The Only Thing Missing from Your Next Presentation

Last weekend, my son had a birthday party. He invited a bunch of friends from his pre-school. One child’s mother apologized for not being able to bring a gift. She had just replaced the engine on her car. The fact she brought her son was the perfect gift for us, after all he is one of our son’s best friends.

When she arrived, she insisted on emptying out her wallet and giving our son everything she had left. Two dollars.

What would have happened if I had told her “no, don’t do that”? Kind of a dick move, right?

I walk into too many presentations – whether in training sessions or simply in staff meetings – and I’ll see a bunch of smart people who are willing to contribute their thoughts or talents or expertise. And I see too many presenters who – intentionally or unintentionally – say: “No, don’t do that.”

Are you offering an opportunity for your audience to share their thoughts, their experiences, their talents, their gifts with everyone else? I’m not just talking about leaving five minutes at the end to ask if anyone has any questions or comments. I’m not talking about bribing participants with chocolate or prizes to contribute their thoughts. I’m talking about intentional design that invites participation and quality contributions.

A number of years ago, I was kicking off a training and we were establishing ground rules and one person offered the following ground rule: “The only thing that’s missing from this training is what I don’t bring.” His point being: if you have a thought or a question or an answer to someone else’s question and you don’t share it with the group, then we’re all missing out.

Without intentionally designing opportunities for participation and engagement from your audience, you may as well tell them: “No, don’t do that.”

Need some ideas on how to engage your audience? Try these posts:

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Are You Trying To Turn Your Learners Into Foie Gras?

In his book Brain Rules, John Medina describes how foie gras is made:

“Using fairly vigorous strokes with a pole, farmers literally stuffed food down the throats of [geese]. When a goose wanted to regurgitate, a brass ring was fastened around its throat, trapping the food inside the digestive track. Jammed over and over again, such nutrient oversupply eventually created a stuffed liver, pleasing to chefs around the world.  Of course, it did nothing for the nourishment of the geese, who were sacrificed in the name of expediency.”

I doubt anyone wakes up on the morning of their presentation, looks at themselves in the mirror, and thinks to themselves: “I want to jam as much nutrient-rich information as I can down the throats of my audience today, and when they seem like they’re going to regurgitate, I’m going to jam more information down their throats.”  But it’s often what we end up doing as presenters.

And the less time we have to present, it seems the more intent we are to jam even more information down our learners’ poor throats.  We know we only have one shot to make an impression, and we know our topic is the most important thing in the world.

The problem with jamming lots of information into a presentation is that it simply makes our learners want to vomit.  So what’s the trick?  How do we make an impression without making our audience want to vomit?

The following video is the best presentation I’ve seen on the topic (thank you to Alex Rister for pointing it out in an earlier blog post) – if you have 15 minutes and/or if you’re interested in learning more about how to make your point without overwhelming (or boring) your audience, you must check it out.

New York City has outlawed foie gras.  As trainers or learning and development professionals or simply as people who are asked to put together a presentation, it’s probably about time we stop trying to turn our learners into foie gras.

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Training for English as a Second Language Audiences

Last July, I handed over the keys (so to speak) of a brand new, 8-day training curriculum to a set of trainers in India.  I was confident the training program was well-designed.  But I hadn’t actually seen it in action until this week.

During the first hour, I began to grow concerned.  The facilitator was following the instructions just fine, but there wasn’t much audience participation.  Doubts about the design began to creep into my head.  Was the content not relevant?  Were the lessons not interesting?

Looking over the audience, we had attendees from India, Ethiopia and Nepal – not a single native English speaker among them.  I started to wonder if they just didn’t understand what the facilitator was talking about.

Then came an activity in which they were asked to put some concepts in order.  They did it fairly easily.

Next was a short role play.  They seemed to be applying the concepts that had been taught just fine.

If this was a more traditional lecture, the truth is they would not have learned anything.  The only way I could see if the training program was making any sense to these English as a Second (or Third) Language learners was by seeing them do the activities.

Good instructional design and incorporating sound adult learning principles is key to creating engaging learning experiences for audiences of native speakers.  But when it comes to working with learners from a variety of backgrounds and overcoming language barriers, then building opportunities for learn-by-doing and challenging learners to apply what they’ve learned is a must.

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.

“Why are people checking their email when they should be paying attention to my webinar?!”

Even though web conference technologies have offered learning professionals unprecedented opportunity to spread their content around the world, more often than not it seems attendees spend more time on their email than listening to the presenter.  Such “multi-tasking” isn’t a necessary evil, but more likely the function of presenters who feel handcuffed by the online, distance-based format.  How do you truly engage people when you’re limited to a PowerPoint presentation and can’t even see the people you’re training?

A few small changes in the planning and preparation by presenters can transform the attendee experience from that of a passive receiver of information to an active co-creator of the learning experience.  The more opportunities you offer for participants to engage with you, the less opportunity the participants will have to “multi-task”.

Before you can engage with participants and offer your undivided attention, you’ll need to be sure to get some administrative details squared away. 

  • Have a co-pilot: Finding a partner to handle technical issues and questions that webinar attendees have on the day of the presentation will free your energy and attention to be 100% focused on the delivery of the webinar.
  • Limit to 60(ish) minutes: Regardless of how engaging you make the webinar, the fact is that attendees are joining you from the comfort of their own desks.  Anything over 60 minutes will all but guarantee that participants will no longer be able to hold off their temptation to check their email or begin working on a report that’s due tomorrow.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Be sure you’re familiar with both the technology and the way in which you want to deliver the content.  Have a few co-workers serve as a rehearsal audience and have them try to think of questions that real participants may ask.

Now that the administrative details have been taken care of, following are several strategies to engage webinar audiences depending on your level of comfort and tolerance for risk:

  • Risk Tolerance: Just about everything stays in your control

All web conferencing platforms allow you to set up polls and survey your participants.  This can be used as an icebreaker (“how many people are from the east coast, west coast, how many individual contributors are on the webinar, how many managers”, etc) at the beginning and/or can be interspersed throughout the lesson to check in with participants (“before I go any further, how many of you would take x action in this case, how many of you would take y action in this case”, etc).  Be sure to have polling questions prepared prior to the webinar, let participants know how much time they will have to respond and verbally announce the results (sometimes technology gets screwy and participants can’t see the percentage breakdowns of poll responses). A quick way to take a poll of your participants without setting up a survey is to pose a question and ask participants to use the raise hand function.

  • Risk Tolerance: Able to screen comments before acknowledging them

All web conferencing platforms also have a chat box that can be used in several ways.  First, invite participants to type their questions as they arise into the chat box.  You may wish to answer these questions as they arise – though this can disrupt your rhythm – or you may wish to plan for several points to pause and answer clusters of questions.  You can also pose questions to your participants and ask them to type their answers into the chat box.  This allows all of your attendees to participate at the same time.

  • Risk Tolerance: Something silly might be said, but you can always mute them

Many presenters prefer to place all participants on mute as soon as they join a webinar.  This automatically eliminates background noises (especially for participants who call-in and use the speaker phone feature).  Posing a question to participants and inviting them to offer verbal responses (whether calling in or using VOIP) enables more of a give-and-take exchange and allows participants to expand upon their ideas.  Two downsides to this approach include the fact that only a limited number of participants can offer verbal comments (not everyone can talk at once) and participants can occasionally be somewhat verbose or off-topic.

  • Risk Tolerance: If the technology fails, the show can still go on

Facilitators in webinar settings can imitate classroom-based flipcharting by inviting participants to use the white board feature.  Facilitators can place a title or subject on the white board and invite participants to brainstorm and freely type ideas onto the screen.  These white board screens can be saved and typed up later or simply sent out to participants as a pdf file.

  • Risk Tolerance: High risk, high reward

The ultimate way to engage everyone in a classroom setting is to break them up into small groups.  Almost every web conferencing platform I have used now offers a breakout room feature whereby you can assign participants to small groups.  This can be a bit complex so you must practice this feature with some co-workers before you decide to use breakout rooms in a live webinar.  On the day of the webinar, you’ll also want to provide clear directions for how breakout rooms work (perhaps by sending a handout via email prior to the webinar).  This is a feature that most webinar participants are not accustomed to and will need some help with initially.  Just as a facilitator will float from small group to small group to clear up any questions in a classroom setting, a webinar facilitator will need to “drop in” on each breakout room (and/or have several co-facilitators who can also drop in on breakout rooms) in order to clear up questions and ensure people are having small group discussions.  Participants in small groups and breakout rooms are generally way too engaged to be bothered with their email.

Webinars remain a tricky format to draw out participation and engage attendees.  Good design (and some pre-webinar practice) can quickly connect learners with the content, the facilitator and each other in an extremely engaging learning experience.

Have other ideas on engaging webinar participants?  The comment section is all yours!

15-minute Presentations Don’t Have To Be 100% Lecture

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 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.  But 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 observation form.

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 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.

“Why do you hate PowerPoint?”

Actually, PowerPoint can be a very helpful tool.  What I hate is when people consider PowerPoint to be their presentation.  This was the point I was trying to make in a recent all-day facilitator skills training session that I intentionally designed without using a single PowerPoint slide.  At the end of the day, a participant raised her hand and said:

“PowerPoint brings a degree of technology to the training room and it also offers a more professional look than flipcharts.  I don’t have the time or the artistic ability to draw attractive visual aids that adorn the classroom.  And PowerPoint is the only way to go when it comes to webinars.  So, Brian, why do you hate PowerPoint so much?”

As proof that I don’t hate PowerPoint, at the end of this article I will offer three reasons why PowerPoint should be used by trainers and facilitators.  First, let me offer the top three ways I’ve observed PowerPoint being mis-used, even abused, by many presenters.

Top 3 PowerPoint Abuses:

  1. PowerPoint becomes the presentation.  This is perhaps the most common abuse.  I also find this to be the most disrespectful gesture a presenter can make toward audience members and learners.  In this abuse, everything a presenter has to say (statistics, key points, data) is squeezed into a series of slides.  The presenter reads the slides to the audience.  Sometimes, in an effort to lay a claim to “interactivity”, the presenter then asks if there are any questions before concluding the presentation.  While a presenter may spend considerable time preparing a slide deck, this method is really all about the presenter and what he knows.  There is no way to tell whether or not the audience will actually take anything away from this type of presentation.
  2. Clicking past important information.  This is an extension of Abuse #1 and occurs when a presenter assumes that because something (statistics, data, key points) was displayed on a slide people will remember it.  The fact is that once a new slide is displayed on the projection screen, the old information from the previous slide is gone and generally forgotten.  Handouts can help mitigate this.  Flipcharts or posters around the room can help ensure important information will be displayed throughout the duration of the presentation.
  3. Standard templates and clipart. When PowerPoint first came out, it was novel and interesting.  Now too many presentations look the same.  And not in a good way.  Some effort and creativity in designing the slides can really help to hold the audience’s attention.  Click here for an example of a stellar PowerPoint presentation.  Click here to see how one of the most powerful speeches in American history (The Gettysburg Address) could have been rendered completely forgettable if Abraham Lincoln had relied on PowerPoint (and its standard templates and features). 

All this having been said, here are the top 3 reasons PowerPoint should continue to be used in presentations:

  1. As a co-facilitator.  Maverick had Goose.  Abbott had Costello.  And if you’re presenting on your own, your wingman can be PowerPoint.  If you don’t have time for audience questions (or if you have a quiet audience who won’t ask questions), you can insert a well-timed slide posing a question for you to answer and turn the presentation into an interaction between you and the projection screen.  I’ve also seen what could have been very dry presentations (and presenters) engage their audience through unexpected (and often humorous) images or text at well-placed points in a presentation.
  2. Respecting the visual learners.  If you’re a presenter, you are probably aware of the various ways learners process information (auditory, visual, kinesthetic).  PowerPoint can help your audience process information through images and screen shots.  The visual cues you embed into the PowerPoint presentation is also a facilitator tool to keep everyone on the same page of the topic at hand. 
  3. Use of advanced features. Some facilitators use games to review information and check if their learners have “gotten it”.  There are a number of game templates available through PowerPoint.  Recently, I combined screen shots with hyperlinks and action buttons to demonstrate a new elearning program I was rolling out to an audience when I didn’t have a reliable internet connection in the meeting room.  Hyperlinks and action buttons are also ways to encourage audience interaction and to make a PowerPoint presentation more dynamic compared to more traditional, linear PowerPoint presentations.

I don’t hate PowerPoint.  But I do think some additional planning, preparation and creativity can transform a sleep-inducing presentation into an amazing learning experience for both the audience and the presenter.

Sugar? Spice? Everything Nice? What Are The 5 Most Fundamental Ingredients For An Effective Trainer?

This week, I’ve been in India working with a training colleague in preparation to roll out a new curriculum.  This colleague is a novice trainer and her supervisor doesn’t have any training background.  But the quality and effectiveness of the work of this colleague will have significant impact on the work of our entire global mission, and therefore it’s vital that she blossoms into a high quality training professional.

In order to focus our efforts to develop this colleague professionally, I developed a competency rubric by which we can rate her current level of training proficiency, create a development plan with several specific goals based on her needs, then work toward those goals.

To create this rubric, I wanted to capture the essence of what I feel are the top five most basic, fundamental, foundational competencies for anyone who trains.  The five competencies I included in this rubric (which can be downloaded by clicking here) are:

  1. Presentation Skills
  2. Creativity
  3. Body Language
  4. Adult Learning Principles
  5. Subject Matter Expertise (if you download the rubric, you’ll see that this section is customized to the specific industry I’m working in – eye banking)

Getting Started

This is not a scientifically-developed list.  It’s not intended to be.  There are a lot of factors that will impact any facilitator’s ability to be effective (experience level, trainees’ supervisor support, policies/procedures in place that allow trainees to implement new skills and abilities when they return to their jobs after training, etc.).  This list of factors can indeed be overwhelming, especially for someone new to the learning and development profession. 

This list is simply intended to get a novice trainer focused on some of the key elements within their circle of influence (to borrow a term from Stephen Covey).  It is a tool to establish a baseline of current skills, abilities, knowledge and behaviors.  It is a tool I plan to use to identify performance gaps and establish specific goals.

What Do You Think?

If you find this rubric to be helpful in assessing your own current set of training skills and abilities, please use it… and then tell me how it works for you.  If you feel there are more important, more basic, more foundational skills that trainers (especially novice trainers) should be focused on, I invite you to share those ideas in the comments section below.