Why I DON’T want to introduce myself to the person sitting next to me

Last week I attended 2 trade show seminars – the contrast could not have been greater. Readers of my blogs will know I’m strongly in favour of a problem-sharing mentality, but the first presentation took things a bit too far, even for my liking. The presenter introduced himself to the audience before uttering those words I have come to dread:-

“Now, introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you and spend the next few minutes discussing …”

I’m not shy and I had nothing at all against the person sitting next to me – far from it – but 10 minutes later I was still talking to him and, to be completely honest, we had run out of things to say. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the underprepared presenter frantically changing his slides and re-writing his notes. When he recommenced, the presenter didn’t even ask any of us what we had discussed, so it couldn’t guide or tailor his discussion in any way. Instead, after the few more minutes of his presenter patter, my heart sank further as he asked us to:

“Turn to the person sitting on the OTHER side of you and discuss …..”

And so it went on – and on – for an hour. I’m very happy to be part of a learning process where we use all the views in the room to improve the outcome for all, but in far too many cases “Talk to the person next to you” is a new prop used by lazy presenters devoid of their own content.

It’s the equivalent of the teacher at school telling you at the start of the lesson to “get out your book and read” – if I’d wanted to read a book I’d have gone to a library. And if I wanted to talk to the person next to me with no clear purpose in mind, I’d have suggested a networking group, or the pub.

The second presenter that day could not have been more different. An expert on time management, he lived up to his billing. He turned up on time, finished on time and packed more useful advice into 30 minutes than I had thought possible. He didn’t ask us to talk to each other once, but if he had, I’m confident he would at least have asked us to feed back to him on what we had discussed.

So please, presenters, if you do ask your audience to talk amongst themselves, do so with a clear purpose in mind. And not as a prop for a lazy presentation.

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