What Should a Conference Presentation Look Like?

COABE recently announced a deadline of October 15, 2015 to submit a presentation for their April 2016 Conference, which I am super excited about. Since the deadline is earlier this year than previous, I’m joining the rush to put down engaging titles and descriptions to flood the amazing COABE planning team, forcing them to make really difficult decisions about who gets to present.

So first of all, I want to know:

What topic(s) would you like to see on an adult education conference agenda? (Bonus points if you have a catchy title to suggest)

Secondly, I want to add my two cents to the ongoing educator dialogue about conference presentation formats and the effectiveness of lecture. As an adult educator at an adult education conference, it’s only right to think about what format would be both engaging and appropriate for the audience with a wide variety of background knowledge and contexts who may attend your session.

Whenever I attend or plan a conference session, one of the biggest questions in my mind is:

“How long is the presenter going to TALK?”

Talking at the audience, otherwise known as lecture, direct instruction, or monologue is a tried-and-true method of sharing exposition or background knowledge, especially for audiences who may not have any clue what you are talking about. But when and how long do you explain information before cognitive overload, sedentary body position, and just plain boredom set in?

This year, I’m going to challenge myself and my fellow adult educators at this or any conference to keep the monologues to a maximum of 20 minute chunks, preferably 5-10 minutes.

What do you think? What is the right amount of lecture for an audience when you have no idea of their level of knowledge?

As background reading, I want to pull together for your reading pleasure a series of blog posts from some of my favorite educational bloggers:

“Are College Lectures Unfair?” is an important question posed recently on the Brilliant Blog by Annie Murphy Paul. She explains,

  • “The partiality of the lecture format has been made visible by studies that compare it with a different style of instruction, called active learning. This approach provides increased structure, feedback and interaction, prompting students to become participants in constructing their own knowledge rather than passive recipients.”

“Your Conference Session is the Appetizer. The Internet is the Main Dish.” by Dan Meyer reflects on the “Shadow Con” he participated in at the NCTM Conference. He described,

  • “We invited six presenters each to give a ten-minute talk. Their talk had to include a “call to action,” some kind of closing homework assignment that participants could accomplish when they went home. The speakers each committed to help participants with that homework on the session website we set up for that purpose.”

And last but certainly not least, I highly recommend the two-part series The Lecture and Lectures, part 2 by Grant Wiggins. One of his points:

  • “Research has also been clear for decades that attention tends to dip considerably after 20 minutes – hence, the TED talk being limited to 18 minutes (supported by the other Commandments). And research on memory has consistently stressed the point that significant ideas must not only be repeated in the lecture but in subsequent lectures, with increasing time elapsing between each reference. (i.e. so-called “spaced” practice vs. “massed practice” for moving material from short-term to long-term memory.)”

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