “answer” varies based on the context of the presentation.

For example, if I am working for a school district (such as my own), and my job is to deliver a certain message and for participants to leave with specified takeaways, my plan should be my top priority. On the other hand, if I am at a local conference and everyone starts to jump in because of their strong, on-topic opinions, I should allow for them to do so (especially if many of the attendees are colleagues/friends, as was the case at Edscape).

In short, my takeaways:

  1. Be flexible. Sometimes it is necessary to shift from presenting content/ideas to facilitating discussion, much like a teacher in the classroom when engaging students in inquiry-based learning.
  2. At the same time, others might want to experience what you have to offer. So, don’t be afraid to own it and do your thing. In the words of Joe DiMaggio, “There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.”

Has anything similar ever happened to you, either as a presenter or as an attendee? What are your overall thoughts on stopping the slides?

Connect with Ross on Twitter. 


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