What can Learning & Development professionals learn from Coke’s “Share a Coke with ___” Campaign?

On Friday I needed some fresh air, so I got up from my desk and took a walk. I ended up at a drug store. Ok, fine, I confess that in addition to some fresh air, I also needed some candy.

As I stood waiting in line to pay, I walked by the refrigerated beverages and this one caught my eye.


I wasn’t even thirsty, but it resonated with me so I bought it. I was a mascot in college (go Colonials!!) and this little message on this bottle of soda instantly brought me back to the glory days of crowd surfing and getting thousands of people to do the wave during games televised on ESPN.

I wonder what lessons this has for L&D professionals. How can we get people who aren’t even thirsty to buy-in to what we’re selling? Compliance training. Diversity training. New employee orientation.  Continue reading

Presentation Lessons from A Small Town 4th of July Celebration

I spent the Fourth of July on Bainbridge Island, which is a short ferry ride away from Seattle. They do a great job of putting together an event that an entire community can enjoy: a 5k run, kids activities, booths with food and crafts and political parties giving out bumper stickers and funnel cakes (not sure these fall into the “food” category, but they are sooooo good), and of course a parade.

Looking around this year, I noticed some things that really seemed to get people engaged in the activities. Not just attending, but truly engaged! And when I see people who are riveted by what they’re seeing, I begin searching for transferable lessons that can be applied to the presentation world.

Here are three transferable lessons from the 4th of July to which every presenter should take note:

1. From a Punch & Judy Puppet Show: The children’s entertainment this year (a puppet show) was surprisingly entertaining. And the entire crowd – kids and parents alike – was into it. Perhaps they were captivated by the terrible, fake English accent of the puppeteer, but I think it had more to do with the fact that every couple of minutes, the puppets would ask the audience a question. And the audience shouted the answer back, waiting on the edge of their lawn blankets for the next time they’d be asked to participate. Transferrable Lesson: People of every age love to have an opportunity to participate.


2. From the Dunking Booth: Judging by the size of the line – both of participants and spectators – one of the most popular activities was the dunking booth. People paid a couple bucks to throw three baseballs at a target in hopes of dunking somebody in water. And people happily parted with their money in order to try to dunk someone in water. Sometimes when they missed the target on all three of their throws, they’d plunk down a few more bucks to have another opportunity to “win” (hit the target and dunk someone). Transferrable Lesson: People love to play. Find an opportunity for them to play with your content.

3. From the 4th of July Parade: Kids love a parade because they have an opportunity to perform a death-defying scramble onto the parade route, narrowly missing disaster from an oncoming fire truck for a chance to grab a jolly rancher that was thrown by the town’s Citizen of the Year. Adults, well, they may not love the parades so much. Looking around, most adults we chatting with one another, or scooping up their children before their scramble for candy screws up the marching band’s rendition of Louie Louie. Until the Shakespearean actors came marching down the parade route. And one actor shouted: “TO BE OR NOT TO BE…” and then he paused and gestured for the crowd to join him. And everyone yelled in response: “THAT IS THE QUESTION!” I don’t remember how many bands or emergency vehicles or community organizations I saw. But I remember the Shakespearean group. Transferrable Lesson: Give the audience an opportunity to participate. It keeps them awake. And they’ll remember it.

4 Ways Learning Was Made More Exciting and Engaging This Week

Over the next two weeks, my team will deliver approximately 59 presentations. Instead of just churning out boring presentation after boring presentation, my colleagues have come up with some creative ways to keep their learners engaged. Here are four highlights that have emerged from our preparations.

Pop Quiz!

One colleague has been asked to give a series of lectures. Yes, lectures. Those are the cards we’ve been dealt: a series of lectures. His sessions will be in a lecture hall. The agenda says: “Lectures”. So he has to lecture. But it doesn’t mean he has to drone on and bore the audience.

While he won’t have an opportunity to break the audience into small groups or to have them engage in discussion, he has decided to conduct a pop quiz. As he begins his presentation, he’ll be asking the audience to jot down their answers to a series of questions. As his presentation unfolds, they’ll have to remain tuned into his lecture in order to find out if they were right or wrong.

Not Just Fun and Games

Most of our upcoming meetings are not dedicated lectures. When it comes including game elements into the instructional design, there are two presentations that fall into this category.

Mission Possible

02202014 - Mission Possible

One colleague will be attempting to re-energize the audience when it comes to using our Learning Management System (LMS). In an effort to encourage meeting participants to discover the library of resources available through the LMS, this colleague has created a short elearning program challenging participants to collect pieces of a road map. In small groups, participants will work their way through this mission, sampling LMS-based courses in the process.

An Alternative to the Same Old “Action Plan” Activity



Action planning is an essential element for trainers attempting to make sure that the learning goes beyond the training room and makes its way back to the office. Instead of giving participants 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the workshop to fill out an action plan form, I’ve designed a board game that forces participants to think about how my content can be used in their own situations in order to advance toward the finish line. Who wouldn’t want to play a game in which they can compete against other participants (and themselves), they have to work together to complete a quest and, while they’re at it, they jot down reflections on how the content can be applied back home?

The Crystal Ball

Each year, our organization spends some time announcing our plans and new initiatives for the upcoming twelve months, to our meeting attendees. This year, two colleagues reached deep into the right hemispheres of their brains and came up with an idea that meets the excitement and intrigue and mystery of how to announce new initiatives and projects: they will ask a co-worker to dress up as a fortune teller and ask meeting attendees to draw “tarrot cards” to reveal each new initiative. Props. Costumes. Silliness. Informative. And attention-grabbing.

If any of these have elements that seem like they would make your own presentations more interesting, please steal them.

If you know someone who might be able to derive some inspiration from these ideas, pass this link along.

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The Truth About Multi-tasking (spoiler alert: it’s a myth)

“Look, I’m an adult. I’m responsible. I can do two things at once. When I check my email, I’m not being disrespectful toward you. I’m capable of listening to you while I respond to emails I’m receiving on my phone. We’re all grown-ups in this room, I don’t think we need rules about our behavior like we’re in kindergarten.”

A colleague shared these thoughts with our organization while I was leading the opening session of an all-staff meeting several years ago. We were establishing ground rules for the remainder of the day as well as for future all-staff meetings. Several heads nodded.

“Shall I remove ‘No cell phones’ from the list of agreed-upon group norms?” I asked the group.

Several nodded. Most stared at me to see if I had a counter point. I didn’t. All I could do was cross “No cell phones” off the group agreements chart.

I thought of this interaction recently when I read John Medina’s Brain Rules. According to the research cited in his book, the idea of literally multi-tasking – trying to do two things (such as reading email and listening to someone talk) at the same time – is a myth. Someone who is interrupted takes 50% longer to complete a task and makes up to 50% more mistakes. This is why talking and/or texting and driving is such a dangerous proposition. It’s also why the idea that someone can compose an email and absorb your presentation is a losing proposition.

It’s not a matter of “being an adult.” It’s not a matter of “being able to do two things at once.” It’s science.

What’s a Presenter to Do?

You can certainly try to “legislate” behavior through ground rules and setting expectations that everyone agrees to at the beginning of a session. You’ll probably find more success (and everyone will be happier) when you don’t offer the audience an incentive to check their email in the first place.

The more lecture and talking at the group, the most incentive people have to pull out their iPhones to see what’s happening back in their office (or tweet about how they’re bored to tears from your presentation).

The more opportunities the audience has for engagement – individual reflections to a question posed by the presenter, small group discussions, brainstorming, simulations, demonstrations – the less desire to multi-task. In fact, putting people into small groups to discuss or problem solve or create something – a setting in which everyone’s participation is important – makes it darn right rude of them to pull out their smart phone to check their email.

And You?

What do you do to prevent “multi-tasking” from happening during your presentation?

Looking for some ideas to engage your audience, try these posts:

Know someone who still believes in multi-tasking? Pass this along.

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25 Ideas for Engagement in your Next Presentation

In the whole history of the world, there has never been a presenter who has been able to see whether his or her audience knows something, understands something or recognizes something. A piece of friendly advice as you begin mapping out the goal(s) for your next presentation: don’t go into your next presentation wanting your audience to know or understand or recognize something. You’ll never be able to see if you’ve accomplished your goal. It will be very unfulfilling for you.

Of course, you will be able to observe if your audience can describe something. Or create something. Or demonstrate something. Or compare and contrast various somethings. And when you give your audience an opportunity to describe or create or demonstrate or compare and contrast, they not only have to pay attention to what you’re saying, but they have to use what you’re saying to them. Which is an essential component to your audience being able to remember what you’ve said because, as the saying goes, if they don’t use what you’ve said or taught them, they’ll lose it.

Following are 25 suggestions on how to engage your audience. It’s influenced by Bloom’s Taxonomy, but I’ll save you all the technical teacher jargon and I’ll cut right to the ideas and activities that I hope you’ll find useful. I’ve broken this list into two categories: ideas to engage groups in shorter presentations (30 minutes or less) and ideas for longer presentations (an hour or more). I offer this breakdown because I’ve seen many facilitators (and I count myself among them) who routinely try to jam too many things into shorter presentations.

For shorter presentations, allow time for your attendees to:






Ask questions about




Opine about


Explain how the information you shared will impact their job

For longer presentations, challenge your attendees to:






Provide peer feedback

Role play


Write a case study

Solve a problem (preferably a real-life problem)


Play (who doesn’t like a good training board game or card game that aligns with the topic?)


What’s missing from these lists? Is there something you tend to do in order to engage your audience and ensure they “get it”? Add your thoughts to the comments section below.

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9 Strategies to Engage Meeting Attendees

It seems we spend too much of our work lives in meetings. Last week I was in meetings for 27 hours (seriously!). How about you?

If we’re going to spend so much time in these meetings, they may as well be a good use of our time. Recently I had an opportunity to facilitate a 60-minute session about creating more engagement during meetings at global NGO I-TECH during a “Lunch & Learn” event. Following are 9 tips I shared during the session to help facilitate more engaging meetings.

Keeping Structure & Focus

1. Agenda: It may sound basic, but you’d be surprised at how many meetings take place without an agenda. Adding the following items to your meeting agenda will help keep the meeting on topic and on time:

  • Overall purpose/things to be accomplished during the meeting
  • Topics
  • Classification of each topic (information-only item, item for discussion, follow-up item, etc.)
  • Amount of time devoted to each specific topic
  • Person responsible for each topic
  • Specific goal/why are you talking about each topic

2. Rigorous prioritization: Ask yourself if you need to burn valuable meeting time by rattling off a bunch of updates or if you can communicate these updates by some other means (ie: sending out a weekly email with updates). If people really need to know the information in order to do something with it, then send out the information in advance and hold them accountable for knowing the information through a Q&A session during the meeting. Simply bestowing information upon meeting attendees is an invitation for them to check their email or send a tweet that ends in #boredtodeath.

Ensuring People Show Up Prepared

3. Send agenda and expectations in advance: If you want people to show up prepared, you need to give them at least 48 (business) hours’ notice with the meeting agenda and any questions they should come prepared to discuss.

Generating Discussion or Brainstorming

4. Small groups: Share information during your meeting, break into small groups for initial reaction, then have large group report-backs.

5. Large group discussion: Post a discussion question in the front of the room (PPT, flipchart or handout) or using a web conference tool (in the event of a virtual meeting) in order to keep everyone focused on the question at hand.

6. Brainstorming (Part 1): Post flipcharts with various discussion prompts around the room, break into small groups, give groups 2 minutes per station to generate ideas, then rotate to the next flipchart.

7. Brainstorming (Part 2): Give everyone a note card or post-it, ask them to write an idea, then collect cards as they leave the room.

Follow-up Items

8. Timely reminders: Send previous meeting minutes or action items that are coming due in advance with a reminder of expectations and responsibilities.

9. Time limits: Allocate a specific amount of time on the agenda and ensure people responsible for follow-up or action items are aware of the time they will be allotted.

What did I miss? Use the comments section below to let me (and the rest of the world) know if you have a particularly effective idea to engage folks in your meetings.

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When Webinars are Worse than Communism

The old joke about communism was that as long as the bosses pretended to pay people, the people would pretend to work.  In this sense, too many webinars have become worse than communism because nobody even bothers to pretend!  The attendees spend time “multitasking” (checking their email), not pretending to pay attention.  The presenters lecture and click through slides, not pretending to be concerned about their learners’ experience.

Here are 5 tips to engage webinar learners:

  1. Keep the chat box open

Sometimes webinar facilitators don’t bother to use the chat box to ask participants for input.  Sometimes they simply ignore the chat box.  Sometimes they have set the permissions so that participants cannot type into the chat box or see what others have to say.  While the facilitator may be the expert, the facilitator doesn’t hold a monopoly on all knowledge.  Allowing participants to engage in “side conversations” (as long as they are on topic) can be a way to add value and engagement.

  1. Make use of the white board

The white board is the default screen.  If you don’t load up a single slide, you are left to stare at a white board.  You can also turn your slides into a virtual white board for people to provide their own thoughts.  Posting a question or asking people to type their thoughts or experiences right on the main screen is a way to put the learners’ contributions front and center.

  1. Quizzes and polls

Who doesn’t like to see how they’re answers stack up against a bunch of other people?  I’ve seen many facilitators begin their webinars with a quick poll on job titles or years of experience in order to get a feel for the audience.  But why not continue to ask for responses throughout the webinar?  Why not throw out a trivia question related to the webinar in order to transition and introduce a new topic?

  1. Show of hands

Perhaps the easiest way to get people involved is to ask to see a show of hands.  The “raise hand” button – an icon found under the participant list on every web conference service – is simple to find and simple to use.  Facilitators can break up their lecture by simply finishing this sentence: “How many of you have ever…?” It’s quicker than setting up a poll.  And it is a way to check whether the audience is still paying attention.

  1. Breakout rooms

This is the highest risk feature of web conferencing and I’ve never actually participated in a webinar in which a facilitator has broken us up into breakout rooms.  It requires the facilitator to be comfortable with the web conferencing technology, it requires practice to be sure the technology works and that the facilitator knows how to start and stop breakout rooms, it requires that clear instructions be given to participants and it requires trust that participants will engage in conversation without a facilitator monitoring their every move.  I’ve used this feature in webinars and it leads to enormously high levels of interaction and information sharing among participants.

While this blog focuses mainly on training and development, the same degree of disengagement found in webinars can also be found in web-based staff and team meetings.  Many of the above tips can also be used if you’re using web conferencing software to conduct meetings for a geographically dispersed workforce.

Related Post:

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Prepare a Presentation that Captures the Magic of the Tooth Fairy

Do you remember losing your first tooth?  The build-up that came with the first wiggles of your lower incisor. The anticipation that came by placing the tooth under your pillow as you went to bed.  The sheer excitement that came when you woke up to find your tooth had been magically replaced by a quarter (that was the going rate from the tooth fairy that visited my house in the 80s).

How would that experience have been different if your parents had simply barged into your room at 11:00pm, shook you awake, said: “Here kid, here’s a shiny quarter for your tooth,” and then walked right back out of your room?  How would that experience have been different if your parents simply said: “Look, I’m just really busy with work and with my other children and with paying the bills, I don’t have time to prepare a whole show.  Besides, I’m really not that creative of a person.  And to be honest, it’s just so much quicker and easier to simply give my kid what he needs: a quarter.”?

This is the very equivalent of what we’re doing when we don’t block out the time we need to prepare a presentation.  This is the equivalent of what we’re doing when we say: I don’t know much about adult learning theory or instructional design, and besides I just need to tell them what they need to know.  The minute that attitude creeps in, the potential to create a magical learning experience that your audience will be excited to use when they return to their offices simply fades away.

5 Questions to Ask When You Need to Prepare a Presentation

So how can we keep the magic of learning alive?  Here are 5 questions to ask yourself the next time you begin to map out a presentation (or webinar or eLearning module):

1. What is my motivation for presenting?

Here are some answers that should raise red flags:

  • Because I was told I had to present.
  • Because I’ve presented on this topic many times before and I can use my old slides.
  • Because my audience will benefit from my expertise.

Here’s an answer that offers a lot of potential:

  • Because my audience will have increased abilities by the time I’m done with them.

2. What should my audience realistically be able to do differently or better as the result of my presentation?

If you are not looking for some sort of change as a result of your presentation, what are you trying to do?

3. How can I engage and capture my audience’s imagination and get them as excited about my topic as I am?

Hint: Just telling the audience what you think they need to know does not capture their imagination… you’re simply waking them up at 11pm and throwing a quarter at them.

4. Is my presentation designed to bring my audience along with me during the learning process?

Or is it designed to allow my audience an opportunity to check their email?

Consider these two equations when you answer this question:

  • Lecture + Text-heavy PowerPoint Slides using standard templates = Perfect conditions to get caught up on email
  • Storytelling + Simple Visual Aids = I might forget about my email for a while
  • Individual or Small Group Work + A show of hands or Large Group Report-outs = No time for email

5. Am I willing to put in the time and effort (and/or find help) to prepare a presentation that leads to an amazing learning experience?

You don’t have to be the most eloquent speaker to design and deliver a great learning experience. You do have to be willing to prepare a presentation that meets your goals.

Tell us about your rules for preparing a presentation in the comments.

15-minute Training Session Ideas

New hire orientation often consists of a rapid-fire series of lectures by various departments.  But how much do you remember from any of your own new hire orientation experiences?  There are ways to make even short presentations memorable, meaningful, and engaging.

I’ve led several presentation skills workshops recently with people who have been invited to speak in hospitals for 15-20 minutes as part of a new nurse orientation program. 

The Challenges of Short Training Sessions

The challenges raised by my workshop participants included:

  • “We only have 15-20 minutes – maximum – to speak.”
  • “Often we get the slot right before lunch, right after lunch or at the end of the day when they new nurses are mentally done with the day.”
  •  “Though this is ‘new nurse orientation’, there are times when experienced nurses are in attendance because they have transferred to this hospital from a different hospital. And they’re already familiar with the basic content we have to present in these 15 minutes.”

After spending half a day walking through some various concepts from adult learning theory and dialogue education, my workshop participants felt that all of this information made sense… in theory. 

How could it be put to use in a short presentation like a new nurse orientation? 

The best way I knew how to answer this question was by allowing them to experiment with these ideas of adult learning theory.  Workshop participants were given a little over an hour to work in small groups and design a 15-minute presentation that wasn’t lecture-based. 

When they delivered their practice 15-minute presentation, they were evaluated by their peers as well as the lead facilitators using this training observation form.

15-minute Training Session Ideas for Novice Trainers

Here are some of the ways that novice trainers who were newly exposed to adult learning theory designed short, interactive, and meaningful new hire orientation sessions after only an hour of preparation time:

  • One group distributed a set of post-it notes and asked participants to put various steps to a specific process in order. 
  • One group listed a set of seemingly random numbers on a flip chart and asked their participants to see if they could decipher the meaning of those numbers over the course of the presentation. 
  • One group asked newer nurses to simulate a conversation with a patient’s family while they asked more experienced nurses to play the role of patients’ family members (since they’ve had experience in these types of situations before, they could offer realistic patient family responses) – engaging both new and experienced nurses in a meaningful way over the course of 15 minutes. 

Every group came up with creative 15-minute training session ideas and allowed a dialogue to happen.  Not a single group felt the strategy of just telling the audience what they need to know and then to be done with it was a constructive use of their time or their audience’s time.  And the #1 ah-ha moment for attendees that was captured in the post-training feedback form: even short presentations can be engaging, meaningful and memorable.

To see a ton of great ideas ranging from 15-minute training sessions to full days, try a demo or a trial of Soapbox.