Beth Kanter, who makes much of her living doing training for nonprofits. "I strongly believe that a workshop, panel, master class, or even a keynote that is interactive is more engaging, people pay attention, they make connections to what they already know and are far more likely to apply it. Certain room set ups encourage interaction between the participants and the workshop leader, others do not."
When I teach, I usually don't have much say in how my room is set up, and sometimes don't know until I arrive. If it's a workshop conference, it's usually theater style or sometimes classroom. When it's a Perspectives class, they nearly always go with "banquet."
If asked what I prefer, my request usually depends on the size of the group. Theater-style doesn't lend itself to interaction, and I don't like banquet-style for a small group - it pushes people away from me and each other, and they end up by sitting in twos and threes at tables too large for them. When we fewer than 20 people I ask for something more like "boardroom" or "U-shape."
A bad experience in January reminded me how difficult it can be to provide anything like instruction when you're giving a presentation or teaching a workshop - one a bazillion - at a large conference. And part of that has to do with these issues of room setup and group size. What will the room be like? How many people will come, and who? You don't know until it's too late; you have to think on your feet and adjust.
Beth doesn't mention group size, just describes her ideal room set up for effective instruction as "round tables in a room with space to move
around, projection, the ability to move the group outside for some of
the sessions, and wall space to showcase the products of learning." And if she doesn't get it, she "hacks" the space to accomplish what she intends.
This year I made strides in moving away from the lecture format (often expected in environments where I teach) and toward greater participant engagement. I think I still have a way to go. I still do more of the talking than anyone else.
And the wall space requirement? Haven't even begun to go that direction. In reading Beth's post, I realized I'm still balking at including exercises that require learners to write things out in magic marker and put them up on the wall. It's partly due to fears of letting go of control and running out of time. But it's also because those giant sticky note pads that you can just tear off and stick on the wall seem too expensive, and I don't have a good way to carry them in my luggage.
Well, looks like Amazon will sell you a two-pack for US$40. That isn't so bad. Or how about this simple solution:
1. Ordinary butcher paper or easel pad paper (which I can just ask my hosts to provide, or pack in a cardboard tube), and
2. Masking tape. Or duct tape to be a little more playful.
Maybe next time!