AUTM offers educational content in a variety of online and live formats, including webinars, courses, and sessions at the annual and regional meetings. This page offers guidelines, best practices, and tips for the three stages of designing, building, and delivering an interactive session that will leave attendees feeling energized and inspired! If you need help planning your session or have questions about the guidance offered below, please contact us at [email protected]
Typical presentations use a simple format: welcome and introduction followed by the content (usually supported by slides) and a Q&A at the end. However, this format may not be as engaging as you’d like and often lacks the person-to-person connection that attendees look for. Use the guidance below to design your session as a collaborative experience that taps into the expertise of the participants and ultimately leaves them with quality insights and inspiration for the future.
We encourage you to go beyond the typical presentation format and rethink your session to keep the audience engaged.
Follow these three simple steps to design your session:
- Review your goals for the session (e.g., demonstrating and practicing a skill, reviewing a research paper, brainstorming solutions, rallying the community around an issue, showcasing a project or initiative) and design around them.
- Within the constraints of the type of program you have been invited to present (e.g., annual/region meeting session, webinar, instructional workshop), decide on a format that would best support these goals: debate, interview, short individual presentation, case study discussion, etc.
- Choose the activities that would work well with the format and goals you decided.
your planned activities & scenario at least once or twice to make sure the session flows well, addresses your goals, and is within your intended time limits.
- Point/Counter-point Sessions or Debates: Multiple presenters (or teams of presenters) engage in a debate and then include the audience in the discussion.
- Fishbowl Sessions: A form of dialog that can be used when discussing topics within large groups. This format helps people manage a debate on the topic and keep it under control even if many people are participating. At any given time, a group of people will be actively debating while the rest of the group listens in and takes notes of various viewpoints. Through an iterative process, many participants will get to both listen and participate in the discussion about the topic. See this detailed description with resources for online adaptation.
- NOTE: The fishbowl session can only be accommodated as space allows at the event venue.
- Panel discussions (which are not a series of individual presentations)
- Bullet-Point Session where each panelist discusses 3-5 bullet points each
- Interview-Style with common questions and a discussion based on attendee questions
- Ignite, and 10/20/30 Rule: These short presentation formats can be equally or more effective than a longer session by allowing the presenter to distill down the content and then connect with the audience by including other engagement elements throughout the session.
- Storytelling or Performance-type Sessions: We are hardwired for stories and various formats can be used to reflect and build upon the authentic experiences of an individual, a team, or a community.
- Case Study Discussion: The most impactful case studies all have one thing in common: great storytelling. They include a proper narrative and storyline including the problem, the resolution, and the (successful) ending. Involve the audience to extract valid insight, credible expertise, and meaningful advice on a subject.
- Solution Labs: Someone’s issue is presented to the audience (by interviewing the person, including questions from the audience or by showing a pre-recorded video clip with the person describing the issue, etc.) and the facilitators moderate a series of steps to come up with solutions from the audience; can include brainstorming, breakout rooms, polls, etc.
- World Café sessions: drawing on seven integrated design principles, this is a simple, effective and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue. By organizing several rounds with specific questions, attendees are invited to discuss a topic of mutual interest in small groups. This format enables bringing together individual ideas into one comprehensive message.
- Peer Exchange: This format is a hybrid of a networking event and panel session, and it is a great way to foster community. When confronted with a new reality, people want to hear from anyone in the same boat. How are others dealing with the new situation? What changes are people making that hold a job title similar to my own? Collect questions from your target audience in advance and pose them to the participants of the meeting. Use the responses as a starting point for the discussion. For larger audiences, consider using breakout rooms when possible, so you can split people up for more intimate group conversations.
Consider the purpose of each activity (engage in discovery and draw insights; measure learning and understanding of group; review the topic; provide a brain break or energizer) and choose from the following to build your session:
Welcoming, Icebreakers & Intros: This section provides energy, rapport and context related to why we’re here and what to expect (set the stage); keep it concise and on point.
- Use icebreakers that frame your conversation and align with the goals of your session.
Individual or Panel Presentations
- Consider individual presentations that are short and engaging like Ignite, Storytelling, etc.
- Good panel presentations are not a series of individual presentations, for example, Debate, Interview, Fishbowl, etc
Groupwork, Discussion & Questions: The easiest way to create dynamic sessions is to bring the audience into the conversation in an active way: to discuss an issue, help each other or put their heads together to come up with a solution.
- Include the audience as a co-creator of the session – their expertise will add to the shared learning experience
- Consider ways to create something with the audience that is lasting and that attendees can refer back to: brainstorming & feedback notes; meeting minutes, a mind map, whitepaper, etc.
- Collect all that was shared (including chat contributions) in a resource that attendees can easily access or make a copy (i.e shared document, jamboard, mural/miro, spreadsheet, mind map, etc)
- Sample activities:
- “Think/Pair/Share or Pair/Share/Declare” (1-3-6-All, 1-4, 1-3-All, 1-3-6, etc.): Break big groups into smaller groups and then bring smaller groups into bigger groups to share and distill ideas.
- Hands-on Work: Scenario role-playing or collaborating in a document.
- Peer Feedback, Problem Solving, or Consulting/Coaching session (takes 30-40 minutes): Groups of 3-4 with each participant taking the role of the client: the first client shares his or her challenge or question (2-3 minutes); consultants ask the client clarifying questions (1-2 minutes); client turns off-camera; together, the consultants generate ideas, suggestions, coaching advice (4-5 minutes); client turns back camera and draws conclusions (1 minute); switch client and repeat
- Case study discussion, World Café, Peer Exchange, etc.
Virtual Networking techniques
: Networking doesn’t simply happen because a (more or less) random group of people share the same (physical or virtual) space. If you are facilitating a session which has networking as one of the goals, you should plan for activities that enable people to meet and connect. (See a comprehensive report for how to Host Your Own Meaningful Networking Events
). Some of these activities include:
- Water cooler (Paired or Triad Networking) – use Breakout rooms
- Chat Storm / Chatterfall
- Individual (or a few) Cameo/Share-out – spotlight 1 or a few stories
- Collaborative work (Think-Pair-Share) – use Breakout rooms and Chat or a Collaborative tool for sharing
- Learn/share (What 2 things can you teach; what 2 things would you like to learn) – Breakout rooms and sharing tool
- 3-Person Consulting – Breakout rooms
- Speed Pairs/Networking – Breakout rooms
- Conversation-starter nametags – Participants could rename themselves to include some information: for example, title, institution, geographical location, or something else
- Roundtable discussions – Breakout rooms with option for participants to pick room to join
Breaks: Taking breaks help us digest information, add energy back into a session or help bring the focus back to the content; add at least a 5-minute break for every 45-60 minutes and don’t go without a break for more than 90 minutes
Next Steps & Closings: Include time to ask for feedback, discuss next steps and for group reflection & takeaways. Always end with purpose, enthusiasm and on a positive note.
Build your session
- Example Session Structure
Typical presentations use a simple format: welcome and introduction followed by the content (usually supported by slides) and a Q&A at the end.
|Welcome & Introductions
|Individual slide deck presentation
|Questions from the audience
The following are examples of how to approach a presentation by breaking it into blocks of activities – mix it up based on your own style!
Example #1 for a 45-minute session
|Welcoming - Ground Rules
|Individual presentation using Pecha Kucha, Ignite or Kawasaki formats)
|Icebreakers & Intros - Paired Networking
|Discussion Prompt (with poll)
|Group work, Discussion & Questions - Small-to-large (1-3-all) to generate questions
|Report-out (via chat) & Audience-drive Q&A forum
Example #2 for a 60-minute session
|Welcoming - Hellos/Set the tone/Technology
|Icebreakers & Intros - Paired Networking
|Panel Presentation of Case Study (sent ahead of time) - Interview-style
|Small Group Discussion of Case Study
|Audience-drive Q&A forum
|Closings - including action steps and assignments
taking into account:
Online Engagement Ideas
- Provide a 5-minute break activity for every 60-90 minutes of content: e.g., “email-checking” or bathroom break; a breathing, yoga or stretching activity; take an outside walk
- Design for a change of delivery method every 15-20 minutes;
- Engage audience with an activity at least every 10 minutes: ask a question, launch a poll, ask for an emoji response, raise hand, etc
- Engage and interact with every attendee.
- Never lead a meeting alone.
- Good looks.
- Air traffic control.
- Get productive with virtual tools.
- End your meeting on a high note.
- If adapting in-person content, trim at least one-third – it takes longer to get things done in a virtual setting.
- If you like games - Gamify the opening, for example, a virtual scavenger hunt to start things off. “The first three people who find something in their house that is red, square and old will win bragging rights.” Make it fun.
- Use polls effectively:
- Periodic polls to gauge understanding during the presentation and tailor activities accordingly.
- Students take a short survey followed by a poll indicating where they ended up and then the session content is adjusted based on the largest response group.
- Use polls as an ice breaker and ask attendees a fun or current question.
- Use zoom whiteboard like a flip chart with annotation for all participants to contribute.
- Incorporate intentional spaces to reflect and think:
- Silence is ok! We are so uncomfortable with silence in the virtual setting, and it is ok to allow it in the online spaces the same we do in real-world spaces.
- Consider breakout rooms of 1 for reflections (with a prompt!).
- Create something with the group; it’s easier to engage an audience if they understand you’re building towards something: a template for a project, a list of best practices, etc.
- Add real-world elements, for example: look out the window and tell us about the weather where you are located; show an object from your desk and share something about it; go outside during a break, etc.
- Let people work at their own pace or out of sequence, be flexible and get creative with timing and flow.
Breakout Room Best Practices
- Breakout rooms allow you to split your meeting into smaller sessions. The participants can be assigned randomly or they can choose which breakout room to enter. Before planning to use breakout rooms, think carefully about what you want to accomplish during this time.
- Activities that work well with breakout rooms:
- Intros: Paired Networking
- Groupwork, Discussion & Questions: Brainstorm Ideas; Peer Feedback; Think-Pair-Share (1-3-6-all); Scenario Roleplaying; Problem Solving (see examples above)
- Collect Feedback or Next Steps: Shared Document (Feedback Document, Jamboard, Mural, Spreadsheet, Mind Map, etc.); Reflection & Takeaways
- Always breakout with a prompt – provide guidance to participants for what they should discuss, work or reflect on while in the breakout.
- Set a timer: allocate a time limit to the breakout rooms to keep your agenda on track and also for the participants to know how much time is remaining as they work through their exercise/task
- Encourage participants to start with brief introductions if they don’t know each other, a maximum of 30 seconds per person, recommend they use the included timer.
- If multiple roles (facilitator, notetaker, report out, etc.) are needed, make this clear before participants break out.
- Breakout room teams can work on the same document: for example a Jam board or Mural or even different tabs on a shared spreadsheet that you prepare in advance and number each tab by the breakout rooms numbers. Having one central space helps keep all the input in one place and makes it easy to review later.
- If pairs are not required for your activity, it is better to have a minimum of 3 participants in each breakout room. This helps with the flow of the conversation and the “randomness” of participants in the rooms.
- A good practice is to keep your camera on if possible.
- Try to actively listen to others in the room: pay full attention, engage and respond.
- Make sure everyone in the room is included in the conversation; try to give each participant equal “airtime”.
- If roles are needed (e.g., facilitator, notetaker, report out) or a share-out is expected, designate who does what at the beginning of the breakout session.
Create an Accessible and Inclusive Session
AUTM is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion. We hold presenters to the same standards. Content, images, and examples should be racially- and culturally sensitive and applicable to a diverse audience. Avoid stereotypes and overgeneralizations.
Accessible design features
- Try to use plain text whenever possible, avoiding unnecessary tables, borders, or graphics if they do not convey meaning.
- Provide alt text of all images, including images that include text. Provide meaningful contexts for all hyperlinks.
- Use font sizes between 12 and 18 points for body text.
- Use normal or expanded character spacing, rather than condensed spacing.
- Provide sufficient color contrast between text and background colors.
Be mindful of your language:
- Use language that is clear, direct, and easy to understand.
- Avoid using jargon, idioms and acronyms, and if you do have to use them, explain what they mean in plain language. Keep in mind that your presentation may be watched by people from all around the world and avoid expressions that may not be understood by all members of the audience.
- Practice using gender-inclusive language (e.g., instead of terms like “ladies and gentlemen” or “hi guys”, consider “folks” or “everyone”). Learn more.
Prepare Your Slides
Slides are not always necessary, but if you decide to use them, please follow these tips:
- Slides should be widescreen format 16:9 (how to switch format in PowerPoint and in Google Slides)
- As you draft your slides, if you are the only presenter on your presentation, be aware that (in a virtual presentation) a small window featuring your webcam video will be overlaid on the top right of your slide. Avoid putting key information in the top right-hand corner of your slides. If multiple presenters are included, the entire right side of the slide will be covered by the webcams.
- Don’t overwhelm your slides with text and data. Make slides more illustrative. Provide digital handouts with more detailed information for people to review later.
- Describe and read everything on your slide (for accessibility). This will help people who are blind or have limited vision understand what is on the slide.
- For pre-recorded sessions:
- If you are using PowerPoint or Google Slides, you can turn on live transcriptions to create captioning of your spoken word. Speak slowly and clearly so the transcript is as accurate as possible. Live transcriptions of your words help accommodate individuals in the audience who may be deaf or hard of hearing.
- Do not include any copyrighted audio or video as Vimeo will flag and remove it. You are responsible for ensuring your submission does not contain copyrighted audio or video.
If presenting with other presenters:
- Combine your slide decks into a single file to minimize transition time.
- Confirm who will be screen sharing and advancing slides.
- Write up a short timeline of who will be speaking when to avoid presenters speaking over one another.
When preparing to deliver your presentation make sure that you have the necessary hardware and optimized space. Then it is time to test and practice your setup. On the day of your session or recording, review our final tips and be ready for a great session!
Preparing to Present Live or to Record
- Preferred setup is: Headset with USB microphone. You can also use the computer’s speakers and microphone. Test the microphone beforehand to ensure your voice is clear and understandable and test the camera to ensure your video is clear.
- Avoid cell phones and speakerphones.
- Webcam (internal or external)
- Hardwired internet connection (preferred)
- If you are using Wi-Fi, present/record near your router with few obstructions.
Prepare Your Space (for virtual presentations)
- Ensure your background is visually appealing and not too distracting. A plant or two in the background allows for visual appeal without being distracting.
- Scan behind you to ensure there aren’t any books, posters, or decorations you would prefer not to share with the audience.
- The more visual clutter or movement that is behind you, the more likely your session video quality will be poor or a much larger file size as a recording.
- Ensure your face is well lit. Natural light from a window is preferred, but you can also move lamps behind your webcam to brighten up your face. Avoid having the only light source come from one side of your face.
- Being backlit makes it harder to see your face. Avoid having a window in the view of the camera, as it will cause the background to be overexposed.
- Make sure your webcam is at eye level. This makes it feel like you’re making eye contact with the audience and keeps them from looking up at your nose. You can raise your laptop up on books or boxes. Tape a picture of a beloved family member or pet next to your webcam to remind you to smile when you look into the camera. Frame your full head and shoulders in the camera picture. The bottom of the video frame should come to the middle of your chest.
- Pick your presentation spot carefully, where you will not be interrupted by family, friends or pets. Mute all cell phones, doorbell alarms, and notifications on your computer such as email chimes or meeting reminders. Close the door to your presentation space.
- Choose attire that you would wear if you were attending an in-person conference. Plain-colored shirts and pants are optimal; tight patterns or stripes may not display well on screens. Avoid bright white or black tops as they mess up lighting.
- Wear clothing that is the opposite of your background’s tone. Your webcam will work best if it can find a good contrast between you and your background.
Test and Practice
- Consider using a mirror while you rehearse. Practice varying your pitch and tone and pay attention to your gestures and facial expressions.
- Do a full content rehearsal to practice your presentation and to test your run time.
- Record a short rehearsal to test your audio and video. Review the recording and make sure you are happy with how you look and sound. After viewing the result, make any adjustments to the microphone or video settings as needed.
- For pre-recorded sessions: Work with your recording platform to find a layout that allows you to share your screen/slides while still showing the presenters on the webcam.
- If presenting with multiple speakers, ensure everyone knows how to mute their microphone when they’re not speaking to minimize background noise.
Recording Tools & Assistance (for pre-recorded sessions)
Tips for recording engaging presentations:
- Speak clearly. You can add dynamics by varying your pitch and volume.
- Include videos (for example of your project, institution, etc.) to illustrate points in your presentation
- If you want an interactive audience for your recording, you are welcome to invite others to participate in the recording. You are responsible for ensuring you have permission to use the audio and/or video of any participants you invite.
- Interview students, faculty or staff on campus.
- Use storytelling techniques to capture the audience attention (see Engaging Formats)
- Ask questions of the audience so they can respond in chat while watching the recording.
You are welcome to use any recording software to record your presentation if the resulting recording is compatible with our technical requirements (see below). AUTM recommends the use of Zoom and will be able to offer some technical support if you use this software for recording. If you choose to utilize another platform, AUTM will not be able to provide technical support.
Here are some platforms that can record a presentation.
Video Format Requirements
Smaller file sizes are recommended as the file will upload faster for you and playback will be much smoother for your audience. A 60-minute presentation recording will typically be around 900 megabytes, more if it includes capturing a webcam or motion video.
- Accepted file formats: MP4, MOV, WMV, AVI and FLV
- Maximum video file size: 2Gb
If presenting with other presenters:
- If there are multiple presenters with multiple recordings, combine them all into a single file and designate one person from the group to upload the file.
- Be sure your video file name includes your session title.
- Confirm you have all appropriate permissions to share all elements of your recording.
During the Live Session or Recording
Optimize your Computer
- Make sure all software you are using is up to date.
- Close any apps and software on your computer not being used for the presentation to increase bandwidth.
- Silence all notifications and pop-ups from other applications (email alerts, calendar chimes, etc.)
- Download all documents to your computer instead of pulling from the internet or the cloud.
- Take one last look at your webcam view to make sure you look your best.
Take a few deep breaths and have fun!
*This resource is inspired by conversations with Lee Gimpel (founder of Better Meetings) and John Chen (CEO and author of Engaging Virtual Meetings) and discussions with the Professional Development Professionals Community of the American Society of Association Executives.
- Speak slowly and clearly to ensure attendees can hear you.
- Provide a short introduction to attendees to let them know what will happen during your session. Let the audience know how and when they will be able to engage with you and other attendees. Encourage the audience to submit questions and comments through the session chat window.
- Watch the clock: Please keep a close eye on the timer and make sure your session does not exceed your allotted time limit.