Tony Gurr

As “Conference SEASON” approaches

In Conferences, Teacher Training on 06/03/2011 at 1:39 pm

It’s great to hear that so many young teacher trainers are thinking about “getting their hands even dirtier” this conference season – by doing their first conference paper.

It’s a great “first” – but almost as scary as your first kiss!

I’m not actually sure which is more challenging – running a training session with your own group of teachers or stepping out into a conference room full of strangers. Different people say things – but both can keep us awake at night for days (until we get going)!

When people ask me for advice on how best to prepare for a first conference paper, I try to explain that it is pretty similar to preparing a more intimate workshop or training session.

Or, at least it should be…

Think about it – when was the last time you had to sit through a presentation (from a very “well-meaning” speaker) that was totally about “his” master’s research project?

Don’t get me wrong – some research projects are great but being forced to sit thru a potted summary of a literature review, a research methodology, a set of results, and a “nod” to an advisor (who is probably sitting at the back of the hall) is….just….painful!

OK, it’s actually a bit of a “snore-fest”!

This is because it’s about “content” – content I can read by downloading your paper and flicking through it over a cuppa at home.

Please, please, please…… don’t do that to your audience. It’s not fair!

Especially, if you have “sexy title” to draw us in – and you know all along that all you will do is “read aloud” (and ask us to read along with you on over-crowded powerpoint slides).


A good presentation, like a good training session starts with the planning.

Let me say that again…..PLANNING.

This needs to be centred on “the 3Ps” – not the ELT version, the training version:


In the example I gave above – the PURPOSE is “reading aloud” (not communicating or having a learning conversation with others), the PEOPLE involved are basically you (and your advisor) and the PROCESS is all about whether you can cram it all into a 50-minute time slot.

The alternative?

Take some quality time really think through a number of questions:

For PURPOSE, try these:

  • Why are you doing the session? or What is your real purpose in doing this presentation? (be honest)
  • How do you know the session you are planning is relevant to the needs of your participants?
  • What are your learning outcomes for the session – what will your participants be able to “do” with what they “learn”? or What will the participants be able to do at the end of the session that they could not do (as effectively) before the session?

If you can answer these questions you are well on your way!

For PEOPLE, take a look at these:

  • Who are your participants? Where do they work?
  • How many participants will you have?
  • What do they already know?
  • How do they learn best (and how do you know this)?
  • How will you link the session with what participants actually do on a day-to-day basis?
  • How will you manage communications with your participants before / during / after the programme?

These six questions are tough – and you might not be able to answer them all. But, thinking about them helps you start to plan a more “audience-friendly” session.

The next set of questions relate to PROCESS – and really show how you bridge your PURPOSE to your PEOPLE

  • What really “matters” about your subject / topic? or What is really important and useful in your session?
  • How can you organise the session to ensure the participants “learn”? or What will you do to ensure that learning “lasts”?
  • What activities will you use in your session? How will you vary the pace and range of activities?
  • What steps will you follow over the length of the session – what will you do – and (more importantly) what will the participants do during each step?
  • How can you use your participants as a “resource” – and increase “interactive involvement” during the session?
  • How do you plan to balance the THINKING-DOING-REFLECTING of your participants in the session?
  • How will you emphasise “teamwork” through discussions and small-group activities?
  • What materials and learning aids will you use (presentation slides, handouts, activity sheets, games, etc)?
  • What resources will you need to (a) plan your session, (b) run the session on the day, and (c) evaluate how effective the session was? Who can help you with resources and logistics?
  • What type of room arrangements and layout do you need for your planned range of activities?
  • How will you know you have been successful in the session? How will you evaluate the session?
  • How will you celebrate success – with participants and those who helped you make the session happen (make sure you don’t forget anyone!)?
  • How will you improve future sessions?

These are critical questions – and far superior to just asking yourself “OK – what am I going to say”?

In a nutshell, the best advice is to remember that your purpose should NOT be to deliver just “content” or even aim to give “a wonderful performance” (a few laughs are fine – recommended even). A good presentation is about how well you create a shared learning experience that makes a difference to the lives of your participants (and how you get better at doing this).


Good luck!

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