What’s the right formula when working with SMEs on training?

“How do we get subject matter experts (SMEs) to be better trainers?”

It’s a question I hear often, especially in light of the recent presentations I’ve been doing on the concept of radioactive elements, which comes from my book What’s Your Formula?

Before I dive more deeply into SMEs, I want to remind everyone what “radioactive elements” are. Radioactive elements are components of training that can be very powerful, but they can also be very dangerous or even harmful if they’re not used very well. As you can see from the image below, these elements include some of the most commonly used pieces for training today: lecture, PowerPoint, SMEs, handouts, smile sheets (level 1 evaluation forms), icebreakers, elearning, augmented reality, role play, games and data.

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Helping SMEs Become More Effective Presenters through Communities of Practice

For years I’ve facilitated presentation skills programs and train the trainer programs for Subject Matter Experts, hoping that they’d buy into the idea of adult learning theory, some basic instructional design principles and the need to abandon bullet point-laden PowerPoint slides. It’s worked to varying degrees of success.

Later this month at the Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) International Conference and Expo (ICE), Darlene Brady Christopher, who is a Senior Knowledge and Learning Officer with the World Bank, will be sharing her experiences from a program that has seen great success converting SMEs to more effective presenters. Through a bonus podcast this week, we went into more depth about how her community of practice program has helped keep SMEs at the World Bank engaged and interested on becoming stronger presenters.

If you plan to be at ATD ICE, Darlene’s session will be on August 30, from 1:00pm – 2:00pm.

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Experiments in Learning Design: Ex + Lp = Much More Engaging SME Presentations

Last week I began to share some “experiments in learning design” based upon the following periodic table (which is the basis for my upcoming book, What’s Your Formula: Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training):

This week we’ll take a look at another experiment. Today’s experiment revolves around the question: Are there ways to support SMEs to help their presentations to be more engaging and effective when they’re asked to train other people?

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When SME’s Make You Cry

Embarking on a new project is always exciting. The kickoff meeting with a new client brings a sense of new challenges and opportunities to flex creative muscles. And as such, I recently joined a kick-off meeting for a new project with a project sponsor and SME I hadn’t met prior to said kickoff. Continue reading

The Hand-Off

A friend recently attended a training that was refreshed based on new policy and handed to a new team who inherited it from another team. This new team decided to take a new approach to the training because they were making changes anyway. I like this approach to revamping training if you have an opportunity to make changes when you have the files open, take it!

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always go as expected. Luckily, when training goes poorly, my friends ALWAYS tell me. Instead of a great training experience, the majority of the class time was spent with the participants correcting the facilitator’s out-of-date or misinformation. Let’s break down what went wrong with this training, so we don’t make the same mistakes.

Content is King

While we may not be the content experts, our materials guide us. The task of this training team was to update the content consistently across the new policy books. They became so focused on the new interactions and cool new training that due diligence was left out. It doesn’t matter if you are teaching pilots how to fly or philanthropists how to engage, content must be rigorously checked.

The first time the class corrected the errant information, they chalked it up to a mistake. As the day went on, the frustration grew, and eventually, it was not a good learning environment. To put it bluntly, they checked out.

Pilot all Training

Skipping steps in the design process is always tempting, especially when it is just an update. I regret skipping steps every single time. My team is pretty awesome at reminding me of this when I get in a hurry because this is one of those steps that is tempting to skip. By adding a small pilot with a few subject matter experts, this team could have easily identified the gaps in content before presenting. By putting the pressure on themselves to be the content experts, they gave themselves blind spots and set-up points of failure.

Do pilots take time and cost money? Sure.

Is that better than a course failing in front of a bunch of participants who are taking time away from their jobs and family? Absolutely!

Post-Mortem

First, I really don’t like that term, but it is industry jargon and I don’t know how to kill it (pun intended). When a project goes poorly, or well, sit down with the team and reflect on why things went the way they did. Start with what went well, then discuss what could be improved next time. Never place blame, and always walk away with an action plan.

What else could this team have done to prevent this issue? Where have you seen training like this breakdown? Let’s keep this conversation going in the comments below!

Training Team Experts

I have been expanding my project management skills for learning projects and I find it staggering the number of people it takes to put out a great presentation. Last week, we asked how many people it takes to put together a great presentation where you work. The majority of people responded with 6 people or more to accomplish this task!

Let’s dig in on the roles that came up during this conversation. Continue reading

Which Would You Prefer: Noise Pollution or Performance Support?

As I was waiting for my luggage to appear at the baggage claim in Delhi last week, a colleague pointed this sign out to me:

performance support at an airport

In a place where honking drivers navigate their way through the crowded streets seemingly by echolocation and sensory overload insights, sounds, tastes, and smells are everywhere, the airport did indeed seem oddly quiet.

If you can’t make out the fine print at the bottom of the screen, it says: “To know the status of your flight, please check the flight information display at various locations.”

It was brilliant. Someone at the airport must have decided that the “training” they were offering – a constant stream of announcements over the PA system – was ineffective. They also must have determined that passengers were probably smart enough that, if pointed in the right direction with good signage, they’d be able to find what they needed.

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Humbled by these SMEs

Facilitators

What would you do if you were in a technical training being led by SMEs and suddenly, out the window, you spy a monkey being led around on a leash? Would you…

  1. Ignore the monkey and stay 100% focused on the technical content being shared
  2. Stare out the window wishing you could trade places with the monkey

I’ve attended many technical training sessions, and personally, I would often choose “2”, wishing I could be doing anything else, anyplace else in the world… even if that meant I was a monkey being led around on a leash.

A funny thing happened last week when I was in Delhi for a 2-day training workshop. A guy walked by the window with a monkey on a leash. Nobody paid any attention to what was going on outside. The class remained 100% engrossed in the technical training at hand. I was impressed with the way these SMEs facilitated the session, and humbled by the effort they put into this workshop, from the design to the wrap up.

Building a New Kind of Learning Experience

Going into the planning phase, these SMEs gave me all the time that I asked for as I requested meetings to plan this session out.

We knew that we’d need to overcome a significant language barrier in order to deliver the content. We only speak English. Many of our participants preferred Hindi or other local languages. I suggested we avoid lecture as much as possible (even though lecture can constitute significant chunks of this training program when delivered in the US) and instead use small group discussions and activities. This design would allow the audience to see and experience the content, processing it in the language with which they were most comfortable.

There were no protests from the SMEs when I showed them a first draft of this program that had reduced the number of slides we’d use from 86 (based on the US version) to 0. To my great surprise, these SMEs could have cared less about PowerPoint.

Forgoing All Others

Prep

I’ve struggle in the past with getting SMEs to take preparation and presentation rehearsal seriously. I’m often told by SMEs that they’re too busy to rehearse a presentation and that they know the material well enough to deliver it with fluency.

As we began to make travel arrangements, this set of SMEs readily agreed to leave the comfort of their homes and the loving embrace of their family members (not to mention the loads of work that began to pile up on their desks) in order to arrive in Delhi a day early and walk through the entire set of lesson plans for the 2-day training session. They wanted to ensure the learners would be given the best experience necessary.

Flexibility

We began the session a little late on the first day, which meant we were behind on the agenda immediately. Instead of insisting that every last word in the lesson plan was essential and continuing to run more and more behind on the schedule, the SMEs identified areas that could be condensed or cut or assigned as homework in order to get back on schedule by the end of the day.

The Ideal SMEs?

In the end, it was clear that the SMEs I worked with on this training program were most passionate about the learners’ experience and the outcomes of this training.

While many SMEs that I work with put their content first (or sometimes their egos come first, then their content), these SMEs put the learners first. As I reflect on this experience, I’m hoping to figure out a way to bottle their attitude and bring it to future projects with other SMEs.

Their attitude and effort did not go unrewarded. Apparently I have a reputation for being intense and very serious, especially when it comes to training. In appreciation of their effort and attitude, I was willing to briefly put my intense, serious nature on hold one evening and give them a glimpse of a different side of my personality. It was only an instant, and don’t expect me to do it again. I allowed them to capture that one instant on film.

Tongue

Ok, enough of that. This is called the Train Like A Champion blog for a reason. It’s time to get back to work on our next project and kick some more training ass!

DevLearn 2014: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Hours

A week and a half ago, I was very excited to head to Las Vegas for the eLearning Guild’s 10th annual DevLearn conference. I wrote a blog post wondering if I could find the equivalent of a soul mate when it comes to a single presentation that could capture my heart and set my imagination on fire.

I wanted a presentation that could “show me the ring” (because I really, really wanted to be engaged by this presentation). I wanted a pacifist type of presentation where bullets wouldn’t be used in the PowerPoint slides. I wanted a fearless presenter – confident in delivery and willing to take some risks, maybe even get the audience involved (and no, just saying: “I want this to be highly interactive, so make sure you raise your hand if you have a question” does not mean you’ve designed an interactive presentation!!).

By the end of the first day of the conference, I seemed to have chosen a string of sessions that broke my heart. Were my standards too high? I’ll let you decide. If Composure magazine was writing a “how to” column entitled “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Hours”, these are some of the strategies they would have written about:

  1. Talk about yourself. For an hour. I understand that real-life case studies and stories about how someone has overcome a problem are what make for good conference proposals. The problem is: your actual presentation isn’t about you. It’s about how you can help solve a problem or address a need for your audience. Spend some time setting the stage about what you’ve been able to accomplish… but don’t neglect an opportunity for discussion with the audience about how your lessons learned can be applied to their problems or needs.
  2. Use discredited information. If you’re going to talk about book clubs as a learning strategy, don’t use Three Cups of Tea as the central example for the success of your online program. The book has been exposed for containing lies and half-truths and the author has been thoroughly discredited as a reputable figure in the international development arena, making it harder for those of us doing good work in international development to gain the confidence of potential funders. This was a total turn-off for me.
  3. Take a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. Several sessions offered “best practices” in elearning design… yet chose a lecture format by which to share those design elements. Why not model some of those best practices in person? One presenter lectured on the three basic learner needs in Self-determination Theory. One of those elements was “autonomy”. Why not model this element by asking the audience which of the three basic needs they wanted to know more about first? And then point out that this was an example of “autonomy”?

To be fair, there were several sessions which already have me thinking about ways to integrate ideas and concepts into my work, but I’d think twice before allocating professional development dollars for me or anyone else from my organization to attend this event in the future.

Anyone who has ever found a soul mate might be able to identify with the idea that they can be found in the most unlikely of places… the places you’d never think to look. At DevLearn, I was looking in the place I felt would be most logical: conference breakout sessions. The aspect of DevLearn from which I left most energized, most wanting to repeat again in the future however, was the opportunity to meet people I’d only worked with or interacted with online.

If you’re looking for some new people to follow via Twitter, I’d recommend these folks: Kirby Crider, JD Dillon, Brent Schlenker, Nicole Legault, David Andersen, Meg Bertapelle, Tom Spiglanin and Learning Rebel Shannon Tipton. Not only are they really smart and have good things to share via Twitter… they’re all pretty cool people, too!

6 Reasons Your Presentation is no TED Talk

What is a TED Talk?

TED Talks are all the rage these days. They’re amazing 5- or 10- or 20-minute presentations delivered by thought leaders from around the globe in an effort to give “ideas worth sharing” a platform to ignite the world on fire.

Recently I published a list of Amazon’s top 40 books on presentation skills and 10% of the books were how-to guides on turning your next presentation into a TED Talk.

TED Talks have given renewed vigor to the argument that we can “just tell” an audience what they need to know. Why not lecture? After all, TED Talks are generally given before large audiences in auditoriums where interaction isn’t possible.

In fact, here are three TED Talks you could use to inspire the design of your next presentation.

What Can You Do to Be More Like a TED Talk?

Here are six reasons why your next presentation will not be TED-caliber and what you can do about it.

What is a TED Talk?

1. Amateur slide design

The minute you flash a slide like this, your aspirations of giving a TED-style presentation have gone down the drain. Even if your goal isn’t TED-caliber, poor slide design can ruin your message. Click here for some ideas on how to spruce up that design.

2. You think everything about your topic is important

When everything you have to say is “important” then nothing is a priority. TED speakers understand that they’re not going to create an audience of experts in 20 minutes. They are ruthless in their prioritization of what gets air time during their presentation. Click here for some ideas on how to be ruthless in prioritizing the content for your next presentation.

3. You think your content is boring

I’ve been surprised by how many times I’ve worked with a subject matter expert who has told me: “look, my area of expertise is boring, there’s no way to make it exciting, people just need to know this information and go forth and do what I say.” If you think your topic or area of expertise is boring, why in the world would anyone else pay attention, let alone be ignited to want to do something with your information?

4. You don’t want to be in front of the audience

That public speaking causes people great anxiety is no secret. Of course, if someone asks you to speak, then there’s something about you and your message that nobody else can offer to your audience. Embrace it! Relish it! Find a way to get others as passionate as you are about your topic. If you’re just going to go through the motions of a presentation, it’ll be an icky experience for you and your audience.

5. You make no effort to connect with your audience

Perhaps the single biggest problem I see when I review presentation plans is that people tend to launch straight in to their content, assuming their audience knows about it, cares about it and/or is interested in it. Click here to watch Jane McGonigal tease her audience’s interest by promising them longer lives if they simply follow the steps in her presentation. Click here for some additional ideas on how to connect with your audience.

6. You “just do it”

Nike’s message isn’t necessarily for presenters. TED speakers do not simply throw a presentation together on the airplane en route to their conference, then get up and put on a magical display of amazing slide design, smooth delivery and inspiring message. They spend countless hours designing what they want to say and how they want to say it. Then they rehearse. Then they tweek their presentation and rehearse it again until it comes out exactly how they want. Rehearsal helps hone your message, perfect your delivery and perhaps most importantly, lower your level of anxiety.

Whether you call it “lecture” or “didactic delivery” or a “presentation”, TED Talks have demonstrated that speakers can be incredibly engaging by “just talking.” However, if you find that one or more of the items in the above list are true for you, then you may not have a TED-caliber presentation on your hand. Effective lecture (or didactic delivery or presentation) requires a lot of work.

If you truly want to capture your audience’s imagination and inspire them to do something new or differently or better, it may actually be easier for you to bring some adult learning principles and interactivity into your next presentation.