Optimal Design

In a structured sharing activity, the participants generate relevant and useful content based on their experience and expertise. You facilitate the process by conducting a flexible activity.

At the recent CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers) convention, I conducted a session on designing a presentation while delivering it. This provocative recommendation did not make sense to most professional speakers in the audience. However, I used a structured sharing approach to explore this paradoxical suggestion.


The participants independently think of positive and negative aspects of designing a presentation while delivering it. They repeatedly pair up with each other and share their opinions. They form teams and record one positive and one negative outcome of this concurrent design approach. Later, the teams exchange a pair of outcomes and invent a technique for increasing the positive outcome and reducing the negative one.


To generate a list of recommendations for increasing the positive outcomes and reducing the negative outcomes of designing a presentation while delivering it.


  • Minimum: 4
  • Maximum: Any number
  • Best: 16 to 32


15 to 40 minutes

Handouts (Optional)

List of recommendations from previous groups of participants

Supplies and Equipment

  • Index cards
  • Timer
  • Whistle

Room Setup

This activity can be conducted as a stand-up session. Leave plenty of space for the participants to move around and work in pairs.


Identify the topic. Get everyone’s attention and make this proclamation: “You can increase the impact of your presentation by designing it while delivering it.” Immediately follow up with this statement: “This approach of simultaneous design and delivery has many dangers and limitations.” Invite the participants to reflect on your statements and think of possible advantages and disadvantages of the concurrent design-and-delivery approach.

Form two subgroups. Ask the participants to count by twos. Tell each participant to remember whether he or she is a one or two. Tell all participants to stay in their seats for now.

Reflect on the topic. Ask the participants with number 1 to think of the advantages of concurrent design and delivery. Ask the participants with number 2 to think of the disadvantages. Ask each participant to work independently, setting aside personal preferences related to design and delivery. Pause for about a minute.

Play Sample

At the CAPS convention, David, one of the participants with Number 1, came up with these advantages:

  1. Gives increased confidence to the speaker.
  2. Improves the speaker’s ability to listen, observe, and receive feedback from the audience.
  3. Makes the presentation more responsive to the audience’s needs and preferences.
  4. Trains the speaker to think fast on his or her feet.
  5. Encourages the audience members to co-design the presentation.

In the same session, Sandeep was a Number 2. Here are the disadvantages that she came up with:

  1. Dominating people in the audience hijack the scope and sequence of the presentation.
  2. The presentation appears to be rambling. The lack of structure makes it difficult for the audience members to follow the presentation and recall it later.
  3. The speaker gets distracted into tangential topics.
  4. The speaker is tempted to show off his or her esoteric (and possibly useless) knowledge of the topic.
  5. Most audience members don’t know how to handle this type of presentation.

Pair and share. Ask each participant to stand up, walk around, and find someone else with the other number. Ask these two participants to take turns to share the advantages and disadvantages they thought of earlier. Discourage the participants from conducting a debate. Instead, encourage the participants to explore the topic with an open mind by respectfully listening to each other. When done, ask the participants to find new partners and continue the sharing activity.

Form teams. After the participants have interacted with five or six different partners, blow a whistle to get everyone’s attention. Ask the participants to organize themselves into teams of four to six members.

Share the information. Ask the members of each team to exchange different advantages and disadvantages of concurrent design and delivery based on their earlier conversations.

Record one advantage and one disadvantage. Distribute a blank index card to each team. Ask the team members to jointly select an important advantage and an important disadvantage and write them on one side of the index card.

Exchange the cards. Ask each team to give the card (with the advantage and disadvantage) to the next team. (Ask the last team to give its card to the first team.) Tell the teams to study the two items written on the card.

Invent an optimal approach. Ask each team come up with a creative idea for increasing the advantage and reducing the disadvantage listed on the card. Invite the teams to briefly write down this idea on the back of the card.

Play Sample

David’s team received a card that contained these two statements:

Advantage: Gives greater ownership of the session to the audience members.

Disadvantage: The needs of most audience members are ignored in trying to satisfy the needs of an articulate individual.

Here’s the recommendation that David’s team came up with:

Give a list of topics, issues, and questions and ask the audience members to work in teams to select which items they want to explore.

Read the approach. After a suitable pause, ask each team to read its recommendation. Ask the other teams to listen to the recommendation and decide whether it would work with the advantage and disadvantage listed on their cards also.