What Would You Do If This Happened In Your Training Session?

The clock struck 1:00pm and it was time for my presentation to begin. That’s when the first of four text messages arrived on my phone. All four messages began with the same two words: “Oh no!” My friends and co-workers had heard what was happening in my breakout room and they began to offer their empathy.

As the A/V staff frantically worked on the facility’s new projector system (which worked just fine for the previous presenter), I tried to remain calm and professional on the outside. On the inside, Continue reading

Visual Representations: A New Twist (literally) on the 2×2 Matrix

I’ve heard that in the consulting world, every single problem can be solved with a 2×2 matrix. I’ve seen a lot of 2×2 matrices in my time, and I’ve discovered that the secret is to always be in the upper right quadrant.

2x2 Generic

When it comes to Stephen Covey’s 2×2 time management matrix, make sure you’re spending your time in the upper right quadrant.

2x2 Covey

When it comes to whether you’ll actually do anything with this blog post, I want you to be in the upper right quadrant.

2x2 Skill Transfer

The upper right quadrant is where the two “high’s” intersect: the high on the vertical axis and the high on the horizontal axis.

Sometimes, however, a facilitator will try to persuade me that “no single group in this 2×2 matrix is better than any other group.” On some subconscious level, I always feel the facilitator is lying when I hear that. I’ve simply been trained to accept the upper right quadrant as the optimal state of existence.

Last week, I attended a session on how stakeholder management is integral to change. It was facilitated by Michelle Miller, a designer-turned-organizational development professional. She offered a unique twist on the old 2×2 matrix. Literally. She decided to twist the matrix about 45 degrees, and put it into a circle instead of a square. She wanted to represent that there was a relationship among adjoining quadrants, but that no specific quadrant was superior to any other.

And I believed her.

2x2 Twist

The traditional 2×2 matrix has been touting the upper right quadrant as superior since the first consultant took out a stick and wrote four options in the dirt.

2x2 Cave Man

The next time you want to use a visual representation to illustrate a concept that includes four options, none of which are better than any of the others, don’t confuse your audience by plugging those options into a traditional 2×2 matrix.

Just give it a little twist.

4 Ways to Make Your Next Meeting a Better Use of Everyone’s Time

Have you ever been in a meeting that was simply mind-numbingly boring? Or worse, have you ever led a meeting that you were sure everyone else felt was mind-numbingly boring? Following are four ways to make better use of everyone’s time during your next meeting:

  1. Be sure to have an overall goal (and be sure everyone attending knows that goal). When people attend your meeting(s), they’re taking time out of their schedules (and their lives) to be with you. If your meeting is 60 minutes long, make sure everyone in attendance knows what “success” for your meeting will look like at the end of the 60 minutes you’ve spent together. One example could be: “At 10am, when we walk out the door, we will have identified the primary benefit of our new customer relations software for each division in the company.”

Identifying the overall goal is essential even for regular team meetings, since that primary goal will probably change from week to week. When a primary goal isn’t clearly articulated, everyone is left to assume they know the purpose of the meeting. Is the meeting simply for information sharing (and if so, why is it important that everyone pay attention; what’s the value in sharing the information)? Is the meeting to brainstorm? Is the meeting to prepare for and align on another (bigger, more important) meeting?

  1. Have an agenda. An agenda provides much-needed structure to the meeting. A detailed agenda can lend a helping hand to meeting efficiency by making sure everyone in attendance is clear on what will be covered, who will cover it, how much time will be allocated for each topic and what is expected from everyone else. Click here for a sample. Added bonus: sending your agenda out at least 48 business hours in advance (ie: don’t send it on a Friday and expect people to prepare for a Monday morning meeting) helps all attendees prepare for what will be expected of them and it demonstrates to your attendees that you’ve put some time and thought into the meeting. Click here for a blank meeting agenda template.
  2. Set some M/P/V goals. I was introduced to this concept about a year ago and it has done wonders for how much I can get out of meetings – both 1:1 meetings as well as meetings with small and large groups. M/P/V stands for:
  • Minimum: What’s the very least that should come out of any given meeting topic?
  • Primary: What’s the expected outcome of any given topic?
  • Visionary: If you were given one wish, what would you wish could come from any given topic?

For example, if I’m meeting with a client with whom I haven’t spoken with in quite some time, my M/P/V goal for this meeting might look like this:

  • M: Re-engage with David in order to remind him that we exist and have done some good work together in the past.
  • P: Begin discussions on working with David on a new project at some point in the next six months.
  • V: Sign a new contract to begin working with David on a current project.

M/P/V goals can (and should) also be set for each topic of recurring meetings like team and staff meetings. Perhaps an “M” goal should always be: Ensure my attendees aren’t mind-numbingly bored!

  1. Have a presentation plan for anything that is not merely informational. Your presentation plan may simply be a few bullet-pointed notes on the back of a napkin or, if you really want to be a meeting pro and have a high degree of engagement, you could use a more formal presentation plan (click here for a sample presentation plan).

The key to better engagement during meetings is to be intentional about how you plan to engage your meeting attendees. If you need some help organizing your thoughts, click here for a blank meeting presentation plan template.

Each of these four suggestions take time (some steps take a lot more time than others). Taking some time to be intentional about the way you go about your meetings can make the actual time spent in the meeting more valuable for everyone involved.

Looking for some ideas about what good interaction during a meeting could look like? Try this previous post:

Know of someone else who’d like to get some ideas on how better to use everyone’s time during a meeting? Pass this along!

As for you, if you want access to a steady stream of articles to help improve your presentation skills then you should probably follow this blog.

Flowchart: Is Your PowerPoint Any Good?

Want to deliver a killer presentation? You’re going to need top notch slides to accompany your delivery.

Have you put together a deck of top notch slides? I’ve put together a little flowchart (click here to download a pdf version) to help you check your work.

Is Your PowerPoint Any Good

Is there anything missing from the flowchart? Let me know in the comments section below.

Want some ideas of what an amazing PowerPoint (or Keynote) presentation might look like? You may be interested in these previous posts:

Know of someone else who’s in need of killer PowerPoint design skills? Pass this along!

As for you, if you want access to a steady stream of articles to help improve your presentation skills, be sure to click “Follow”!

8 Ways To Get Your Audience Primed Before Your Presentation Even Begins

When people sit down and wait for your presentation to begin, what do you think is going through their minds? How’d you like to have more control over what they’re thinking about? Following are eight ideas to get your audience thinking about your presentation topic before you even open your mouth.

  1. Music. If intro music is good enough for professional boxers, baseball players and wrestlers, why shouldn’t you have intro music as you take the stage? Even better, put together a playlist that corresponds to the topic of your presentation and have it playing gently in the background as your audience enters the room and gets situated. It’s a nice and subtle way to set the mood and to get people starting to think less about their traffic-filled commute and more about what they’ll be learning.
  2. Trivia. Have you ever gotten to the movie theater early and found yourself competing against your date as to who can answer more of the scrolling movie trivia questions? Setting up a scrolling PowerPoint slideshow with various trivia questions about your topic can get your audience trying to figure out how much they know about your topic before you begin. And it might even pique their curiosity to see if they’ll be able to find out the answers to some of the trivia questions they couldn’t answer.
  3. Photos.  If you have a multi-day presentation, it can be fun to put up a scrolling slide show of pictures from the previous day. People like to see themselves and it can be a good recap of what’s been covered. Click here to see an example of a photo slide show I set to music (using lyrics I created to go with the event). If you’re presenting for only one day (or only one hour), you can put up a scrolling slide show of highlights from past presentations. Unless of course you’re doing a straight lecture and people will just be sitting and listening (or emailing or texting or Facebooking). It might be a good idea to skip this idea.
  4. Promises. Joe Namath promised a Super Bowl victory over Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. Everyone paid attention to see whether he’d deliver. And he did. What can you promise your participants prior to your presentation? Jane McGonigal promised people would live longer through the information (and activities) she’d share in her      presentation (watch the first 30 seconds of her TED Talk to see the promise, watch the rest to see how she delivers). There’s one catch to this: if you promise, you’d better deliver.
  5. Welcome Them. As the audience files in – whether it’s a large group or a handful of people in a conference room – welcome them. Find out what they’re interested to learn more about. If it’s appropriate, refer to your welcoming small talk during your actual presentation and it’ll help your audience feel like they’re so important to you that they “had you at hello”.
  6. Messy Start. I refer to this strategy from time to time. The short version is that you have your audience answer some questions on various flipcharts around the room before they even take their seats. (Click here to read a more detailed description of the messy start.)
  7. Survey. I’ve seen this work in small meetings and at large ASTD conferences. If you have assumptions or hypotheses about the audience or if you want to find out what kinds of experiences they have with your topic, draw up a few flipcharts and give everyone a dot sticker or a marker as they enter in order to vote on the questions you’ve posted. Some examples could include:
  • Which of the following best describes the amount of experience you have with this topic (I’m brand new; 1-2 years; 3-5 years; 6-10 years; I was around when this topic was born)
  • Which of the following best describes what you hope to take away from this session (Soft skills, hard skills, job aids, networking/contact info)
  1. Warm-up Work. As your audience files in and takes their seats, have a crossword puzzle or a word find with vocabulary and concepts you’ll be covering in your presentation waiting for them. It’ll be more fun for them than sitting in awkward silence, waiting for you to wait for the late-coming stragglers to arrive. You can even offer a prize for the first person to complete it – something glitzy like a $5 Starbucks card or something even more glamorous (and free) like a Certificate of Word Find Completion that they can take home, pin up in their cubicle and by which      they can remember your presentation.

Depending on the size of your audience and the amount of time you have to deliver your presentation, some of these ideas may work better than others. Do you have a specific strategy to get your audience thinking about your topic before you take the stage? Drop a line in the comments section.

Know of someone else who’d like to get their audience primed and ready to go before a presentation? Pass this along!

As for you, if you want access to a steady stream of articles to help improve your presentation skills then you should probably follow this blog.

3 Reasons Technical Trainers Should Assign Homework

Our organization is currently introducing a new CRM system to all staff. I appreciate how the project manager has chosen to roll the system out, beginning with the design of the training. Prior to attending the initial training session, staff members must complete a series of “homework” assignments – short assignments intended to introduce us to basic functions. Only once the homework has been completed are staff members allowed to take the more intensive, detailed in-person training session.

Why is this design better than simply holding a 4- or 8-hour in-person training session and getting the whole thing out of the way in one fell swoop? I’ll offer three reasons:

Homework Calibrates Expectations

Sometimes we turn up in the training room and aren’t quite on the same page as the facilitator when it comes to what we expect vs. what the facilitator will be presenting. When a homework assignment has been assigned and completed prior to the in-person training session, we ought to be awfully close to being on the same page as the facilitator.

Homework Primes Learners’ Brains

At my organization, our schedules are so jam-packed that we often have no idea what our next meeting will be about, let alone what that mandatory training session is about that popped up on our calendars. And when this happens, it takes us a few minutes (or maybe hours) to warm up to the content being presented. When we enter the training room having completed pre-work assignments, we should know exactly what topic we’ll be covering, and we may even show up with some specific questions or ideas about what specifically we need to take away before the training session ends.

Homework Turns The Training Into A Process As Opposed To An Event

One-time training sessions just aren’t as memorable or as sticky as training programs that have various touch points with the learners. Homework or pre-work followed by in-person training where questions can be asked and answered followed by specific action steps make up a process that guides learners through independent practice, real-time learning support and multiple touch points.

I won’t lie to you. As a learner, I find the idea of pre-work or homework amidst the 97,835 other things I need to do to be a pain in the butt. But, as a learner, I also find the practice of completing pre-work in advance of an in-person session is an incredibly powerful and effective way to learn and retain information about using a new software system.

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”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.

Creating An Amazing PowerPoint Presentation In Two Steps

Lately, I’ve been obsessed by creating an amazing visual experience in addition to a well-delivered presentation.  As I perused Slideshare this weekend, I stopped at Bruce Kasanoff’s slide deck on how to nail the first 60 seconds of your presentation.


Here are two simple things that make this a great presentation:

  1. Eschews standard templates for powerful images. Not a single slide uses a template nor does he plaster his company’s logo all over these slides. Almost every slide has a full-slide image related to the content on the slide. Except for slide #16 – he chose to use only text in order to get his point across.

Implications for the novice graphic designer: When you open PowerPoint, don’t bother with the standard templates. Use an image that fits the context of your slide as your background template.

  1. Make text readable. On slides 5, 12 and 15, he had to add a text box with a background around his text in order to be able to read the words.

Implications for the novice graphic designer: Once you have chosen the background images that fit the context of your slides, you may have to do a little extra work to make sure your text is legible and does not blend in to the background of the slide.  Sometimes you can simply vary the color of your text (using a yellow font instead of a black font on a slide with a dark background will often work).  But sometimes you won’t be able to find a color that will stand out from your background and you’ll need to fill in the color of the text box shape behind your text (examples of this are on slides 5 and 12, while on slide 15 he just used a black rectangle across the width of the slide to provide a contrasting background for his font).

If you’re looking for additional examples of great PowerPoint presentations, you may find these prior blog posts to be helpful:

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”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.

Are You A Racist? When It Comes To Training, Words Matter.

I was participating in a session on coaching last week when an argument erupted.

The facilitator suggested that a continuum exists in which consulting lies at one extreme and coaching lies at the opposite end.  Once we got into a demonstration of what coaching looked like, one participant (with a consulting background) observed that the coaching demonstration – in which the coach asked a lot of questions in order to better understand some of the root causes – looked exactly like consulting. Others insisted that consulting is just another word for being directive and having all the answers while coaching is a process to help others find their own answers. We were using the same words in fundamentally different ways.

I’ve seen these arguments before, perhaps most dramatically in a training course focused on diversity. Some people used words such as discrimination and prejudice and racism interchangeably, while others felt these words were quite distinct. Tensions rose quickly, feelings were hurt and discussions quickly got out of control.

Conversations can’t be constructive when people are left to assume that everyone uses the same definition of key terms and concepts.  Over the course of today, several hundred people will read this post. If every reader was to write the definition of the word “racism” in the comment section below, we could easily collect more than a hundred different definitions.

Diversity of thought and experience can lead to some great conversation, but only if everyone agrees to use key words and concepts in the same way. We can only have a constructive conversation around things like coaching vs. consulting or how to “undo” racism if everyone in the training room first agrees with how the words will be used.

Definitions of key words or concepts within the training setting may not be the exact way that participants would use these terms outside of the training room, but it is absolutely crucial that everyone agree on how key words and concepts will be used during the training. I remember sitting through a training course when the definition of racism was reduced to a mathematical equation: racial prejudice + systemic power = racism (therefore all white people are racist and people of color cannot be racist).  I completely disagreed with the parenthetical conclusion that seemed to be attached to this definition, but at least I could participate in the conversation because I understood how the word “racism” was being used.

Spending some time in the beginning of a training session to establish definitions for key concepts can help avoid arguments that otherwise would arise when people use the same word to mean different things. Establishing a common vocabulary from the beginning is an essential job duty for anyone who has been given the responsibility to facilitate a conversation.

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”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.

Death of an Avocado Tree

Have you ever been frustrated when a great idea of yours fizzled?  In hindsight, do you think it was missing any of the keys to successful change (listed below)?

The Avocado Tree

Last October my mother-in-law and my 5-year-old daughter got very excited about a science experiment.  They put an avocado pit into a cup of water and then observed what happened next.  My daughter was fascinated by the idea of a tree sprouting out of the ping pong ball-sized pit that came out of the middle of an avocado.

My mother-in-law eventually went home, but we continued to see changes occur. Little by little, the pit cracked open and a new plant began to emerge.  After several months, we transferred the growing plant from its original home in a cup of water to a pot filled with dirt.

At first, we watered it regularly.  Leaves began to grow out of the stem.

Then other things came up. The end of the school year. Camping trips. Vacation.

Interest in the avocado plant waned. Remembering to move it to a spot so that the sun didn’t scorch it as the summer took hold and remembering to water it regularly just wasn’t as interesting as other, newer stuff in our lives.

Less than a year later, this…

Avocado Plant (Alive)

…turned into this…

Avocado Plant (Dead)

This weekend I walked by the dead stick, and three thoughts struck me:

  1. If this is how we care for new little living things, we’re definitely not ready for a puppy!
  2. There’s no doubt in my mind that if my mother-in-law lived closer, this plant would still be alive.
  3. This is an incredible metaphor for way too many new initiatives at work.

Translating the Metaphor

How could this avocado plant have eventually flourished and survived long enough to become a tree?  Its best hope would have been for our family to have treated this like any other change initiative.

In his book The Heart of Change (and in pretty much any other book he’s written), John Kotter outlines 8 keys to successful change initiatives:

  1. Increase urgency: With so many other distractions, allocating time on the avocado plant wasn’t really a priority for anyone.  And once we transplanted it into a pot with soil and had to water it, nobody had a sense of urgency about keeping up with it.  Which is similar to that new, shiny online training academy; with all the day-to-day work to be done, does anyone really have time to keep signing up for courses and completing them?
  2. Build the guiding team: Once my mother-in-law left, nobody was really in charge of continuing to labor over the plant.  If a change initiative depends wholly on one person, it may never grow to maturity.
  3. Get the vision right: Was this a one-time science experiment? Or did we really want to grow a tree? And was that training on the new performance management system a one-time event?  Or were people expected to actually do      something with it when they left the training room?
  4. Communicate for buy-in: Most everyone in our house thought the experiment was neat… and as long as someone else took care of it, it might make a fine tree someday. It may have been helpful if the ultimate vision was shared and if expectations around workload had been agreed upon.
  5. Empower action: My mother-in-law initiated the project.  I watered it for a while.  But my daughter – who was clearly enthusiastic about the project – was never included in the caretaking of the plant.  When there are willing      supporters, they should be involved and empowered to take control.
  6. Create short-term wins:  It was fun and exciting to see a stem sprout from the seed.  And then to see leaves sprout from the stem.  But then new developments took longer and there was no more excitement.  Would this thing ever      turn into an actual tree?! And while we’re speaking of short-term wins, who cares if I complete one course or seven courses or thirty courses in that new elearning system?  When can I finish my learning and just be good enough?
  7. Don’t let up: Yeah, watering the plant should have been routine.  But we stopped.  And it died.  Perhaps if we had someone reminding us on a daily basis or sending us a watering schedule, even if from afar, it would still be alive today.
  8. Make change stick: Ultimately, John Kotter suggests the true sign of successful change is when it becomes part of the daily routine.  Our poor little avocado plant, like so many other ideas that were once new and exciting, never made it that far.

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”!  And now you can find sporadic, 140-character messages from me on Twitter @flipchartguy.