We learn by engaging, asking questions, getting our heads around an issue, right? Then why are conferences full of one way presentations?

I clipped this article over a year ago and was re-reading it today, called Presentations vs Discussions. In it, Fred Wilson makes the case that those exceptional class room experiences, those board room meetings that really change the direction of the company, those conferences where the light bulb really goes on, are not the result of presentation, but – to use my language – participation.

Fred writes

A presentation is like a TV show. It’s a lean back experience. A discussion is like an online chat room. It is a lean forward experience. They are not the same thing and in many cases they work against each other.

And then concludes

Presentations are important. I do a lot of them and post all of them on this blog in advance. I am not saying they don’t have a role. But if you want to foster real engagement and real discussion, they are not helpful and in fact I think they are hurtful.

What’s really great about the post is the 145 comments that proceed the blog post – the participation after the presentation, as it were. And thus this gets me thinking. We need presentation and participation. Presentation sets the scene and gets everyone up to speed, but it’s participation where the learning takes place – because as we say, if you’re not talking your’re not learning.

I’ve always made an effort here to encourage participation and it’s been my delight to engage in some wonderful relationships as a result of it. But I’m aware that it wouldn’t have happened unless I had presented something to begin with.

On another note, I’m aiming to change the design of this blog a bit to help make it easier to both get hold of the presentations here, and more importantly, participate.

Your Leading Thoughts

  • What is the balance between presentation and participation? 50/50? Dependent on context? Variable?
  • How do you minimise a presentation to the essentials in order to get the participation underway?

Archived Comments

  • http://www.adrianswinscoe.com/blog/ Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Scott,
    To start the discussion on your 2nd question and to get participation underway…..I like Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule for presentations. 10 slides, 20 minutes max and 30 point font minimum (https://www.businessstudent.com/topics/how-to-present-and-pitch/)


  • / Scott Gould

    Yes – I love that one from Guy!

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    First I’ve heard of Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule. Makes sense.

    I’m thinking presentations are information, while participations are knowledge. The info-to-doingsomethingwithit ratio has to shift depending upon the topic and audience; just as it does for blogs and comments. (GREAT POST.)

    To those with more experience behind the podium, could Pecha Kucha principles be applied to presentations? How might it play out if you had 20 slides auto-advancing on 20 second intervals, wherein you introduced yourself, framed the discussion, and primed the audience to provide 20 thoughts/comments/ideas 20 seconds in length, before rolling into a second 20×20 addressing those issues?


  • http://twitter.com/Robin_Dickinson Robin Dickinson

    Hey Scott, further to our robust discussions on this topic, IMO there are only ‘participations’ i.e. from the audience perspective. The real question is, will the person at the front of the room honour this fact or lazily default to the ‘presenter’ data-dump mode? Having been in front of many hundreds of groups, I’ve never seen one yet that didn’t want to fully engage – participate.

    Just my personal experience. ‘Presentations’ should be sent for people to read at their own leisure. They have no place in the venue. :)

    Best, Robin :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Question, then, Robin:

    On your blog, is not your initial blog post the presentation, and the following comments the participation?

  • http://www.adrianswinscoe.com/blog/ Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Brian,
    I’ve heard of Pecha Kucha but I am not sure I like the idea of the timing of the delivery of the ‘story’ being left to something that is set on a computer. If I think about participation, I believe that some of the best presentations and also levels of participation that I have ever achieved are those ones where I have been able to adapt the story and tailor it to the audience’s ongoing reaction and level of participation. However, I think we agree that short and sweet is best.


  • http://twitter.com/Robin_Dickinson Robin Dickinson

    Yes. To your point, writing a ‘post’ (even that term implies ‘one-way’, should be called a ‘prod’ or ‘stimulus’) that invites participation is very different from writing a ‘presentation’ post.

    And comments can also be written in ‘participation-style’ and ‘presentation-style’. No? ;)

  • / Scott Gould

    Agreed on both fronts Robin.

    Because even now as you say, this comment can easily be written as a presentation rather than participation.

    When we talk as friends over a conversation, what each one say isn’t a presentation, it’s their participation. Participation is talking and listening.

    So agreed – that first post is the stimulus, or rather, the first participation.

    And as to the difference between participation and presentation, as you said we’ve had many robust conversations on this :-)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Brian, Adrian

    Pecha Kutcha is very cool and certainly forces people to be less about the slides and more about the people. But still, one can make this a presentation or a participation based on how they deliver it.

  • http://dr1665.com Brian Driggs

    Good points, Adrian. The whole reason for the event is to serve the audience, so it wouldn’t make sense to force the experience to a timetable like that. Perhaps it might best be used as a sort of ice-breaking activity; instead of 20 slides @ 20 seconds each, challenge the group to come up with 20 people willing to share a 20 second introduction from their seats or something.

    Just brainstorming, at this end. It’s an interesting topic for me.

  • Anonymous

    Good stuff here and I agree that both have a role in everyday business. I recently authored a blog post on a very similar topic, noting that your job in any presentation should be to INSPIRE, not just INFORM. http://marcelloentertainment.com/blog/text/12974659

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Marcello – thanks for this – will check the site out :-)