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Stone Soup: Do the Best Trainings, Continuing Education, Programs, and Conference Sessions You Can


Don’t you hate it when presenters just talk at you for a whole program?

Adult learners generally do.

That’s why everyone suggests using interactive formats in which the audience regularly participates and doesn’t have just five minutes at the end to ask questions.

I’m sure that most readers of this blog who give presentations are keenly aware of this phenomenon and try to be as interactive as possible, sometimes asking the audience questions during the presentations.

This post describes the Stone Soup Project idea of using continuing education programs to produce and share knowledge about actual practice.

Enrich Your Programs

When your audiences consist of experienced practitioners, you can make your presentations shared learning experiences.  The presenters and members of the audience all can contribute valuable knowledge about actual practice.

As a presenter, you decide what ideas you want to convey.  You also can be strategic in planning questions to elicit things that you want to learn and that would be of interest to the audience.

One of the challenges in using educational programs to collect data is a tension between the goals of having speakers provide material to participants and gathering information from them.  Participants generally want to get information and ideas from the speakers and would be disappointed if the speakers skimp in their presentations.  On the other hand, experienced practitioners often want to share their experiences and learn from their colleagues’ experiences.  So the trick is to find a good balance of presenting and eliciting information.

If you want to use your program to elicit information from the audience, I suggest that you plan to make a record of the discussion and to distribute it after the program.  This preserves the ideas, which otherwise might fade in people’s memories.  It’s easy, doesn’t take a lot of time, and can create real value.

Record the Discussions

In this post, I described how I arranged to record and disseminate presentations about planned early negotiation.  I recruited a program organizer to take notes on a laptop, and I gave him this short document describing what to do.  Then I used his notes to write the blog post.

As an alternative, one could make an audio recording, though this approach has some potential problems.  The recording may not yield clear, audible language if the audience is widely dispersed in a large room.  Use of an audio recording also may trigger the need for an review by a faculty’s institutional review board (IRB) as there may be more confidentiality concerns about an audio recording.  By contrast, my instructions to the notetaker are to omit any identifying information and I told the audience that they could ask that their comments not be included in the notes.

Although a senior staffer at my school’s IRB told me that I didn’t need IRB review or approval, I followed the general principles of ethical research.  I produced this document to be given to participants when they checked into the program.  This includes the essence of informed consent documents without some of the Miranda-warning-type language.  I also described the process at the beginning of my presentation, as illustrated in my powerpoint slides.

Faculty using educational programs to collect and disseminate information might consult with their IRBs to determine what, if anything, they need to do to comply with any IRB requirements.  Presenters who are not university faculty do not need IRB approval to use this Stone Soup process, though it is good to follow general principles of ethical research along the lines that I did.

Distribute Insights from the Programs

After a presentation, you would prepare materials to distribute to the participants (and perhaps others).  I like to weave the notes into a short document similar to a magazine article or blog post in which I may add my comments and additional resources.  A simpler alternative is just to distribute unedited notes, though that may not be as useful for readers.

If you are presenting at a continuing education program, your host may arrange to email your summary to the participants and/or post it on its website.

If you present at a conference, you can circulate a sheet for people to provide their legible email addresses, which you can use to distribute the summary.

If you would like to do this in your presentations, I would be delighted to post your summaries on this blog.

Consider This for the Annual ABA SDR Conference

The annual conference of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution is coming up in April.  If you are presenting there, consider recording and distributing insights from your program.


John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE >

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