Managing Flow Part I: Eliciting

Last week, I introduced the concept of keeping your audience in a state of flow by actively managing the difficulty of your seminars and classes.

Designing your presentation with your audience’s skill level in mind is a given.  Problems arise, however, when you can’t get accurate information regarding your audience or you simply misjudge the difficulty of your own material.

We all know the situation:  you start presenting and quickly realize that your material is too easy, and your audience’s attention is evaporating.  Or, on the other hand, it’s too difficult and the audience is filled with blank stares.  The worst thing to do is to plow on through your material, ignoring these cues.  Eliciting is the first step in resolving (or, better yet, preventing) this problem.

To elicit is to evoke or draw out a response from your audience.  Instead of simply feeding them information, give them a chance to guess what you have to say.  This serves two purposes:

  1. Your presentation becomes more engaging with audience interaction.
  2. You can judge how well the audience knows the material that you are presenting.

Today we are focusing on #2.  By eliciting answers from your audience before you provide the correct information, you’ll gain insight into their current state of flow.  If correct answers come quickly, your presentation is probably on the easy side.  If, after posing a question, you hear nothing but crickets, you should consider toning down the difficulty of your presentation.

A quick way to put eliciting into practice is to introduce your slides/topics with a question instead of a statement.  Here are some basic examples:

“Can anyone name Porter’s Five Forces?”

“Who can tell me the average age of today’s video game players?”

If you are teacher, the opportunities for eliciting are limitless.  For example, here is a slide taken from one of my business English seminars:

With the help of a handout provided to attendees, I elicit the bold words in each of these sentences.  Only after the audience attempts to fill in the blanks in their handouts, do I reveal each sentence one by one.  If the audience struggles to produce the right words, I’ll spend more time on this section of my presentation (doing repetition drills, etc.)  If, however, the audience guesses most of the words (or appropriate equivalents), I’ll move on more quickly and allocate time to other, more difficult parts of the presentation.

These are just some basic ideas to demonstrate eliciting.  How you elicit will depend on your material and presentation style.  Once eliciting has given you insight into your audience’s state of flow, the next thing to consider is how to further adjust difficulty on the fly.  Check back next week for concrete tips on how to do this.

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3 thoughts on “Managing Flow Part I: Eliciting

  1. Pingback: Managing Flow Part II: Scalability | The Business of Teaching

  2. Pingback: Case Study: Managing Flow | The Business of Teaching

  3. Pingback: Leaving Breadcrumbs | The Business of Teaching

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