Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 18, Issue 33;   August 15, 2018:

Getting Value from Involuntary Seminars


Whatever your organizational role, from time to time you might find yourself attending seminars or presentations involuntarily. The value you derive from these "opportunities" depends as much on you as on the presenter.
A large audience listening to a speaker

A large audience listening to a speaker. The size of the audience can render impossible any direct, person-to-person interaction between the speaker and audience members.

You have meetings back to back, and tons of work to do, including prep for your presentation tomorrow, so what are you doing sitting in this seminar? Easy answer: you have to be here. Your employer mandated it, or the presenter is your subordinate or colleague or supervisor, or you wanted to network beforehand but not necessarily stay, or you need to be seen in attendance or on the attendance list, or you're the CEO and you required everyone to attend, or on and on.

The value you derive from your attendance will be next to nothing (and possibly negative) if you sit their boiling in your own resentment at having to be there. Here are nine tips to help curb your resentment and get value from the seminar.

Make notes, physical or mental
If you outrank everyone in the room, making notes might not be practical, because people interpret your behavior in unexpected ways. But otherwise, notes can be helpful in consolidating your learning. If you take notes, do so continuously — write more than you think you need. You never know how things will fit together in post-seminar contemplation.
Sit near people you want to get to know better
If you're attending nonvirtually, sit beside anyone in the room whom you'd like to get to know better. If you can choose from several, remember that the obvious choice might not be best. When it comes to unanticipated benefits, randomness can be your friend.
Know how to deal with information you already know
When the presenter says something you already know, there's elevated risk of resentment about wasting your time. The risk is real, but the feelings might not be justified. For example, even though you understand well the point just made, in how many ways could you have made the same point? Is the presenter's way new to you? If not, does it suggest a new and more engaging way to make the same point? Investigate how the presenter's approach might trigger new ways for you to think about that point or new ways to express it.
Know how to deal with what you disagree with
When the presenter says something with which you disagree, objecting aloud might be acceptable. If it is, engaging with the presenter in a confrontational manner is one choice, but there are others. Without stating your objection, you can ask the presenter how the point applies in a particular case that you constructed to illustrate your objection. You never know — maybe the presenter has an acceptable response.
If objecting Any short seminar — an hour
or less — has at least three
items of value to
anyone attending
aloud isn't acceptable, or isn't practical, ask yourself similar questions, silently of course, and later on if necessary. You never know — maybe you have acceptable responses.
Look for three take-aways
Any short seminar — an hour or less — has at least three items of value to anyone attending. What are the top three ideas worth remembering from this seminar? Even if the presenter's style is abominable, the presenter is probably a thoughtful professional who somehow earned the opportunity to present. Include in this list anything that needs re-writing to make its value more evident, and anything you already learned and are glad you did.
Look for two leave behinds
Any short seminar also has some leave-behinds — things not worth remembering, or not likely to be useful to you anytime before they become obsolete or overtaken by technological change. The nice thing about leave-behinds is that you don't have to remember them. Just make certain that they don't somehow find their way onto your take-away list.
Avoid mentally criticizing the presenter
Even if you abhor the presenter's speaking style, even if you don't like the presenter's PowerPoint technique, mentally criticizing the presenter on either count is an expensive habit. It prevents you from focusing on the presenter's message, which is presumably the most important reason for anyone to attend the presentation. Moreover, mental criticism sets your mind looking for things you find mistaken or worthless, and then, because of the halo effect, you might become predisposed to reject whatever the presenter has to say that might be valuable.
Pay special attention to…
Sometimes the most important ideas from a presentation make themselves known not by the presenter emphasizing them, but by the reactions of attendees. Pay special attention to anything that was unclear to you. Was the presenter's language poorly chosen? How would you have made that same point? Were you confused by some other factor?
Did you react strongly to anything the presenter, or anyone else, said? If you felt anger, what was that about?
Did another attendee ask a question that revealed difficulties of some kind? Is the concept confusing or subtle? Or was the presenter unclear? Did the presenter get confused about something?
Finally, did disagreements erupt among the attendees, or between the presenter and other attendees?
All of these incidents are potential indicators of difficulty in the subject matter. Try to understand what might be contributing to these difficulties. If you can sort that out, you might be able to make a contribution. If you can't, that could suggest how you might find answers later.

Finally, afterwards, as soon as possible, rewrite your notes, or write them for the first time if you didn't take notes. Because the rewrite almost always stimulates recall and learning, do it soon, even if you don't feel that you have time to finish the job. Do as much as you have time for right then, and then come back to it later when you have more time. The bit you did right away will help you do a more complete job later, but only if it's not too much later. Go to top Top  Next issue: Dealing with Credit Appropriation  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

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