7 Easy Steps for Success for Session Planning


I continue to be amazed at how little preparation seems to go into presentations. Outside of our training and assessment space, I do get an opportunity to see a range of presentations via conferences and workshops and whilst the presenters tend to have good subject matter knowledge they seem to lack an ability to plan for an effective transfer of this. Therefore, I thought it was timely to share my seven easy steps for success when session planning.

You should be starting with the end in mind- visualising the prize as it were! The objective is what you want your participants to be able to know or do by the end of the session. Without an objective, you can’t predict the destination of the journey, nor can to check if your participants got there!

As a suggestion, the objective should be written in action-ended terms. The best way to do this is to use a verb in the description. e.g. demonstrate, prepare, describe, state, name, cut or load. Next, you should identify the conditions that should be met by the participants. For example, Demonstrate how to fold a piece of paper into squares, using a ruler. Finally, you should include a timeframe for the conditions to be completed within. e.g. Demonstrate how to fold a piece of paper into squares, using a ruler within 30 seconds.

It is important to remember that the objective underpins the whole session and as such should be the driver of the content and delivery and not the other way around.

This is what you have to cover to bring about the objective. For convenience it should be divided into “need to know” and “nice to know”. The “need to know” is the essential information that must be covered in order to fulfill the objective. The “nice to know” is related to the subject and is often used to make the session more interesting, but ultimately is not essential. As such, this material can be removed on the fly, should the session be in danger of running overtime. Conversely, additional “nice to know” content could be imported should the session be under time. It is always nice to have a range of examples, anecdotes, stories or clips, which could be taken out of the trainer’s kit bag to pad out the session when necessary!

Put simply, this is the order of the content – what comes first and what follows. As a general structure, we often break the sequence into “Introduction”, “Body” and “Conclusion”. The role of the introduction is to orient the group and provide details on the purpose and direction of the session. The body is where the new content is covered and should be done so in a logical progression. The conclusion should wrap it all up.

This refers to how the content is put across to the audience and can include a combination of methods such as lecture, demonstration, group discussion and role play. The challenge is finding the balance between the best way to teach it versus the best way to learn it and these are not mutually inclusive. i.e. It could be a great way to teach it, but not suitable for the audience or it could be a great way to learn it, but the trainer is not capable in bringing it about.

There are two implications for time. Firstly, there is the duration (how long it takes) and secondly there is “timing”, which is when content and activities are actually undertaken. You should consider things like time of the day, mix of activities and the attention span of the audience. As a general rule, the focus should change around every 20 minutes and there shouldn’t be more than 90 minutes of delivery before a break.

The resources are what you need to deliver the content. This could include student materials, whiteboard, flipchart, pens or specialist equipment needed to support the subject matter. When selecting resources you should ensure that they are fit for the purpose, rather than simply trying to make them fit! Remember a resource is not a substitute for good teaching, it is a complement to the teaching.

If we look at the objective as “the destination”, then the assessment is the proof that the participants got to this destination. It is important to capture evidence that either confirms that the objective was met or supports a gap analysis post training. Further to this, the assessment tools selected should be appropriate for gathering the proof. For example, if it is a knowledge-based outcome it would be appropriate to use a written or oral test. Whereas, if it was a skills-based outcome, it would be more appropriate to capture the evidence using an observation checklist.

Whilst there is no single right way to plan a session, these seven steps will give you the best chance of success. Good Luck!

Marc Ratcliffe
Follow Me on twitter: @MRWED_CEO