After they determine learning outcomes, many presenters immediately identify content segments for their session. Too often though, presenters don’t sufficiently consider context before selecting content, and that’s a missed opportunity. At least four participant contexts should be considered as a part of session design:
Their profession or industry
What’s happening in the participants’ profession? Is it a growing or contracting industry? Is it characterized more by stability or rapid change? What immediate challenges and issues confront it? Who are the critical stakeholders for the profession or industry? What partnerships or alliances are in play?
Their workplace (and their role in it)
Are your participants students, self-employed, small business staffers, or part of a large organization? Are you speaking to front-line workers, middle managers, or executive leaders? What’s the geographic distribution of the participants and what do you need to understand about similarities and differences between various locales? How are workplace decisions made and changes introduced and managed? What workplace factors could influence participants’ efforts to apply the content from your session?
Their overall knowledge, experience, and personal characteristics
What knowledge and experience do participants possess? Is your session a refresher on fundamentals or an introduction of new ideas and concepts? What’s the necessary mix of theory and practice given the participants’ current experience and work challenges? What learning styles do you need to design for and what general participant preferences or tendencies do you need to keep in mind? What are participants' general demographics that can help you select appropriate pop culture references, quotes, content examples, etc.?
And don’t forget
Your session’s placement in the overall workday or conference schedule is one final context to consider. What will happen immediately before and after your training session, and what implications does the timing have for participants’ attention, energy, interest, and expectations?
Considering context at this early stage in your presentation design helps ensure your choices about content, format, and supportive materials are relevant and will resonate with session participants. A session that can be presented to anyone, in any profession, in any environment, at any time will speak to no one with the authority and customization that learners deserve.