Icebreaking Activity: How To Introduce Knowles’ Theory on Adult Education

No Train-the-Trainer class would be complete without mentioning Malcolm Knowles and his theory on how adults learn.  Unless your audience is full of true training geeks, not many people are going to dote on the theory part.  They want to connect the theory to their jobs, how it’s going to help them better reach their audiences, how it can be applied in real life.  And they want all of this to take effect tomorrow, whether or not they can regurgitate what Knowles had to say. Continue reading

Say It, Don’t Display It

A skilled facilitator can strike a balance between the tasks that need to be accomplished in a session and the process it takes for learners to really “get it.” There are many ways to illustrate the task/process dynamic.  Here are two of them.  If you were in a training session, which of them would you prefer?

Option #1: Painting a Picture through Storytelling

A couple of years ago, I took a walk to our neighborhood park with my daughter.  We’d walked this route dozens of times since moving into the neighborhood, with one exception.  Normally, when “we” walked, I was actually doing the walking and my daughter hitched a ride in my backpack.  But on this day, my one and a half year old daughter seemed ready to try this on her own.

Normally, it would take about 15 minutes to walk to the park.  On this day, it took us 15 minutes to go three blocks.  Every time we saw a flower, she stopped.  Every time we saw a leaf, she stooped to pick it up.  Every time she found a rock that looked a little different, she put it in her pocket.  Or my pocket.  When she found a dandelion that had gone to seed, she gently brushed her hand over it and watched on with joy as the seeds floated away.

For the first several blocks, I tried to keep her moving along so that we could get to the park and have fun.  Once I even picked her up to keep her moving.  She screamed.  I put her back down.  As I watched her, I saw someone exploring a neighborhood full of flowers and leaves and rocks and dandelions for the first time in her life.  While I had long-since taken all of these things for granted, she was experiencing this walk under her own power for the first time.  I stopped trying to hurry her up and get to the park so we could have fun.  I was a bit nauseated to realize that the old cliché about it actually being about the journey, not necessarily the destination was actually more than a cliché.

It hit me all at once.  Watching my daughter, I learned a very important lesson about group facilitation.  Even though I may have talked about the topic many times and it’s long-since lost its novelty for me, when I train groups I need to keep in mind that they’re often experiencing the subject and content for the first time.  I need not hurry from point to point in order to tell them everything they need to know.  Rather, I need to give my learners adequate time to explore and play with the content.  I had a whole new respect for the task/process dynamic.

Option #2: PowerPoint

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Next slide please…

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Next slide please…

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Next slide please…

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Oops.  I think you went backwards.  Can you advance the slide, please…

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Next slide please…

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Next slide please…

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Next slide please…

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Why do presenters insist on burying some amazing stories underneath a pile of slides, generic templates, graphs and clipart?

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Training the Trainer: 5 Essential Training Design Questions

A while back, I wrote about some key questions to ask when determining whether training is even the right tool.  Assuming that training is the right tool, here are five additional questions a designer should ask when developing a training intervention:

Question #1: What will success look like?

This drives your learning objectives, any assessment activities you’ll develop and is the measuring stick against which you can determine the ultimate value of the training intervention. Is success defined as increased knowledge (and if so, what will that look like)?  Is success quantitative (and if so, what metrics will you use)?

Question #2: What happens if no training is offered?

Assuming that some type of training intervention is the correct tool, the question behind this question is: is formal training the only solution?  What’s the worst thing that would happen if an employee is not given access to formal training?  Would informal learning (a book, a trade journal, credible blogs, involvement in a community of practice) be a better approach?  And if so, how will that be monitored and followed-up?

Question #3: Who needs to be involved in the training design?

If an SME is developing the training, does she need assistance making the training engaging and eliminating unnecessary jargon so the language used will be accessible for the learners?  If someone from HR (or the learning & development team or some other department) is developing the training, who else should be involved in order to ensure a key person in the organization will serve as a champion for the intervention?

Question #4: What kind of follow-up and support is needed?

As motivated as even the highest of achievers may be, if he doesn’t have ongoing support in the pursuit of a new skill, the chances of mastery will drop and the chances that he will revert to the old ways of doing things will rise.  Should a supervisor be following up?  Should the training facilitator be responsible for checking in?

Question #5: When will success (or failure) be declared?

While question #1 asked what success would look like, question #5 asks when victory should be declared?  Perhaps when someone uses the new skill once?  When the team has used the new project plan system for a year?  And what should happen if the answer to question #1 (what will success look like?) is never actually observed?

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow” at the top of the page!

5 Ways Learners can Practice in Training

“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”  It’s sound advice for every trainer and presenter.  If your learners don’t have an opportunity in the training room to practice what they’ve learned, they may not retain what you’ve tried to teach them.

Training Design Model

The training design model I’ve come to embrace includes four steps:

  1. Anchor
  2. Content
  3. Application
  4. Future Use

Application: Practice in Training

Application (defined here as providing an opportunity to practice new skills in a safe environment) moves your lesson from the theoretical to the concrete and allows learners to actually see and feel how your presentation can impact their job performance.

Application Idea #1: Case Study

One of the simplest ways to allow learners to apply what you’ve just taught is to introduce a case study.  Through the lens of their newfound knowledge and skills, learners can analyze and discuss true-to-life instances of your content in action.  More skilled facilitators may wish to move beyond the straightforward analyze-and-discuss case study and deliver a more interactive experience through a live-action case study.  Giving learners a portion of the case study to begin, then challenging them to decide what (if any) additional information they would need to proceed can move the lesson from a “this is what I would have done in this case study” discussion to more of a “this is what I will do when put into this situation” activity.

Application Idea #2: Role Play

I’ve never heard two words that garner more groans and eye rolls than “role play.”  I think there are two reasons for this: 1) role-playing means learners must go outside of their comfort zone to demonstrate new skills (they can’t just sit back and say: in this situation, I would hypothetically do; they have to say the words that they would actually speak in a given situation), and 2) when two people with limited proficiency in a skill or concept are paired together, the role play often ends quickly and comes to an idealistic, everyone-is-happy-in-the-end ending. In order to make the role play more realistic, I’ve seen several examples where outside actors are paired with learners to add an element of reality.  And if your learners groan at the words “role play”, then change the name to something like “simulation”.

Application Idea #3: Design & Create

When I facilitate a train-the-trainer session and introduce a lesson planning tool, I insist my learners break up into groups and actually design a lesson plan.  It’s eye-opening to see learners, who just moments earlier were perfectly able to answer theoretical questions about what a sound learning objective should be, struggle the first time that they’re asked to put their new knowledge into practice.

Application Idea #4: Evaluate and Provide Feedback

Providing feedback as a way to practice in trainingIt’s one thing to design and create something like a lesson plan.  It’s another thing altogether to see if learners can offer (accurate) peer feedback on what their fellow classmates have designed and created.  A facilitator can tell a lot about whether or not concepts are being correctly applied by giving learners an opportunity to evaluate, provide feedback and justify their opinions.

Application Idea #5: Just Do It

When I was asked to design a training for a new IT system, I realized the end-users didn’t need to know as much about how the system was laid out as they needed to know how to simply use the system.  Instead of explaining the features of the system, learners were oriented to the purpose of the system, then given sample data to begin inputting into a practice website that had been set up specifically for training purposes.  When pinched for time, I think the philosophy of less talk from the presenter and more opportunity for the learners to “just do it”, to practice in training, is a winning strategy for everyone.

What other techniques are you using to integrate practice in training sessions and presentations?

Oh, the Places You’ll Train!

If I could write a children’s book about my training experiences, it would probably go a little something like this:

You’ve gotten the call,

A gap has been found,

No chance it can be dull,

’cause you’re the best trainer around!

Armed with certificates and fancy degrees,

And classes and skills and subject matter expertise,

A lesson is needed, so do not delay,

A rockin’ lesson is needed, so be off, on your way!

Some classes are big,

Some will be small.

Sometimes you’ll use a computer

And you’ll see no classes at all!

Some locales will be exotic

But mostly they’re tame

After a while the airports and hotels

All start looking the same.

Helping people to “get it”

is what you were born to do,

From sales to coaching to building a canoe.

There is nothing you can’t train,

When given due time,

You assess certain needs,

Then you develop the design.

You’re a super trainer all right,

You ought to don a red cape,

It’ll be an amazing day of activities,

Until the hotel staff says you can’t use tape.

No tape blue and no tape masking,

No tape duct, thank you for asking.

Nothing can be taped to the wall,

No flipcharts, no signs… nothing at all.

This doesn’t bode well

For your planned gallery walk,

No movement and writing,

Just lecture and talk?!

You’ll have to adjust on the fly

C’mon, there is no time to cry

Your learners march in

Start time has drawn nigh.

Most learners are eager,

They’re eager to grow,

Eager to think, pair and share,

Eager to know.

And when they get it,

It’s like someone switched on a light,

It all makes sense now,

They shout “Ah ha!” with delight.

Things are rolling,

Connections made dot-to-dot,

Full steam ahead,

Until one guy says: “I’m just too hot.”

It’s easy to solve,

you turn on the A/C,

“Actually!” exclaims another,

“More heat would satisfy me!”

The session is sidetracked

By the temperature debate

And now people realize

It’s been five hours since they last ate.

These things happen

To even the best lessons planned,

But the trainers who thrive

Are the most flexible in the land.

Stick to the objectives, but go with the flow,

Be there objections or questions, just go, go, go, go!

Deliver with strength, deliver with grace,

Deliver with poise, presence and good pace.

Focus on the learning need

And you will succeed

(57 3/4 percent guaranteed).

If you’d like better odds

Here is a clue:

The key to training success

Is to accept it’s not all about you

Your learners’ bosses can be a giant post-training black hole,

Unless they’ve asked some questions, like:

Does your learner have a goal?

Will she be asked to use her new skills? Does this even align with her role?

Often your evals score high,

Except when they’re low.

Sometimes the comments get personal,

Sometimes they land a low blow.

The important thing is,

And write this right down,

That learners use what they learn

Whether they smile or frown.

Be they from Toledo, Teribithia or Tellygaloo,

Training success is really measured by what learners can do.

Oh, the places you’ll go when someone does something new,

Then says: “thanks so much, I learned that from you!”

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays and Thursdays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow” at the top of the page!

Free Lesson Plan Template

“How do you organize your thoughts?”  It’s a question I always ask at the beginning of a session training facilitators and presenters.  Some people outline their thoughts in PowerPoint. Some use post-its or scraps of paper.  Some begin with their goals and objectives.  Some say that they’ve done certain presentations so many times they no longer need to “organize” their thoughts.

A Free Lesson Plan Template You Can Use

Free Lesson Plan Format

I like to get all of my thoughts together in a lesson plan first, then I’ll create additional materials – flipcharts, PowerPoint, handouts, job aids, etc.  Below is an image of this template.  You can also download a pdf version of the free lesson plan template.

Think you might want to include images of your slides on your lesson plan document? This previous post offers a slightly different lesson plan template: Training Lesson Plan Templates: Design vs. Delivery

Here are several advantages to this lesson plan template:

Limit the Amount of Lecture

There are three features of this lesson plan I’ve found to be helpful in ensuring my lessons are engaging and learner-centric.  The Objectives section nudges me to create an action-oriented, participant-focused foundation (by the end of this session, learners will be able to describe or explain or plan or role-play or model something).  The Ways to Assess section prods me to make sure that if my objective claims learners will be able to do something (such as list the steps for a process), then I’ll need to be sure there is an activity in the lesson plan that gives learners an opportunity to show me they can list those steps.  The Instructional Technique section allows me to see, at a glance, the types of activities that I will use throughout the session. I’ll be able to see whether I have stacked too many of one kind of activity (lecture, large group discussion, etc.) in a row.

Contingency Planning Your Presentation

On more than one occasion, I’ve been sick or stuck in traffic or for some reason unable to deliver a session.  When I draw up a lesson plan, it’s not a verbatim script of what I plan to say, but it’s detailed enough that anyone with a basic level of familiarity with the topic can deliver the session and generally look like they know what they’re talking about.

Lesson Plan Library

I have folders and folders full of these lesson plans.  When I’m asked to deliver a session similar to, but not quite exactly like, a lesson I’ve done in the past, it’s easy to pull up one of these files and update it.  I can also send these lesson plans to colleagues who are working on similar projects and don’t want to re-invent the wheel.

If you want to freshen up your lesson plans, try Soapbox for free for 14 days! You’ll get all kinds of ideas based on YOUR ojbectives!

Lesson Plan Archive

Similar to #2, having an archive of past lesson plans saves me a ton of time and planning when I only facilitate a topic once or twice a year. When it’s that time of year again, I pull up the file, review what I did last year and make adjustments on things that weren’t quite perfect.

Are you still feeling overwhelmed by the idea of lesson planning? The all-in-one presentation creator, Soapbox is the tool you need to help you lesson plan with ease. Not only will Soapbox help you write your objectives and pick learning activities, but it will also create ready-to-print handouts, facilitator guide, and slide deck in as little as 5 minutes! Ready to make your life easier? Fill out the form below.

Potty Training and Corporate Training: Eerily Similar

My son has entered week three of potty training. As I attempt to facilitate a smooth transition away from diapers I’m struck by how similar this experience is to my day job in the world of training.

Potty Training - Toilet Paper          Businesswoman giving presentation

It’s Compulsory (a sort of compliance training)

Recently, my son was offered a promotion.  His teachers wanted to move him from the young toddler room to the older toddler room.  The promotion comes with all sorts of perks: better toys, a nice corner classroom with sweeping views of the playground and a new set of challenges (the monotony of learning about primary colors will now be replaced with new and exciting secondary colors!).  With more perks, however, come more responsibilities.  One such responsibility is the need to use the bathroom.  And therein lies a skills gap.

Even though a need has been identified and a development plan is now in place, there’s still a lot of resistance when it comes to combatting the status quo.  Basically, he wants the new perks but he’s being forced to go through potty training in order to develop the requisite skill set for this promotion.  I think he resents having this change thrust upon him.

Learning by Doing can be Messy… But it’s the Only Way to Go

As much as I’d like to ease the process along, the fact is that I can’t do the work for my son.  He needs to figure out how to do this on his own.  And he totally gets the theory of using the bathroom when it’s time to go.  We’ve read books.  I’ve modeled the behavior for him.  I’ve even introduced technology (I’ll let him watch this clip from Sesame Street on my iPad if he’ll just stay seated!).  When he’s asked where he should go when he feels nature is calling, he’ll give me the correct answer.  In the world of corporate training, this would be enough to earn a certificate of completion for the training program.  But I’m not quite ready to award this little guy a certificate of completion.  Until he acts on this knowledge, all of these tools and technologies and theories alone will not have guaranteed skills transfer.

Feedback and Rewards

After outlining the need for the change, after introducing the theory and modeling the desired behaviors, we have also implemented an incentive system to ensure we celebrate the small victories along the way.  Simple potty success earns a small treat (such as a piece of Halloween candy from what is apparently a magical, bottomless bag of sweets that found its way into our house last October).  Demonstrating success in more complex potty maneuvers earns ice cream.  In order to reinforce these successes, incentives are immediately payable, even if that means ice cream for breakfast.  I do wonder sometimes what will happen when these incentives – new and novel now – are no longer seen as “special”?  What happens when these incentives disappear altogether and it’s simply an expectation to deliver consistently successful results on behaviors that should be part of the everyday routine?

Follow-through and Follow-up

I do want to be sure that my son’s new skill set is used regularly as he prepares for his promotion, which is why I want to be sure that I follow up with his teachers to check in on his progress. The process of change isn’t a straight line, I know there will be some days when these skills aren’t used as well as other days.  I may even need to prepare a refresher training at some point in the near future.  Making sure there is an open line of communication between the trainer, the learner and the day-to-day supervisor (the teachers) is important.  At the end of the day, I’m looking for signs of measurable post-training transfer of skills, things such as the percent decrease in the quantity of changes of clothes that need to be laundered after school each week.

Implications for the Working World

I’m really struck at how many similarities there are between potty training and corporate training – analyzing the gaps, designing the program, evaluating the results.  Yet I’m also struck by the fact that, when I look around, even though it may take a year (or more), potty training is about 100% effective.  How many change initiatives in our work have similar results?  What happens during a major change initiative such as potty training that does not happen when we go about facilitating change in our work lives?

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Case Study: Converting from Classroom-based Training to e-Learning

Putting together an interactive case study for learners followed by an in-depth de-brief is one of the most effective training strategies I know.  But what happens if an experienced facilitator isn’t always available to lead such a session?

Part 1: The Case Study

The Problem

By September 2011, my organization had replaced an old, log book-based “database” with a new IT system across multiple locations.

A tale of two databases

A tale of two databases

While managers complied with the compulsory use of this new IT system, the benefits for individual and organizational performance improvement weren’t readily clear.  I designed a training session (click here to see the actual lesson plan) in which managers would run a report generated from the new IT system and use it as a data point to have a one-on-one conversations with a fictional staff member.  The session required that the participants use critical thinking skills and it required constant feedback from a facilitator throughout the activity.  It led to some significant ah-ha moments for the managers in how they could use the IT system to drive performance.

Unfortunately this training session cannot be repeated every time there is a new manager.  It requires a skilled facilitator and generally works best in a group setting.  I wondered if there was a way to replicate this learning experience via elearning.

The Solution

My organization had worked with an elearning programmer in the past, but we had never done scenario-based elearning.  There would need to be some significant branching, and we didn’t have a big budget.

In the end, the elearning programmer used Captivate to create the branching scenarios and did some custom programming and graphic design as well.  We ended up with a program that not only replicated the learning objectives and real-life challenges of the original instructor-led session, we were also able to offer three scenarios to learners (the instructor-led session only featured one scenario).

Learner is presented with three choices

Learner is presented with three choices

Then the learner can see what an employee "thinks" of the choice

Then the learner can see what an employee “thinks” of the choice

The learner also receives an actual responses from the employee

The learner also receives an actual response from the employee

Finally, the learner receives feedback from a virtual coach

Finally, the learner receives feedback from a virtual coach

The Results

There was a learning curve involved in working on scenario-based elearning which meant development took a little longer than I anticipated.  Additionally, we originally took an “if you build it they will come” attitude, thinking once we announced that this course was available, managers would flock to enroll and complete the course.  We’ve had to re-think the way we marketed the course and are preparing to “re-launch” the course now.

One manager who piloted this elearning module has said it was helpful for her. She would like her supervisory staff to use it.  Once professional development plans (PDPs) are in place for other managers, this course will be recommended for a broader group of learners.

Part 2: What the Experts Say

A Good Beginning… There’s Potential For So Much More

“The simulation-like approach is one of my favorites because it provides a high level of ‘dialogue’ in the learning experience.  By providing a series of questions with three realistic alternatives (and it can be very challenging to write realistic and appropriate questions), learners enter into a dialogue that approximates an actual conversation.  This approach makes the learning more appropriate, more realistic and generally more fun!

It would also be exciting to extend this dialogue-based approach so that it not only included closed-loop communication between the learner and the on-line coach but also if you could introduce opportunities to engage in an open-loop conversation.  This would provide users the opportunity to post comments and exchange observations with other learners.  Open-loop would allow for another level of conversation to take place, increase the level of participation, and extend the learning experience beyond the confines of the e-learning module. Examples of open-loop communications in e-learning can be seen at”

Mike Culligan, Director of Last Mile Learning, LINGOs

Branching Scenarios Are Worth The Extra Effort And ROI!

“Branching, scenario-based learning allows the learner to make mistakes and take risks that might have dire consequences in real life but are safe in a simulated environment.  This allows the learner to practice critical thinking and analysis of a situation that isn’t always ideal, but most likely reflects a real-life situation.  The images of the people with their thoughts and dialogue add in extra clues that a manager, if perceptive, can use to help tailor their response.  Of course, in person, we will not have access to a person’s internal voice, but we can observe body language to give us hints of how they may really feel or what they may be thinking versus what they say to us.  The real-life photos (as opposed to avatars) in this course really helped bring it to life!

Although creating a robust simulation like this takes a knowledgeable SME and a sophisticated ID/ELD, taking ILT material and turning it into WBT is a huge cost savings when your audience is worldwide.  The course will pay for itself in the savings of facilitator/ learner travel, especially if there is high attrition for the role assigned this training.”

Cynthia  Elliot, CEO,  Sage eLearning Group

Did Malcolm Knowles Have It Wrong?

Every once in a while, I’ll look at a post-training evaluation form and see glowing praise for a PowerPoint-based lecture.  Lecture receives a 5 out of 5 on evaluation forms?!  With feedback like that, I sometimes wonder if Malcolm Knowles knew what he was talking about.  Is the effort that goes into interactive, engaging sessions really worthwhile?

The other night, I had a 3-minute interaction with a co-worker that re-affirmed for me that Malcolm Knowles, John Dewey, Jane Vella and the rest of the adult/experiential/dialogue education crowd indeed knew a thing or two about effective educational experiences.

As we were finishing our call, she mentioned that her staff was wondering when I would be returning to facilitate another workshop.  The comment surprised me a bit.  The last time I was in India I had designed the session but it was mostly facilitated by my Indian colleagues in Hindi.  I understood little of the conversations that took place.

“Yeah, well, they want you to come back.  They still remember the towel activity.  It transcended language.”

Several months ago, I had been asked to help put together a teambuilding session for a team in India that was transitioning from a workplace culture that valued individual efforts to our workplace culture which required a substantial degree of teamwork.  We didn’t want to just talk about teamwork but we weren’t going to take everyone out to a ropes course, either.

I worked with my India-based colleagues to design a half-day workshop as a kick-off to a series of monthly sessions we would offer to this new team.  We began with an activity that required smuggling a few towels out of my hotel (the aforementioned “towel activity”).  The team had an hour-long conversation about our mission, vision and core values.  To wrap up, we gave each team member a small stick.  We asked them to break it in half.  Then we asked them to break the two halves in half.  Holding the four quarters of the stick in one hand, the team members could no longer break the sticks.  Four small pieces together were much stronger, less breakable than one individual stick.

It was flattering that they wanted me back, but I asked my co-worker for specific examples of anything that’s changed since this workshop.

“Brian, they communicate now.  They cover for each other.  In the past, if someone was working with a family in the hospital, I wouldn’t know about it for hours… if I ever found out.  Now, if someone is working with a family, someone else gives me a call and a third person sends me a text.  They’re truly working as a team.  And that’s very different.  They put your session into practice.  If it hadn’t been so interactive, I don’t think they’d have remembered.  They still have their sticks!”

Sticks2 Sticks3 Sticks1

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If you think someone else might find this interesting, please pass it along.  If you don’t want to miss a single, brilliant post, be sure to click “Follow” at the top of the page!

5 Ways to Start a Presentation

Who is the first person you look for when you look at a group photo?  Yourself, of course.  You want to see if your hair looks right.  You want to be sure you’re not blinking, there’s nothing in your teeth and that you’re not a victim of red-eye.  If it’s an old photo, you want to be sure you have an excuse for the clothes you were wearing.

Even though my Indian colleagues' clothing is so much more colorful, my eyes still search for myself first in this photo before I look at anything else. It's similar for learners in a training session - they will ask: where am I and how does this training session apply to me?

Even though my Indian colleagues’ clothing is so much more colorful, my eyes still search for myself first in this photo before I look at anything else. It’s similar for learners in a training session, they will ask: where am I in this content and how does this training session apply to me?

Similarly, as soon as you start a presentation, learners try to find themselves in the presentation.  How does this information relate to them?  How will they be able to use this information tomorrow?  While the answers to these questions may seem self-evident to a presenter, the answers are not always that self-evident to the learners.

This is why the start of a presentation should be an attempt to anchor your content to the learners’ own experiences.

You may also find it helpful to do a messy start icebreaker.

How to Start a Presentation

Before you design your next presentation or webinar, here are five ideas to anchor your brilliant ideas, thoughts, and knowledge to your learners’ experiences:

1. Start a Presentation with a Question

Before launching into Malcolm Knowles’ theories on adult learning, it could be helpful to ask your learners to share some of their own best and worst learning experiences.  When a participant volunteers that he appreciated high school science class because he could do lab experiments and it made the learning “real”, it becomes a lot easier for everyone to relate to Knowles’ insistence on ensuring the content is relevant.

2. Lead Your Audience in Guided Imagery or Tell a Brief Story

Several months ago a colleague was asked to deliver a 20-minute presentation to 200 medical professionals in a large conference room on “applying lean management principles to the labeling of vials”.  Instead of immediately starting with the concepts of kaizen and muda, she began by telling about one instance in which vials were mislabeled and the inefficiency and waste that resulted.  Everyone in the room could relate to this brief story, and then my colleague proceeded to explain how lean principles saved time and money in a real-world context.

3. Surprise Participants with a Pop Quiz!

Here is a question I posed to my audience as I began a recent webinar:

Pop Quiz to start a presentation

This quick initial activity helped:

  • break the ice
  • get learners familiar with using some of the web conference tools we’d be using
  • tune each learner into why the presentation that followed would be applicable to each of them, despite the fact that each learner had different development goals

4. Start a Presentation with a Movie Clip

Several years ago I had the opportunity to present at the ASTD TechKnowledge conference with two colleagues.  In order to introduce our topic (“blended learning”), we had prepared a short video.  Throughout the rest of the presentation, we were able to refer back to the video in order to illustrate our points.  Short video or music clips can be an entertaining way to help your learners relate to new, complex or dry material.  Two warnings here: be sure the material is culturally appropriate and be careful about using copyrighted material.

5. Share a Brief Case Study

Jason and Noreece answered the door.  It was their social worker, Kim.  She wasn’t smiling.  “I need to begin by saying you haven’t done anything wrong.  It’s not your fault.  It’s actually my fault, an oversight on my part.  But the fact is that you won’t be able to adopt Charlene after all.  I know you’ve been caring for her for a year and a half and are really the only family she’s ever known.  But there’s something called the Indian Child Welfare Act, and there are some requirements in there that, in this particular case, my department didn’t follow.”  Do you want to know more about this Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) now?  This format is a little more intriguing than starting immediately with the facts about ICWA when it became law and what the various provisions mean in the abstract.  This type of beginning makes the law real.

What techniques are you using to start you presentations? Have any of these techniques to start a presentation worked for you?