Snakes and ladders and jelly babies

a circleof jelly babiesThis week I hosted a session at the See IT in Action event in London with the very lovely Paul Webster.

We had high expectations before the event even began because, as @watfordgap and I rounded the corner from the tube station to the venue, we were excited to see a few keen souls camped out by the door of the venue.  They were bright eyed despite shivering on cardboard mats. 

It turned out that they were the early birds waiting to catch a glimpse of One Direction who were playing at Brit Awards in the O2, opposite.  Oh well.

Our masterclass session was an hour long and I had a broad topic to cover – there was a lot I could say.  Wary of a boring people to death with an hours worth of Powerpoint I felt there was only one thing for it, the delegates had to do most of the talking. 

The idea was to introduce quite a heavy weight topic to the audience in a dynamic and creative way and hopefully have a little  bit of fun to boot.  Step up, therefore, our homemade Slip Snakes and Learning Ladders board game. 

As the title suggests the game is loosely based on Snakes and Ladders and features a series of Q&A cards for the delegates to ask each other, all around developing an e-learning strategy. 

I was a bit apprehensive about how the game would work given that I didn’t know what types of jobs the delegates did,  what experience they already had with e-learning and how shy they might be with each other.  I worried that the game was too complicated (some of the questions are a little tough), or that people would go off topic or that others wouldn’t want to engage.  Sometimes people are comfortable just sitting and listening.

In the end we were pleased with the number of people who turned up for our session.  It didn’t take us long to get everyone set up and playing the game.  The chatter and laughing amongst people who didn’t know each other before hand was a welcome sound.

So, here are 5 truths I learned about running an interactive session at a prestigious conference:

1.  You need to prepare your materials well.  I had a lot to consider with 5 sets of boards, question cards, stop clocks, game rules and counters.  I think I could have made this simpler.

2.  Thinking through and planning for every eventuality is time well spent.  By doing this I realised that I had to limit the maximum number of delegates for our session; I knew I needed the delegates to sit cabaret style which meant getting the organisers to change the set up of the room.  The acoustics were rubbish which meant that I found myself shouting out the game rules at the start so I was relieved to be able to point the delegates to the printed copy they also had on their table.  Practical was the watch word here.

3.  Know who your audience is.  I tried to get a profile of the likely delegate from the organisers beforehand but that wasn’t available so I had to make assumptions.  Luckily I was probably 85% right but there was one delegate who did struggle a bit.  Thanks to the others on his table he still got something out of the session.

4.  Keep it as simple as possible.  People learn more when they do things and have conversations rather than when they just sit there and get talked at.  I banked on the assumption that everyone knows how a board game works and that they’d be happy to play with people they’d never met before. 

5.  Use jelly babies as counters.  This broke the ice and stopped things from being too stuffy.  If anyone was nervous about what they were being asked to do (Answer difficult questions?  As asked by a table full of people I don’t know?  Eek!) then choosing and using one of these glorious delights as a game piece dispelled that.  As did my mock warnings about only being allowed one each so they’d better not nibble. 

How lovely it was at the end of the session, after my wrap up, that one of the delegates lead a round of applause.  Thank you, Samuel, right back at you.

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