Most of the time when we conduct training, informational presentations, or speeches, we think of ourselves as senders of information. That is of course partly true. But it isn't the whole picture. Your presentation isn't just a one-way broadcast. And, according to some adult learning theories, it can't be, if you want it to be effective.

Speaking on a topic to adults can differ from the teaching we experienced as students in high school or college. In college, the teacher speaks as an expert, who knows much more than the student does (at least, hopefully, about the topic s/he's speaking about!) The relationship is “professor” (as in, one who professes to know a lot about the topic) to “student”. Moreover, the students are, in one way or another, paying for the experience. By contrast, in adult learning, the audience members may have nearly as much experience/knowledge as the speaker does. And in a lot of situations, they aren't paying for privilege of hearing you speak; they've been compelled to be there: by their bosses, by a lawsuit, by a new company rule, etc..

Instead of thinking of your adult audience members in your presentation as “students”, you should think of them as “participants”. Instead of thinking of yourself as a “teacher”, think of yourself as a “facilitator”. Your job is to draw out your participants' expertise and interest by establishing an environment that invites their ideas, opinions, and experiences.

You can do that in your speech/presentation with call-outs. By “call-out”, I mean, basically, any number of ways to solicit the audience for information. You can do it by asking factual questions, or asking for the audience's opinion on an issue, or seeing if anyone has had an experience germane to the topic that they are willing to share. Your job is then to turn that input into speaking points relevant to your topic. This method will certainly eat-up more time than just speaking your presentation by rote, but that cost is outweighed by the participant investment you get by taking the call-out road.

An example:

Let's say there's been a recent modification to a long-standing policy regarding overtime. Your job is to give presentation to get your group on the same page with the new policy.

First, put the policy in context. Review what the policy has been. (This will help you pinpoint the differences when you discuss the new policy.) Rather than just state what the policy was, call out to someone in the audience to get them to review it for the group.

Then, in your second call-out, cherry pick the details in the old policy that are going to change in the new policy. Ask the audience about these details with questions like, “why did we do it this way?” or “what's good about that?” or “what's been annoying about that?” Your job will be to moderate the discussion, highlighting relevant points and keeping the group on topic.

Now you can lay out the new policy. If it's already been implemented, this is your third call-out. Ask someone in the class to state the new policy.

In your fourth call-out, you can now ask the audience, “what are the key differences between these two policies?” Create a list from the input you get.

In your fifth and final call-out, you can open up a discussion about how these differences are going to impact the practices of the participants. What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages? What are the confusing parts?

This “call-out” strategy is not meant to make the audience do all your work for you. Rather, it gets your audience engaged in setting the stage, so you can do the important work of creating buy-in. You will still have to drive the conversation and make sure the audience reaches a clear understanding of what the new policy is.

But, by having the audience contribute equally to the conversation, you will end up with a presentation that more fully addresses your audience's needs. They will bring points and perspectives that wouldn't have occurred to you. By allowing that discussion to happen, and managing it effectively, your audience will take away a lot more valuable information. And so will you.

Call-outs can be tricky to master. You need to ask for input, but remain firmly in control. And you need to find ways to validate participation, even when that participation isn't what you expected. If you want a little practice, contact MUSE today!