Short sessions and why I like them

As day one of the Moot draws to a close, I thought I’d comment on the length of the sessions, which have come in for a little flak in the backchannel discussions about being too short. Fair enough that some have found them too short, but I thought I’d explain the thinking behind it here in a short post.

Welcome to MootAU10
Welcome to MootAU10

I remember being in the meeting when the topic of session lengths came up, and to start with we were looking at 40 – 50 minute sessions, which for my money is a more common format for the conferences I’ve been at.

We then stopped and thought about what we wanted to encourage in our presentations, and the first and foremost thing was to make them accessible. Having a shorter presentation time would, we hoped, allow anyone who had a story to tell to get up and tell it without the fear of having to pad out a presentation to the best part of an hour. In hindsight it worked – we had our presentation slots more or less filled way in advance, with good diversity in the kinds of presentations on show, and we did eventually have to turn some presenters away – far better than the opposite!

There was also a philosophical argument about how much time should be needed to tell a story, make it interesting, capture the main points and give people something worthwhile. My argument is that, within reason, you should be able to customise a presentation to fit a time no matter how short that time is – you just need to restrict your scope! A nice parallel is Curt Bonk’s bio, which comes in everything from three to six-hundred word versions. Granted, the 28-word version is the shortest meaningful response, but to me it highlights that you can tell a story in just about any length of time provided you vary your level of detail.

Sounds basic? It is.

Which is why I was a little disappointed when I read that some had found the sessions too short. If I was a presenter and I ran out of time, then I wouldn’t be blaming the length of time (provided I knew in advance how much I had to work with), I’d be filthy with myself for not planning the delivery well enough.

If I was a presenter and I ran out of time … I’d be filthy with myself for not planning the delivery well enough.

It also highlights to me what I see as a responsibility of ours as presenters – namely to not attempt to compress as much information into the shortest time possible, but to remove some content and focus on making whatever is being delivered clear, well paced and ideally with links to further resources if folks want more detail. I know I’ve broken this rule many times in the past, but the last couple of days have made me realise that this is a critical skill in being a good presenter and is something I’ll take away from this Moot as something to re-focus on going forward.

I must say that having to present in a relatively short timeframe did make me step back when putting my presentations together and think about what was really important to have in there – I cut as much fat as I could, and yes, sacrificed one or two things I’d have liked to have in there, but it was good for me to be brutal about what I was going to cover. I guess the proof will be in the pudding tomorrow when I present – feel free to let me know šŸ˜‰

These are, of course, only my thoughts – I’d like to hear from anyone who can convince me otherwise about the lengths of the sessions, or who reckon the shorter sessions have been a winner. The feedback we get from this year will inform the next Moodlemoot for sure…

5 thoughts on “Short sessions and why I like them

  1. Totally support the idea of shorter sessions
    Less is nearly always more and the best presentations are snappy, focused, clear and provide a strong visual sense of what is being achieved
    Quite a few of the higher ed talks I listened to today were top heavy with text and pedagogy instead of transmitting raw enthusiasm for Moodle and what it can harness!
    Looking forward to tomorrow!

  2. Short sessions were great – like it or not, even the most engaging presenter struggles to effectively fill an hour with ‘presentation’ (interactive/workshop sessions are a different kettle of fish). It also allows magpies like me to pick and choose across different streams, without being tied to one set of content all day. Would love to see more conferences like this.

  3. G’day Mark,

    Thanks for the post, which gives a good summary of why you went for 30min slots. Also, thanks for all the work you’ve put in to make the conference happen.

    My off the cuff “these sessions are too short” comment was really a reaction to feeling like the content had only just begun in the session I was leaving. I had the same feelings in other sessions following that one. In hindsight, were the sessions too short? Probably not. As you say, it takes great skill to present well in a short timeframe (a skill I’m not claiming to have!). However, presenters should not spend 15mins on the backstory of why development “x” was so essential to context “y”, leaving only a few minutes for the actual demo. Get to the guts of the presentation and let the audience critically assess whether it is a good fit for their context.

    A short and snappy timeframe is fine, as long as the content is delivered appropriately – otherwise people will feel a bit short changed.

    Looking forward to tomorrow!

    • Hey Michael,

      Thanks for the comment – I couldn’t recall who had made the comments, and it really didn’t bother me, so no stress. I’d have been stunned if we didn’t have some sessions which ran out of time, and totally agree that if the session is meant to be about a demo then it should cut to the chase as soon as possible. I’m actually happy that these comments happened as they have really made me focus on what I absolutely must get to in my presentations tomorrow if they are to be in any way interesting!

      Cheers,

      Mark.

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