Considering freelancing or consulting in the L&D world?

Over the past year or two, I’ve met a number of people who are exploring the idea of either taking on some side projects or leaving their full-time job and focusing wholly on freelance or consulting work as instructional designers, elearning developers or coaches.

This is the path I took, beginning in 2012, with a side hustle until I partnered with a friend from college and turned it into an actual company with 5 other employees.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Elaine Biech who has been doing her own thing – quite successfully I might add – for more than 40 years and has published EIGHTY SEVEN books! She had a lot to say about lessons learned and some very helpful advice for those looking to become their own boss through freelancing or consulting in the L&D space.

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Resources for an eLearning Department of One

What is the size of your training department? The biggest team I have ever worked in has been ten people. I was at a worldwide non-profit and we served thousands of employees and board members. Even still, that was considered a rather large training department. As I ramped up in the training world, attending conferences and integrating myself into the network of learning and development professionals, I quickly met people who not only had much smaller groups, but often their teams were comprised of merely one or two people.

As trainers, we often talk about wearing more that one hat at work. But how do you know how to navigate all of the challenges that you face when you don’t have a big team? Emily Wood, author of ELearning Department of One, joins us on the Train Like You Listen podcast this week to share some resources and tips for small eLearning departments.

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Pinterest Board for Learning and Development

A few weeks ago, we looked at Pinterest boards that are worth following for learning and development. After that post, we received several requests for a curated board by our team. Since that post, we have been collecting some of our favorite pins and curating a board we think is helpful for people in the L&D world. Continue reading

Presentations for Non-presenters

Who is a presenter?

I am an instructional designer and a facilitator, I am a presenter.

My sister is a director at a sustainable energy non-profit, she is a presenter.

My husband is a Civil Engineer for the department of transportation, he is a presenter.

The difference between my job and the other two I mentioned is that developing and delivering presentations is defined in my job title. I study instructional design theory and practice my craft regularly. I present at Toastmasters, or to my team, or clients at least weekly, and I am comfortable keeping presentations on track and sticking to objectives during facilitation sessions.

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The Creative Process: The Four R’s of Creativity

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my creative process unless, of course, I run out of it. I will admit, I have moments where I don’t even have bad ideas, let alone good ones. It is like I open the door to my creativity closet, and the shelves are empty.

The concept of creativity is a difficult one to nail down. There are a lot of vantages on what creativity is and how creativity is fostered. Some view creativity as a trait native to certain types of people, some view it as a thinking style, and some point to it being relative to one’s intelligence. No matter how you view it, creativity is a fundamental asset in training and development. Continue reading

How many words is it worth?

Long before a group of people gather in a room or online to take a training, the training design process begins. At some point during that process, an idea of what that training will eventually look like is generated and subsequently explained.

The creative process varies; both by person and by project. Various tools help designers and developers work to get to the final stages of training. One process I like to do during the training development process is storyboarding. A storyboard is basically a few frames of images, usually with some text, that graphically represent a sequence. In the context of Instructional Design, it is the sequence of your training. I think of it like a lesson plan comic strip.   Continue reading

What Does Your Room Set-up Say About Your Training Presentation?

As your learners enter the room, they’re already judging you and your presentation.  What message(s) are you sending them as they walk into the meeting space?

Put yourself into your learners’ shoes for a moment.  You’ve either chosen to or you’ve been required to take time away from work to attend this presentation.  As you take a seat, what might be going through your mind when you see this…

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Compared to this…

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Compared to this…

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Compared to this…

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Compared to this…

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The content and delivery of your presentation are only a fraction of the work.  Making sure the little things are taken care of can set the tone for the entire day.

The message I receive when I walk into a room like photo #1 is: well, the table is clean.  I wonder if there are any handouts.  Shoot, I think I forgot a pen.  I hope I can remember everything the speaker talks about.

When I walk into a room and see something resembling photo #2 I think: how nice, someone threw some notepads and pens on the table.  Wonder if there will be anything noteworthy to jot down.

A table set like photo #3 makes me think: how nice, someone threw some handouts and a pen and pad on the table.  Wonder if they were in a hurry this morning, or if they’ll be throwing stuff at us – figuratively or literally – all through the session.

In photo #4, I can finally begin to appreciate the preparation that someone went through in advance of a presentation – they not only created materials but have offered a place for everything to be neatly kept.  When I go home, I won’t just throw my handouts in a pile on my desk (or throw them away); I now have a folder where I can keep them together and file them if necessary.

Photo #5 goes the extra mile.  A presenter has obviously put time and thought into the presentation and how the materials are presented… even down to creating a personalized folder with my name on it!  I’m willing to give this presenter the benefit of the doubt as we get started because this looks like a pretty professional set up!  Look, the presenter even provided post-it notes and markers… wonder if we’ll be involved in activities and if we’ll be allowed to share our thoughts.  I better get ready for this session.

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Is Your Training Icebreaker Any Good?

I was going to post my top 5 training icebreakers.  Then I remembered that if I give you icebreakers, you can break the ice for a day.  But if I teach you how to design a good icebreaking activity, you can break the ice for a lifetime!  Here are five questions to ponder when designing training icebreakers:

Question 1: Is your icebreaker relevant?

Fun and relevant don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  When I used to facilitate workshops for professionals working in the foster care system, I used to begin sessions by asking people their names, positions, organizations, tenure and favorite ice cream.  Asking tenure as part of the icebreaking question set can be helpful, especially if you add everyone’s experience together (“Wow, we have a combined 147 years of training experience in this room.

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There’s Always a First Time

Intended Audience for this Post: Beginning presenters, trainers or people who were recently asked by a boss (or colleague) to get up in front of people to present something important and need some help organizing their thoughts

Getting in front of people and presenting is something that makes a lot of people nervous.  In 2001, a Gallup poll found that public speaking is the #2 fear among Americans (fear of snakes topped that particular list).  There are plenty of other polls, anecdotes and comedy routines that put the fear of being in front of others even higher on the list.

Top presenters make getting up in front of an audience look easy and polished, but presenting is very much like any other aspect of life: there’s always a first time, and very few people excel the first time they do anything.  In his best-selling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes 10,000 hours of practice time before reaching exceptional-level performance.  And before anyone can reach that 10,000th hour of practice, they’ll need to complete that first (generally uncomfortable) hour.

In his first pass attempt at the University of Michigan, Tom Brady threw a brilliant pass that went for a touchdown.  Unfortunately for Brady and his Michigan Wolverines, that touchdown was scored by the opposing defense when they intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown.  His first pass in professional football nearly met the same fate (but it fell incomplete).  In his first game as a professional, Tom Brady completed one pass for six yards.  Brady has gone on to four Super Bowls (winning three of them and being named Most Valuable Player in two of them).  There’s been a lot of practice between Brady’s first collegiate pass and now.

That same Brady-esque drive to practice, prepare, get in front of people and to keep going in spite of whatever initial foibles or difficulties get in the way is required for anyone wishing to succeed as a presenter. 

So then what goes into the preparation?  Is it as easy as simply picturing the audience naked? No – this is kind of a creepy suggestion that really isn’t helpful.  Should you just write out your presentation on note cards or type it, print it out, and read it?  No – your audience can probably read, so you could save everyone plenty of time by simply emailing them the text of your presentation.

Following are several steps to take in preparing for that first presentation:

  1. Define who your audience is and what’s in it for them to attend and participate in your presentation.
  2. Define the intended outcome of your presentation – what should participants know or be able to do better once you’re finished with your presentation?
  3. Define for yourself what would make this a successful presentation for yourself and for your audience.
  4. Once you’ve defined all of the above (and only after you’ve defined those items), put together an outline of the key points you wish to make and how you wish to make those points (hint: if you want to be able to tell if your audience is “getting it” don’t rely solely on lecture, figure out how to involve them)
  5. Be sure to make a list of the materials you’ll need for your presentation (it’s a bummer to realize you forgot to bring flipchart markers and tape when you’re 30 seconds into your actual presentation!)
  6. Before taking the stage, find some time to practice actually giving your presentation (in an empty conference room, walking down the sidewalk as you’re walking your dog, in the shower, etc.)

These aren’t the only steps to ensuring your presentation will be successful, but they’re some of the most important items to keep in mind as you get started.  Click here to access a lesson plan format that can help you in getting started in organizing your thoughts.

While there’s always a first time, the hope is that preparation and practice will ensure there will also be a second time.  And a third time.  I’m not suggesting you eschew all other personal and professional responsibilities in order to get ready for your upcoming 60-minute presentation.  But I am suggesting that some preparation and practice can go a long way.

Several years ago, I was eager to play a bigger part in my church’s community and I signed up to be a lector during Saturday evening services.  One evening I was struggling through a reading and somehow I proclaimed that there were “flaming brassieres” (I should have proclaimed there were flaming braziers).  I was never asked to read during Saturday evening services again.  Perhaps a little pre-service preparation would have saved me (and the church officials) a lot of embarrassment and grief; perhaps I’d still be doing Saturday evening readings in that church.

The final point I’d like to make in this entry is that it’s not enough to prepare and present and deliver.  If you’re looking to continue to be recognized as a talented presenter, facilitator or teacher, it will be crucial to reflect on and assess your performance, learn from it and make improvements in your style and ability. 

Next week’s post will explore the lessons that can be drawn from the way professional athletes routinely and continuously review and improve their performance.  Next week’s post will also include information and resources to assist you in that reflection and post-presentation review process.