When I wrote a book revolving around a periodic table of 51 different elements that can lead to effective, amazing training, I decided to make element #1 the Lesson Plan because I felt this is one of the most fundamental elements for a successful training.
Why should you use a lesson plan instead of just mapping out your presentation using PowerPoint?
I get it. You’re busy. You don’t need to spend extra time duplicating your efforts. Why not just open up PowerPoint and generate your presentation through your slide deck? Here are two simple reasons this is a bad idea:
- A PowerPoint deck doesn’t help you define your learning objectives or align the sequence and flow of your activities with those objectives. In fact, when you open up PowerPoint first, the tendency is to just begin mapping out what content you want to share. PowerPoint is a content sharing application, so it’s natural just to get your content down. This does not help aid the learning experience. At all.
- Are you sure you even need PowerPoint slides? I’ve used a lesson plan and mapped out presentations before and realized that, due to the active nature of the plan, we didn’t even need slides. Flipchart and wall posters were the only visual aids I needed for in-person sessions. On virtual programs, I’ve also mapped out presentations where PowerPoint wasn’t necessary. I simply used the webcam (so people could see who was talking), polling features, share screen as I demonstrated something from other websites.
That said, sometimes (a lot of times) PowerPoint is absolutely necessary for a presentation. When you outline your presentation using a lesson plan first, it gives more coherence to the sequence and flow of your slide deck or any other aspect of your presentation.
What’s the difference between a lesson plan and a bulleted list of notes?
A list of talking points is a key part of any lesson plan, but a lesson plan helps you to structure your presentation in ways that a simple bulleted list of notes can’t. Take a look at the image of a lesson plan below (you can download this template here).
This lesson plan template includes a number of sections that are essential for an effective training program:
- Overall Goal. By answering the question: “What’s the big picture purpose of this training program?”, you can begin designing with the audience and the topic in mind.
- Learning Objectives. I’ve written about learning objectives before, but in short, this section of a lesson plan should be:
- Learner-centered (ie: framed by what the learner should be able to do new, differently or better) as opposed to presenter-centered (ie: focused on what you feel you need to cover or talk about), and
- Action-oriented/observable (not only should learning objectives be able to finish this sentence: “By the end of the presentation, the learners should be able to…” but if you finish this sentence correctly, you should be able to easily come up with activities during your session that allow your learners to show you they’re able to do whatever you said they should be able to do – make a list, compare and contrast something, handle customer service challenges, use a sales process, accurately enter data in a new system, etc.)
- Materials. Have you ever arrived at a training session and realized you forgot something (name tags, markers, post-its, handouts, etc.)? Filling out this section in the lesson plan helps you to create a checklist of all of the materials and handouts you need to make sure you bring with you.
- Estimated Time. A bulleted list of talking points or even activity notes will not help ensure you stay on time during your presentation. This “Estimated Time” section of the lesson plan helps you to determine how much time you can/should spend on any given activity and can help you determine if you’ve been too ambitious with your learning objectives. There have been times when I’ve begun to estimate the time on my activities and I’ve realized I either need to pare down my objectives or pare down my activities, because I can’t squeeze everything in.
- Content/Key Points. This is where you can capture key talking points or activity instructions. It doesn’t need to be a verbatim script (in fact, I’d recommend that you avoid writing out a script… it’s too tempting to just read from a script and then you won’t be able to engage as easily with your participants).
- Instructional Technique. This is the sanity check portion of a lesson plan. Is every row characterized by lecture? Have you provided opportunities for small group discussions, participant interactivity or ways for participants to demonstrate that they get it? This column helps ensure a variety of instructional techniques are used, and allows you to see where you may need to break up your lecture with more interaction.