Structuring and Designing Your Seminar
How do you create the seminar content? How do you decide what to include and what to leave out? How do you figure out the best sequence in which to present your material? Many seminar neophytes get so hung up on this point that they never get their seminars created! But I’ve developed a simple system to help you over this hurdle. Follow it and you won’t encounter any obstacles to structuring and designing your seminar.
My Basic System
First, brainstorm all the topics that you think need to be covered at the event. Don’t stop during this process to critique what you’re writing. Just get them all written down.
After you’ve exhausted every single little, eensy, meansy idea you want to cover, go back and group the ideas together into logically connected “clumps”. This sounds harder than it really is; once you’ve done this the first time, you’ll see how your subject-matter expertise pays off. Now, decide which ideas should be major topics and which should be supporting points or issues under each of the “main” topics.
Shoot for a minimum of 25 major topics. Then try to have a minimum of four subpoints under each of these main points.
Some people like to put all of these ideas on index cards and lay them on the ground or a big table. Then they go back and sort them into piles and determine which piles should go first and what the heading or title should be for each pile. Whatever works for you – just do it! I use a computer for this task most of the time, but I still occasionally use the index card technique.
Using this system will help you to create your seminar outline almost instantly. After you get this first step done, then you have to decide what order everything should go in.
There are some basic sequences that recur in nature and in most fields of knowledge. It is likely, though not mandatory, that you will find one of these works for your topic.
You might find that a basics-to-advanced approach works best for your material. Begin with the information your audience has to understand before it can take advantage of the deeper knowledge later in the seminar. (But be careful; if your seminar is aimed at people who have some experience in the field, what is “basic” might be overly simple to them. Gauge your audience’s starting point and make that your “basic” level.)
Another approach that works well in many situations is general-tospecific. You begin with the broad coverage of the topic that puts everyone on the same page, then drill down into details as you get more and more specific or focused throughout the seminar.
Finally, some topics lend themselves to a very clear sequential order. First, you have to do this. Then you take this step. If that’s the case, your outline is done for you (always assuming, of course, that you know the topic well.)
After you put it in the order you think would work, put your work aside for a day or two. When you go back, see if the order still makes sense. If it does, keep it that way. If not, make changes. You might also want to run it by a colleague or two to see if anything obvious is missing or misplaced.
Finally, come up with a great introduction and a great conclusion (we’ll talk about these more specifically shortly). Remember the primacyrecency effect. We remember most what we hear first and last.
After putting everything in order, ask yourself some additional questions.
Exercise: Is there an exercise that would be appropriate to illustrate this point or issue?
Quotation: Do I have a quotation that would fit to better illuminate this point?
Statistic: Can I locate a statistic that would help make this module more clear?
Visual Aid: Would a visual aid be appropriate to use with this module, or am I just using it for its own sake?
Story: Do I have a story that would be appropriate to make this module come alive?
Prop: Can a prop be used to better illustrate?
Example: Can you come up with an example that would help to illustrate this point?
Book/Other reference: Can you head people to a reference source if they want more information about this?
As you remember or uncover such supplemental materials, add them to your presentation notes.
After you’ve done this, you’re ready to present the seminar.
If you’re like me (and I know I am!) you don’t need to script your presentation word for word. I just like to work from an outline. I suggest you do the same. It will be more natural, interruptions will be less disruptive and problematic, and you’ll seem like more of an expert to your audience.
Using My Modular Content-Creation System
When I create content for my seminars or bootcamps, I always create things in modules. A module is a nugget of information roughly corresponding to one of the 25 main topics we just discussed. A module can represent a few minutes to as much as a half-hour of presentation time, though most will be five to 15 minutes long.
After you’ve created your modules, you can put them in your “virtual jukebox.” Let’s assume you have put together 500 modules. When you do another event you can go to your virtual jukebox and use module numbers 33, 48, 159, etc. After you put all of those in place you might only have to develop 8 or 10 other modules to create a whole new seminar.
As you do more presentations, you’ll accumulate more and more modules. Your jukebox will have more and more “songs” that you can play. Naturally, you’ll have to update your modules on occasion, but you’ll have much less work than starting from scratch.
Use this system and content creation will become a breeze!