Case Study: The Power of Rehearsal

Last week I had an opportunity to facilitate a session at the LINGOs annual member meeting. After the presentation, my co-facilitator, Shannon Cavallari from PATH, shared her observations about what helped her most in the days leading up to our presentation. Following are her reflections, written immediately after our presentation:

It’s a wonderful feeling; this mixture of excitement, nervousness, and RELIEF because I had prepared. I had a plan A and a plan B should it not unfold in the way I hoped it would.

I’m a learning and development professional, but my skill set lies more on the learning technologies side. Basically, I do put together elearning programs and projects. Rarely do I get invited to stand in front of a group with the intent to inspire, teach or change behavior.

The Preparation

With my Lesson Plan template in hand, Brian and I started mapping out the presentation.

Objectives identified? CHECK.

Activities designed? CHECK.

Engagement with the participants? CHECK.

Opportunities for questions and lessons learned? CHECK.

The Lesson Plan allowed me to think through and assign specific blocks of time to each of these steps, from the start of the presentation to the finish.

Then we did a dry-run and more light-bulbs went off. This step – the dressed rehearsal – is such a crucial step in preparing for a presentation and yet most of us skip it or don’t give it the attention it deserves. In my dry-run, I practiced what I would say AND I practiced where I would stand, and it revealed questions I would need to ask my co-facilitator along way. The Lesson Plan allowed me to capture these questions and my thoughts on the “choreography” for each section of my presentation. I felt more at ease; I felt prepared.

I reviewed my lesson plan the evening before and the morning of our presentation. “I got this,” I thought. Then, of course, came the need for Plan B.

The Presentation

The audio failed on our computer and we were unable to use a video we wanted; we had planned for this to be integral to our initial 8-minute introduction to the session. But that was ok, because we had rehearsed with a Plan B in the event we might experience such a technical difficulty. I learned how essential it is to assume things can and will go wrong and think through ways to mitigate such unfortunate circumstances.

Through some anecdotal feedback at the end of our session, our participants claimed that they got what they came for. We delivered on the objectives we identified and they were happy and engaged.

Regardless if being a trainer is your full-time gig or if you’re a subject matter expert sharing your vast knowledge, I can say with certainty that it pays to practice. Not only did such preparation create a better experience for our learners, but it also put my own mind at ease. I was a better presenter because of the process.

What do you do to prepare for a presentation? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Facilitation Lessons from a Drum Circle

Drum Circle

In the summer of 2001, I was introduced to the concept of a drum circle. As I reflect on that experience, I realize it exposed me to three key elements of effective meeting facilitation.

I was visiting my friend’s mother, Susan Bauz, at her home in Newport News, VA. All afternoon, people were talking about going to a drum circle. They weren’t sure if I’d enjoy it. They gave me the opportunity to stay home. I had no idea what a drum circle was or why they thought I wouldn’t like it, but I insisted that I’d like to go.

I thought it would be a performance where I could sit and passively listen. I had no idea that it was a participatory activity.

Everyone present was given their choice of percussion instrument and we were welcome to exchange our instruments at any time. Then someone said “go” and the drum circle was off and running. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was quite sure that I didn’t like this at all. There were no instructions. There was no structure. Just people beating drums.

I sat for 30 minutes, beating the same staccato cadence from the minute it began to the minute it ended. There was a moment, about halfway through our session, in which another drummer found my cadence and repeated it. Eventually everyone was repeating my cadence.

Ha! I thought. I’m doing it right! They’re all following me. Finally!

And then as quickly as they found my cadence, they moved on to their own beats once again.

Lessons for Facilitators

A drum circle, like meeting facilitation, involves a lot of improv. To be sure, meeting facilitation will often have objectives, maybe even a lesson plan and some structure, but in the end, skilled facilitators are willing to move away from their planned lessons depending on the needs of their audience.

I’ve been told that there are 3 rules to improv:

  1. Listen
  2. The answer is always “yes”
  3. Make the other person look good

Can you imagine the consequences if we violated any or all of these rules as we facilitated a meeting? What happens when we don’t listen to our audience? What happens when a participant asks a question and our immediate response is “No!” or “That’s wrong!”? What happens when we don’t attempt to make our co-facilitators or our attendees look good?

In the drum circle, there was one brief instance in which my fellow drum circlers humored me and marched to the beat of my drum. And I felt like I was a part of something. For a brief moment, this was fun!

But I never gave anything back in return. I kept to my own beat.

I violated all three rules of improv and this turned out not to be a great experience for me. I’d like to think I’ve learned from that experience and am able to better adhere to these rules when I facilitate in order to create an amazing experience for my audience and my co-facilitator(s).

As for Susan Bauz, the one who introduced me to this whole drum circle business? She passed away this weekend. I’ll be forever grateful to her for inviting me to come out of my comfort zone in order to get a life lesson in improv.

Labor Day is a Good Reminder for Training Professionals to Work Less

Sometimes it seems we training professionals work too hard. As we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, this is a simple reminder for anyone in the training field that we don’t have to work so hard!

I was on vacation last week and spent some time at the beach with my kids. At one point, they asked to learn how to skip stones on the water. I had a decision to make: what would be the best way to train them to skip stones?

My first instinct was to pull out my computer (yes, I even bring it to the beach in case I get a good idea for a blog post) and develop a quick PowerPoint presentation. It only took 45 minutes or so to do a little research on stone skipping and I threw together this presentation for them:

 

They were intrigued by this presentation at first, but quickly lost interest. And when they actually found a few round(ish), flat(ish) stones and tossed them in the water, the stones did not skip.

And then their grandfather came along, helped the kids pick out some good skipping stones, and spent about 3 minutes working with them on their throwing motion. My four year old tossed a stone that skipped 7 times.

Skipping Stones 1

So, to recap:

  • I spent an hour putting together a PowerPoint deck at the beach and then presenting to my children on what stone skipping was, a brief history, reasons to do it and how to do it. It resulted in 0 skipped stones.
  • My father spent three minutes working with the children on how to skip stones. It resulted in countless skipped stones (and even more laughs and smiles and ooo’s and aaah’s).

If someone needs to learn a new skill, perhaps we don’t always need to spend so much time preparing presentations and materials. Sometimes there might be an easier, more effective, less time consuming way to train.

Happy Labor Day!

My Mid-year Resolution: Using What I’ve Learned

Thinking about all the stuff you’ve learned – in formal workshops, conferences, meetings, webinars, classes – or perhaps things you’ve read or re-tweeted or blogged about, is there some concept or tool or idea or theory you plan to re-visit and make an effort to incorporate into your daily routine? Even if it was something you picked up a year ago, it’s not too late to re-visit!

In my June 5 blog post, I declared that I would review my notes from presentations and the highlighted parts of books I’ve read and I would return to this space to turn some of the things I’ve learned over the past year into specific actions and habits.

Since the beginning of 2013, I’ve spent more than 60 hours in formal professional development sessions – conferences, webinars, day-long or half-day workshops. I’ve read some or all of 15 books to improve my knowledge base and performance. I’ve read countless blog posts, twitter links and had many conversations with other people in the L&D field. I’ve written over 160 blog posts. I’ve ate, breathed and lived L&D.

I have a lot of notes from all of these experiences. A LOT. While reviewing these notes has given me many, many ideas and reminded me of many cool things I’d like to try on Monday morning when I get to the office, I can’t do everything at once. Between now and the end of the year, I will try to up my game in many areas, but there are two specific things I plan to focus on and incorporate into my personal and professional life as much as possible:

  1. Kegan & Lahey’s Immunity Map. This was first introduced to me during my master’s program in an organizational development class. It is a tool based upon Kegan & Lahey’s change management work and I was reminded of this concept and tool during a recent Immunity to Change workshop I attended.
  2. Using variables in Articulate Storyline. I am truly a sucker for any blog post from Tom Kuhlman or Mike Taylor or David Anderson or Nicole Legault or anyone else related to Articulate. They have lots of tips and tricks and I’ve tried some of them out – sometimes the tips make my elearning projects better. Sometimes I don’t seem to do it correctly and I screw up the whole module. Regardless, one thing that continues to lack in my elearning is the use of variables in allowing learners to lock or unlock various elements on the screen before they can proceed to the next item. Before I learn any more tips or tricks with Storyline, I commit to learning how to better use variables in order to make the learner experience better or more challenging (or both).

Please forgive me if you see fewer tweets or re-tweets or comments about new things I’m reading over the next few weeks and months. I’ll be focused on bringing some specific new skills and habits into my daily routine.

Train Like A Champion will not have its usual Thursday post this week. I’ll be immunity mapping or learning how to use variables (or maybe I’ll just be getting ready for the 4th of July). We’ll see you back here on Monday, July 7.

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.

Hello. My name is Brian, and I’m a training snob.

It’s been three days since I last shared a snarky comment about something training-related. I don’t know if I can go three more days. I suppose I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.

I realize now that training snobbery is a sickness. It took hold of me. I got so passionate about theory or the way I was taught to do something, or maybe the latest cool trick or hack. And nothing else in the world seemed to matter.

I still remember the last time I fell off The Wagon. It was last Friday. In the lunchroom at work. I didn’t have snarky thoughts once… I had them… twice. I’m so sorry.

The first time, I had just put my leftover pasta in the microwave and I was waiting for it to cook. Something caught my eye. It didn’t just catch my eye. It caught me.

A pack of markers. Just sitting on the counter. Generic, Office Depot-brand flipchart markers. I thought to myself: “Who in the world would buy these?! And, good Lord, why?! These aren’t Mr. Sketch. They don’t have hypnotic fragrances like grape or cinnamon. They probably don’t even write very well on paper!”

And then… oh God. I’m so sorry. And then I opened the pack of markers. And I took the cap off the blue marker. As I suspected, it did not smell like blueberries. But it didn’t stink, either. And when I wrote on a piece of paper, it made marks. It was like I had been punched in the stomach. Maybe something that’s not Mr. Sketch can still be effective. My world was shaken.

Then the microwave beeped, snapping me out of this momentary existential crisis.

A co-worker passed by with his dirty dishes. “You all right man? You don’t look so well.” I think I may have turned a bit ashen. I was definitely perspiring.

I grabbed my re-heated pasta and sat at a table, alone. Except for my old friend, a copy of T+D magazine. Any time I really need to feel good about myself, I pull out a copy of T+D and read an article and shout: “I already know that! You’re not teaching me anything new!!” It makes me feel superior.

I was feeling a bit vulnerable at the moment, so I opened that magazine and found the weakest target I could find: Re-visiting the Lecture by James J. Goldsmith. Who advocates for lecture?! I just needed to hold my nose, read this article, and then all the self-aggrandizing, superior thoughts would flow.

I finished the article. Then blackness.

When I came to, I was surrounded by three or four colleagues. “Stop slapping me, I’m not dead!” I shouted to the guy who was slapping me in order to revive me.

I pushed my colleagues away. “You don’t know me! You can’t judge me! Just because I don’t lecture doesn’t make me a bad person! I’m not hurting anyone!” Someone put a gentle arm on my shoulder and told me I was slurring my words.

I ran from the lunchroom. I went to the bathroom and splashed water on my face.

“So this was what rock bottom feels like,” I thought to myself. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror.

The funny thing is it all started so innocently. I just wanted to help people learn and do their jobs a little better. And then I was at a conference one day and I overheard some more experienced people talking about how the session’s presenter’s handwriting on the flipcharts was too messy. Throughout that conference, there were a lot of whispers from audience members about how they could do something better.

Everyone else was doing it. So I tried it. First it was a snarky comment during a conference session. Then it was a snarky blog post or two. Before I knew it, I was even making snarky comments about a homily in church and I couldn’t look away when the snark and superiority took over various Twitter sessions like #lrnchat and #chat2lrn.

I accept that everyone is entitiled to his or her own opinion. And snarkiness can be contextual and an entertaining way to blow off steam. Problems come, however, when those opinions dismiss the possibility of being open to other ideas. Problems come when those opinions come from a place of superiority or arrogance.

Standing there, looking at myself in the mirror, having hit rock bottom, I realized that the disease of training snobbery (something Litmos’ Brent Schlenker recently described as Instructional Design Bias) is a problem when it limits your willingness to accept other ways of doing things. The T+D article was right on, lecture can be an effective delivery method. The Office Depot markers can get the job done.

Snobbery in any field – whether it’s politics or science or even L&D – is an ugly condition.

The first step to overcoming it is to acknowledge you have it.