Posters, presentations and speed geeking: finding out what we know

The seven openings to events that we described in our last blog are a first step in ‘bringing people’s voices and their different experiences into the room, in a spirit of curiosity and learning’. We used that phrasing when we first blogged about our Facilitation Practice last year to describe what happens as you move from openings to a logical next phase in gatherings: ‘finding out what we know‘.  The Tagging and Human Spectrogram exercises we described in our last blog get people curious and interested, and lead naturally into richer conversations in which people find out about each other.

What shall we do about Presentations?

Presentations have a bad press among a lot of development people exhausted by the round of conferences and workshops and generally also among facilitators. The issue here is one of framing and organisation:”what if we re-imagine conferences and meetings as gatherings where people can connect, learn and have the conversations that really matter“, was a blog response here to Duncan Green’s rant about awful events. We described a simple but effective approach to sharing, a variant on speed-networking. Three-minute snapshot presentations from people of what was inspiring about their work meant that in less than an hour everyone knew the best of what was happening across a range of projects.

Presentations become  engaging and energising when people are limited to a fixed time or number of slides, or by using a timer approach like Pecha Kucha.  This also offers a compromise for those who value the security or  ease of powerpoint.  When there is a lot of detail to present, doing it this way allows for different approaches to communication and learning. For example, in a recent annual meeting of the CARIAA program, which involves four large, complex research syndicates in detailed and current climate change research, each syndicate gave a 10-minute introductory presentation very early in the three-day event.  A bit like  a TED talk, it meant that each of the senior scientists and their teams produced rich, engaging and dynamic communication that set the scene and sparked off a range of questions and follow-up conversations.

Posters and Galleries

In both those events the presentations were followed  by a ‘market place’, with  posters and other information for more in-depth discussions.  The Building Demand for Sanitation (BDS) program, on the other hand, started with the posters.

Nairobi 13 BDS convening gallery walk.JPG
Prof. Bilqis Hoque talks about women leaders in local Government at a BDS convening

The way it’s organised and managed has evolved over the five years of the program:

  • Each of the grantees, many with large multi-year collaborative projects, prepares a poster according to a pre-agreed template. For a recent BDS convening this had  four headings:  Progress Update, Learning, Partnership, Change and Innovation. The suggestion was the posters should preferably not exceed 36 x 60 inches (3 x 5 feet).
  • The posters are put up around the walls of the room(s) the previous evening or during a time allocated around a natural break.  This means that if the venue doesn’t like things being stuck on the walls, something like sticky walls needs to be brought in by the facilitator.
  • The participants then have 30 – 45 mins to simple wander about, to view the posters, ask questions for clarification, and prioritise those they’d like to explore more deeply with the hosts.
  • There are then three or four rounds of detailed conversations, between 20 and 30 minutes long, when participants join a particular poster and have a conversation with the hosts – who may do a short introduction to their content (illustrated above).
  • The posters are all photographed and the pictures shared online afterwards.

We’ve used posters, or a combination of introductory presentations plus posters, in a wide range of events. The process is engaging, keeps people moving and awake (it’s key remember the impact of jet-lag on the early part of some events) while providing an ideal context for learning and knowledge exchange. People ask precisely what it is they want to know, when they want to know it, and of a person who is likely to be able to answer it immediately, or provide references. The posters stay on the walls, too, which means that people can view or follow up at their leisure.

Speed Geeking and Knowledge Carousels

This is one of the oldest tools in the Facilitator’s kitbag, and take many different forms. In essence it’s a more formally or tightly organised form of Gallery Walk. ‘Presenters’ are allocated a short, fixed time to engage with groups of participants. They start with a brief pitch – 3o seconds or one minute to the whole event – and then there is a strictly-managed series of short sessions where participants choose to visit those they find interesting.

Pitching to the crowd at a CTA Plug and Play Day

The exercise can be very informal – presenters in parts of the room, or at tables, or in break-out rooms – or formal, as in the Plug and Play days pioneered by CTA in its work to promote and learn about the uses of Information and Communication Technologies in Agriculture. In the latter, illustrated above, the whole day is given over to a series of presentations, attended by 100 – 300 people in total. The facilitator spends a lot of time in preparation but on the day itself is more of a timekeeper or MC (‘master/ mistress of ceremonies’). This role can be shared with other participants, of course.

There are trade-offs. Posters take time to prepare, time which is often hard to find among busy and often cash-poor projects. But Powerpoint presentations, especially short ones, can be quick to prepare and share afterwards.  How do you manage that trade-off, in ways that maximise both engagement and communication without creating a heavy load for participants? And of course we’d welcome hearing about your ideas and experience if you’re interested in joining us at our next Facilitation Anywhere workshop in Oxford on 22 – 24 November.