Behind the Scenes: Designing an Interactive 60-minute Session

After presented a 60-minute session at ASAE's Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference in Washington, DC, a participant asked about my session design process as she had to do a similar session in a few weeks.  I thought others might find a behind-the-scenes look to be of interest.


  • Audience: association marketing, membership, and communication professionals; predominantly from associations with 31-50 staff; often in a director-level position; heavy on Millennials and Generation Xers. Some consultants and business partners also likely.
  • Audience size: Unknown in advance as participants select from five options, but my session was assigned to two ballroom sections set in crescent rounds with a capacity around 250. I ended up maxing out my seating with another 10-15 standing at any given time. I had expected 100-120 to attend.
  • Timing: 60-minute concurrent session (11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.) on first day of conference. The day opened with a general session and keynote (9-10 a.m.) followed by the first round of concurrent sessions (10:15-11:15 a.m.). Lunch in the exhibit hall followed my session.
  • Handouts: available online in advance, but I assumed most participants would not download.  I brought copies of my "lab" worksheet so each table would have a couple to work on during the practical application segment. 
  • I've spoken on cultivating engagement before, but never using this content or for this type of audience, so this was a new experience in many ways.
Some of my design thinking considerations and assumptions
  • Attendees will value practical more than theoretical given their organization size and job responsibilities, but will still want some new twist or fresh insight to stimulate new thinking. Conference mantra for education is: Shake up business-as-usual!
  • Because of the diversity of attendees, I should provide options in any practical application exercises so they can do work they find meaningful.
  • Since the session is late in the morning, include some "get up and move" early in the session and a hands-on component in the final third.
  • Create some sort of practical tool or template for participants to use with their colleagues to help inform their actual work after the conference.
  • 60-minutes is short, so my actual presentation segments need to be concise, and I need to plan for overall tighter clock management than usual.
  • Many attending will not know lean principles, so I need to introduce them, but really focus on their application to cultivating member engagement versus fostering a deep understanding of them overall.
 Basic flow for the session

These design thinking considerations and assumptions led me to the following flow and formats for the session:
  • Quick poll: is the session content "need to know" or "nice to know" for you and your organization?  I wanted to get a quick pulse of how serious the need was for people attending, as well as illustrate how insight from a simple question (a point I would stress later in the presentation) can be used immediately.
  • Framing the session: like plated appetizers at a reception where you won't always get the ones you'll like most and you're bound to leave a bit hungry.  I used this analogy to help shape expectations for what I could deliver in 60 minutes.
  • Three major content segments: (1) defining success for cultivating member engagement, (2) introducing lean principles with a practical association example for each, and (3) applying lean principles and our success definition to three association "defining moments" using a worksheet I created.
  • Very brief Q&A (time permitting) and/or me summarizing and reiterating my core thinking.

Learning formats

For content segment #1, I used my multi-stage Prospector approach even though I had never done so in such a short time block.  The format is simple: pose a critical or compelling question, let individuals form their own responses (1-2 minutes); invite them to stand, mix, and mingle one-on-one, sharing their respective responses (4 minutes); return to tables and each share one response or observation from their prospecting (5 minutes).  I like how this approach honors both introverted and extroverted learners, gets people up and moving, and quickly engages them with diverse perspectives.  Plus, since I knew the "lab work" would be done at their tables, I didn't want the opening interaction to only include talking to those same people.

I closed this segment with my own response to the original question posed, framing it as a premise that I believe holds great promise for cultivating member engagement.  Knowing that my assertion would likely differ from much of what was just shared, I invited participants to "try it on for size' during the subsequent work in our session, but to feel free to use their own success definition.

Content segment #2 introducing the five lean principles and a practical example of each was a short presentation segment followed by a couple of minutes of Q&A.  Total time elapsed was about 15 minutes. I chose to illustrate lean principles with actual MM&C conference examples since it would be one experience we would all share.

The third segment, the lab or practical application segment, was introduced as a 10-minute table exercise using my worksheet. Participants could choose both how they would do the work—individually, as one table, or in any combination—and which association defining moment to practice with: you just joined, you just registered for a conference, you just completed a volunteer interest form. Wanting this exercise to both have value and unfold quickly, I first offered (taking about 4 minutes) one possible set of responses to the worksheet categories for someone who just joined an association.  My hope was that this concrete example would accelerate the practical application conversations.

After reconvening people from their small group work, I had 8 minutes remaining, time for three questions and my closing.  Of the unaccounted minutes,  the initial polling and framing of the session used about 7 minutes.  Transitions between segments probably used the others.

What I Would Do Differently

Participant feedback drives revisions, but here are my immediate observations about how I might modify the session if I was to present it again under similar conditions, :
  • I feel most of my designing thinking considerations and assumptions were fairly correct and that the general session design was successful in stimulating some fresh thinking and providing a useful tool for attendees to refresh their own efforts in the workplace.
  • I'd probably try to limit and tighten my presentation comments even more in order to sneak in a few more participant questions.
  • I can improve the worksheet based on watching people use it.  I'd add a bit more detail and revise some headings; include the exercise instructions I shared only on a slide; probably include on the worksheet the concrete example I shared verbally as doing so would support visual learners and be available as an ongoing reference; and I'd bring enough copies for every participant.
I hope the participants experienced the session as focused, hands-on, and fast-paced—but not rushed—as that's what all my design planning and prep was intended to create.  While I'd much rather have done this session in a 75- or 90-minute time block, I feel good about what we were able to do in only 60.

I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about this design or designing interactive sessions in general.  Tweet them at me or post them in the comments.

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