How to organise a Show & Tell

Posted in: Show & Tell

I'm not five years old any more, but I still get really excited about what I'm going to bring to Show & Tell.

Our Show & Tell happens every two weeks. Each session has five presentations. Each talk is five minutes long, with another five minutes for questions, followed by a round of applause. Anyone is welcome to attend, or give a talk.

The only requirement for the talks is that they are relevant to digital things and the University. Delivery is up to the speaker – formal or informal, a hefty slide-deck or a hands-on demo. Once we even had a sax solo.

Our team has been running a Show & Tell since 2013. Our audience is usually 20-30 people from around the University – from full-time digital professionals to people who are just interested in digital goings-on.

I like to think of it as a sort of mini-conference. Get away from your desk, discover some new ideas, meet some new people and shake your brain up a bit. It's one of my favourite aspects about working here.

We have blogged about Show & Tell before, but recently I've had a few questions about it from people outside the team – how do we go about organising it? Should they start their own?

To which I say: Show & Tell is awesome! You should definitely organise your own. Here's why.

The many, many benefits

The main benefit of Show & Tell is knowledge-sharing. It's fantastic to have a dedicated hour just to all share what we've recently learned. The goal is for attendees to feel like they will always learn something new if they come along. This could be a new technology, advice on best practice, or even just what other people at work are doing.

It can also be a really useful communication channel for your team. We currently kick off every session with a quick 'beta update' from management running through the progress our team has made on our projects over the last fortnight.

Community feeling is also really important. Show & Tell is a friendly, sociable event which welcomes people from all over the University. It's a great opportunity for our digital community to meet each other, catch up and discover new ways they can help each other out.

Show & Tell is also a fantastic way to get better at giving presentations. When I joined the team, I had very little experience of public speaking, so doing my first Show & Tell a fortnight in was a bit terrifying. Luckily Show & Tell is a great environment to practice in – the talks are short, the stakes are low and the audience is friendly. After more than 20 talks, I'm significantly more confident speaking in front of a crowd, and can get a deck of slides together in a fraction of the time.

Also, it's just fun. We usually keep the talks casual, and they're often funny as well as enlightening. I can genuinely say it is the highlight of my fortnight.

A woman giving a presentation. The slide reads 'Digital storytelling'
Hanna sharing techniques for digital storytelling. Image from Katrina Kelly.

What do people talk about?

  • A project they just finished that went amazingly!
  • A project they just finished that could have gone better, but they learned a lot
  • A project they're still working on which other people would like to be updated on
  • Something they've been working on in their personal development time
  • Something they learned about from a book, an article or a conference
  • Anything digital

Organising it

Pick a time of day when people are likely to be free. We opted for 10am on Fridays.

Schedule your Show & Tell to happen on a regular basis. Ours is fortnightly, but you could do monthly (or weekly!) depending on how big your speaker pool is.

Try to keep the venue as consistent as possible. The University's timetabling office have been a huge help to us in scheduling, so we can usually stick to the same room for months at a time.

Make the schedule public so everyone can see what the talks are, where it's happening and any future dates. We set up a wiki page for this.

Spread the word. Encourage people to invite others they know. Tweet or blog about it.

Try to get a core group of people to always attend. In our case, it's the Digital team. Other people are more likely to come if they know it won't be a ghost town.

Finding the speakers and talks

We book all our speakers in advance. The biggest challenge as a Show & Tell organiser is probably finding and encouraging people to talk.

While some people are always brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, not everyone is a confident (or willing!) public speaker. You might need to sell the benefits a bit – like getting practice at public speaking, or getting to share the glory of a successful project.

It's also useful to get people thinking about doing a Show & Tell when they're still immersed in a piece of work. If you hear someone is working on something interesting, ask them if they'd be willing to do a Show & Tell further down the line so they've got time to think about it.

A woman giving a presentation. The slide reads 'the totally awesome content track-o-tron (it's spreadsheets)'
Even spreadsheets can be made interesting for 5 minutes (or so I hope). Image from Katrina Kelly.

If the topic is big enough, you can even have a series of talks across multiple sessions. We've had multiple talks about cyber security, UI testing and the University's CRM implementation.

In a pinch, you can always do a talk yourself to fill the gap. Our last organiser did more than 50 during his tenure. I try to keep an extra talk prepared in case of late cancellations.

Running a session

Make sure you've got all the slide decks ready to go. We usually use Google Drive, so just having the 'Shared' folder open in a browser window is often enough. If there's a PowerPoint instead, make sure it's open and ready to go. If someone's using their own laptop, check that you've got the correct cables for the projector.

Start the session off with a quick greeting and a list of the talks. If you've got some newbies in the room, it's also good to provide a quick explanation of what Show & Tell is.

Try to stick to time limits for talks. Our limit is 5 minutes. We do allow for some overspill, but it's easy for this to get out of hand, and then the end speaker has to be rushed off without time for questions, which is rubbish. We've had some success with phone timers and flashcards ("1 minute remaining").

It's great to have some questions and discussion after each talk, but know when to cut that short too – people can always continue the chat after the Show & Tell.

At the end of the session, thank everyone for coming and share the date of the next Show & Tell.

Share the slides with attendees if you can. We add ours to the wiki afterwards and it's a really useful reference.

On to the next one!

It's really important to keep the momentum of Show & Tell going. If people know it's happening regularly, they will keep coming. It's OK to have a session where you have some gaps in the schedule, or a presentation which was written on the bus to work. People will still learn something new.

Keep inviting people. If you meet somebody new and you think they might be interested, mention it to them. Encourage attendees to bring a friend who they think would find it useful.

Support and thank your speakers – they're keeping this thing going.

A man giving a presentation about typographic scales
Typographic scales, explained in 5 minutes. Image from Justin Owen.

This is what works for us. If you do something similar in your organisation, or have any questions about starting your own, let me know in the comments.

And if you'd like to come to our next Show & Tell to see for yourself, it's on Friday 14 July in 1 East 3.6. We'll see you there.

Posted in: Show & Tell


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