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A few years ago, after giving a webinar, I was asked, "How should one attend a webinar?" At the time, I thought it a peculiar question, but it was not a unique question, since then many people have asked the same question.

If we expand it a little bit - from "How should we attend a webinar?', to how we should attend more general presentations such as keynotes at a conference; university lectures; workshops or even how should we read books - then the question gains additional significance. How do we extract the most value from the time invested exposing ourselves to new ideas?

The first step is we have to attend the presentation. All of us, and all of it.

By "all of us" and "all of it" what I mean is that we have to give all our attention to 'attending' the entire presentation. We're not really 'attending' a presentation if we are constantly shifting our attention from 'listening/watching' to having a conversation with a seat mate; back to the presenter then reading a newspaper; looking at the next few slides then doing the monthly budget; listening to the presenter again for a few minutes then texting your spouse/friend/boss on the phone. This is like reading a book where every fifth word is erased, reading what's left, and then wondering why it isn't making any sense. Or worse? Complaining that it didn't make any sense.

We can't achieve any of the above if we are not able to carve out uninterruptible time to attend a presentation, or a meeting. Contrary to modern social conventions, this isn't impossible. We can, when we decide to do so, wall off time to do one thing. No law of the universe forces us to answer a ringing phone. We can cut ourselves off from the loop of interactions, we can shut off the phone and insist, 'This time is mine!'... all we have to do is decide to do it, and do it.

The next step is to understand what was presented. Sounds 'simple' enough, but the problem is, how do we know when we understand something correctly? If I think I understand the implications of a new piece of legislation - how do I verify that my understanding is correct?

There really are only two approaches open to us.

1) Act upon our understanding and see what happens. Two examples

If I think that HST is 3% in Ontario, then I can choose to charge only 3% and see what happens at year end when I file my taxes. Testing our understanding in the real world is sometimes very expensive.

If I think that 2+2=3... all I need to do is try some simple experiments to see if that is

true. I have two apples, I buy another 2 apples... how many do I have?

My understanding says '3', but my 5 year old son Jason counts them and declares I have 4 apples. Unless I insist that Daddy is always right (regardless of the facts) then my understanding was incorrect.

So, real world testing of our understanding is one approach - time consuming, but effective. There's a less effective method which (naturally) takes a lot less time.

2) Interact with the presenter to determine if our understanding is correct, in other words? Ask questions. Lots of questions. Learning isn't a spectator sport. It isn't a matter of just sponging up what was said, it's necessary to confirm what we think was said.

As someone who speaks, I'm always concerned when there are NO questions at the end of a presentation. It suggests that everything I've said was perfectly understood by every audience member - I'm good, but I'm not that good... nor is any audience 100% attentive. Even if I covered every point perfectly, at some point someone was distracted and missed something I said.  A silent audience is disconcerting.

In conjunction with 'understanding' there's the challenge of remembering what was said.

Fact. Remembering new information is difficult. We're not good at it. Here's a quick test. Afterthe end of the next sentence, immediately close your eyes and answer the question... What is my 5 year old son's name? CLOSE your EYES!

(Oh oh... a problem. everyone now has their eyes closed... how do I continue this article? I guess I'll have to assume they'll open their eyes sooner or later)...

Did you remember my son's name?

Yes, there are some problems with this test. How were you to know in advance that his name would be important? But the same question could be asked of any point made in any presentation. To the best of our ability we need to pay attention to everything - just in case, and to aid in this 'remembering', the simplest solution is to take notes.

Taking notes solves the memory problem in two very different ways.

The first is obvious. If something is written down? We can re-read it. Job done.

Image of male and female discussingWhat's less obvious is that if it's written down, we remember it because we've written it down. It takes 'attention' to write something down, and that act of 'attention' increases our ability to remember what we've written even if we NEVER re-read what we wrote.

When I was younger I used to write cheat notes for my exams. But? I was a good little boy and never took them out to read them during the exam. Why? Because I was scared of being caught AND strangely enough, I didn't need to. I knew what was on the cheat notes. I remembered what I'd written down. Job done.

Lastly? If we really want to extract value from new information? There are two more things we can do. First? Put the information to use. If we don't? Then attending the session was a complete waste of time. Next? Pass the information along to our peers, either through a tidied up copy of our notes, or even better? A short presentation on what we learned at the event.

© 2013 Peter de Jager – Peter is a Keynote speaker, he hopes that people are finding ways to extract value from the time audiences spend listening to him - To watch a webinar on this topic?   visit http://goo.gl/kVNk


by Peter de Jager  -  Speaker/Writer/Consultant
Linkedin:  http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/peter-de-jager/0/133/907