Want to make presentations more engaging and interactive–Create “flow ” experiences”

” People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives ,  which is close as any of us can come to being happy”. Milhaly CsikszentmihalyiFlow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990

Dr. Milhaly Csikszentmihalyi  coin the word “autotelic” experiences which means self purpose in Greek. He identifies that in such an experience the goal is self-fulfilling; and the reward is intrinsic in the activity. Later in his research he coined the word “flow” to describe these optimal moments of experience.  No external recognition or reward is need to encourage you to continue the activity or task. During the activity time passes without notice and focus is extremely high.  When a person is involved in such a task they seem to be in a trance, time passes without notice and self-consciousness and distractions dissolve from awareness.

Milhaly identifies the following key attributes of the flow or fun experience:

  • Clear goals and feedback
  • A challenging activity that requires skill and know how
  • The merging of experience, awareness and action
  • Concentration on the task at hand
  • The loss of self-consciousness through focus on an important goal and task
  • The time passes fast and without notice.

When was the last time that a training session, business offsite meeting or presentation contained all these elements for you?  Well, most of the research shows that when you get to be in charge is probably the time when this state of flow is experienced by most people. The result of such an experience is often seen as fulfilling, fun and like play not work.  They get to be listened too. They get to draw people out and the connection  seems unreal..  The participants are involved at a high level and they get to decide what happens next. You get to think on their feet, to rise to the occasion, and to surprise themselves with their “flashes of brilliance” and competence.

Let’s look in more depth at Csiksentmihalyi’s list, we see that yes, something very much like flow or play is taking place. Thinking on their feet, surprising themselves with their competence, feeling challenged, using their skills, intensely aware and actively engaged, focused, , and blissfully unaware of how long they’ve been interacting.

On the other hand, the phenomenon we are exploring here is that rare and wonderful event when a meeting is fun for everyone and meets the objective of sharing information and creating a climate for learning.

Clearly, when we contemplate making meetings fun and productive we are talking about something beyond pizza and balloons. Sure, we can give everyone something–a super-duper pen with a logo or ad on it,  or other incentives to listen. We can feed everyone. But these things don’t make the meeting itself into a flow learning experience.

Reviewing Csikszentmihalyi’s attributes one at a time we have what proves to be an effective framework for making presentations and meetings reach for the flow experience.

1. Clear goals, for example, may be established through clarifying expectations and setting a clear road map or agenda for the meeting. To make sure that the goals are clear, the thought-leader-facilitator needs to first make sure that each and every agenda item is understood and can be accomplished within the time framework of the meeting. This is more likely to take place when everyone is involved in the creation of the agenda before, or even during the meeting.

2. Provide clear, concise, and compelling feedback.  The clearest feedback comes from being clear on what you have to say and checking to see if the audience received the message. Another powerful technique used to ensure learning is to use periodic checkpoints during the meeting to see what has been learned or get feedback on what is still confusing or misunderstood. Also, reviewing how practices can be incorporated into the participant’s home setting.

3. The problems or opportunities  to be concise, clear and challenging. Not so challenging that it is beyond anybody’s knowledge to respond effectively. Questions and topics need to encourage dialogue and active engagement. If a topic requires expertise that is greater than the combined expertise of the group, or information that is not generally available to the participants, the chances are that there will be a lot more silence, boredom, and distractions than “flow”.  Similarly, if the agenda item covers things that everyone knows, or demands participants to come up with “the” right answer or required response, the meeting will be one way communication and experienced as boring.

Summary framework for Flow.

Given clear goals and feedback and challenging topics and questions that require attentiveness and engagement, everything else follows. People are energized so interaction and awareness become merged. They are concentrating on the challenge, on giving their best. They are not self-conscious because they are too busy thinking and responding. And, when the hour or so is up, they are satisfied that so much information and knowledge was exchanged in such little time.

Perhaps the most encouraging insights that come from examining the flow quotient of meetings is that: 1) meetings can be satisfying and productive for everyone, and 2) when a meeting is productive, usually it is fun and learning has taken place. This is a sign that it was a good meeting, a meeting well worth the time and effort, and a meeting that was both productive and meaningful.

In your next presentation take the time to get feedback and begin to adjust the meeting activities to increase your “Flow Quotient”.


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