An Epiphany While Walking the Dog

This weekend I was walking my sister-in-law’s dog when I saw this:

Lake Washington

I suddenly remembered something: we live really close to Lake Washington. I really like living so close to this lake. On a clear day you can see Mt. Rainier off in the distance.

It made me start to wonder how many other things I really liked… and then forgot about.

I read a lot of professional magazines and articles about learning and development. I’ve been to a lot of training sessions and conferences. I exchange ideas with colleagues fairly frequently. I learn about a lot of cool ideas and concepts and models and theories.

And too often, I forget all about them. Perhaps it’s because I don’t bother putting these ideas and concepts and models and theories into use right away. Perhaps it’s because I shove these new learnings out of the way in order to learn something even newer and shinier.

What good is all this learning if I just forget about it within hours?

Over the next few weeks I plan to look back through all of the books I’ve read over the past year and scan them for things I’ve highlighted. I plan to look back through the training materials and workbooks from sessions I’ve attended over the past year. If I can get my ambition up a little, perhaps I’ll even look back through all the ideas and studies and articles I’ve “favorited” on Twitter in the past few months.

On June 30th I will make a Mid-year Resolution to turn some of the things I’ve learned this year into specific actions and habits. After all, learning cool stuff and never using it is about as useful as living near a beautiful lake and forgetting all about it.

What have you learned over the past year that you thought might have been cool at the time, and then forgotten about (until you read this blog post)? Want to make a Mid-year Resolution with me?

Curious to know what my Mid-Year Resolution will be? Hit the FOLLOW button at the top of this page and my blog post for June 30th will be sent right to your inbox.

5 Predictions for the Future of Learning and Development

Have you ever wondered what the future of workplace learning will look like? As I look around, here are five things I think will happen within the next five years:

Xbox will transform classroom-based delivery

It’s been several years since I first saw this TED Talk and it unleashed a million ideas for me in how it could be used in the classroom. Can you imagine harnessing the power of augmented reality in the classroom? Simulations! Case studies! Even role plays would be fun.

Of course, I’m sure some presenters would smother this technology’s potential by simply throwing a bunch of augmented reality bullet points at their audience, but I think overall this type of technology will benefit classroom-based learning (and even webinars!) by replacing rote lecture and theory with more content based in real-world applications. With photo and video apps for smart phones, tablets and PCs becoming more interactive each day, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll see this at an ASTD conference near you.

Storyline will be the PowerPoint of the future

Unfortunately, as I look ahead, the future isn’t completely bright. Rapid elearning authoring tools have been around for a while, but I’ve never seen anything as intuitive or easy to use as Articulate Storyline. This software is exciting because individuals or teams responsible for an organization’s learning and development initiatives can now produce professional quality elearning at a fraction of the cost.

Storyline’s ease-of-use and intuitiveness, however, also turns my glass half empty as I look ahead. I see organizations rapidly loading up their learning management systems with bullet point-laden, click-through elearning modules. Yes, way too many of these exist now. In the future, they will be so easy to produce and clog up an LMS that the “good old days” will be a time when learners only had to spend 3 hours in the classroom, sitting through a presentation with 152 slides and 537 bullet points.

You won’t be able to discreetly check your email during a webinar

In the early 90s, I remember a commercial for some company (GE? AT&T?) that talked about fiber optics and the future and it had images of an American college lecture hall and toward the end, the professor called on someone in some distant land, and the camera panned out to see a bunch of students on the projector screen, and then there was a shot of a whole other classroom someplace in Asia that was attending this lecture.

This kind of exists today with video conference services and Skype and Facetime the like, but I’ve seen it primarily used for staff meetings or meetings across geographic locations or friends talking to one another. There’s been a movement in the webinar business to make webinars more engaging by broadcasting a live video feed of the facilitator. I envision a web conference interface that will soon come along and make it much easier for everyone to see one another, creating greater facilitator-to-audience and audience-to-audience connections.

You’ll still be able to “multi-task”, but others will see you doing it.

The “flipped classroom” will be right-side up

While not a brand new concept, it’s still novel to find a training program in which learners are asked to learn the content on their own prior to an in-person training session, and then classroom time is spent in various activities challenging the learners to apply what they’ve learned. In higher education, however, this is becoming a more regular part of instructional design and recent graduates are much more accustomed to this style.

There have been a lot of not-so-nice things written about Gen Y (apparently there’s an entire generation of young adults Snapchatting naked selfies and Tweeting their lives from their parents’ homes where there is barely enough room for their adult children because of all their kids’ trophies cluttering up the place). When it comes to designing effective and engaging learning experiences, however, I think Gen Y has a thing or two to teach old school Corporate America.

50% of all presentations will be engaging and lead to change

In 2010, McKinsey released a study saying that only 25% of corporate training dollars actually led to anything being done differently or better following a training session. In the next five years I think that number is going to double.

While some current big names in the learning and development field spend their time Tweeting snarky comments about the fact that there is a transfer-of-training problem, I’ve met a lot of folks beginning to break into the thought leadership of the L&D professional who are action-oriented and patient enough to meet presenters and SMEs at a skill level where they need to be met in order to improve their presentation skills.

Presentations will be engaging and lead to change when people who don’t attend ASTD conferences (indeed, people who giggle at the acronym ASTD because it sounds too much like “an STD”) take an interest in how to engage their audience and how to move their audience to act. In the next few months, I’ll be sharing specific ideas (and maybe even an online tool or two) in how I plan to do my part to transform every presentation into something that’s engaging and will lead to change. Want to join me in turning this prediction into a reality?

Is your mind blown? Do you have doubts about any of these? Maybe you have a prediction of your own. Look into your crystal ball and let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Know someone who is interested in what the future may hold? Share this link with them.

Want to stick around to see if any of these things actually come true? Hit the FOLLOW button at the top of the screen.

Green Eggs and the Boomerang

boo·mer·ang (boo-muh-rang)

noun: strategy used by skilled training professionals to throw the audience’s question back to the group without the presenter first providing an expert opinion or answer

That Flip Chart Gang

That Flip Chart Gang

I do not like that Flip Chart Gang

Would you like to boomerang?

I do not like that Flip Chart Gang,

I do not like to boomerang.

Even when someone asks?

They may have a task.

They may even ask.

But I will not do it Flip Chart Gang,

I will not throw back the question like a boomerang.

Would you, could you, in a small group?

I would not, could not in a small group.

I would not, could not with a large troupe.

Even if they have a task.

Even if they are brave enough to ask.

I will not do it Flip Chart Gang.

I will not throw the question back like a boomerang.

Would you try it once or twice?

I would not boomerang once,

I would not boomerang twice.

I’m the expert and giving up control is too high of a price.

Whether it’s in a large troupe,

Or if it’s in a small group,

Even if they have a task,

Even if they are brave enough to ask.

I will not do it Flip Chart Gang.

I will not throw the question back like a boomerang.

Give it a whirl, and you will see,

Let them answer just once and I’ll let you be.

I shall give it a whirl and honor your plea,

Just this once, if you let me be.

A question has been posed, what do you all think?

Hey! The audience’s answer doesn’t stink!

Maybe I am not the only one who is wise.

Maybe answers can come from any of these gals and guys.

Maybe I will boomerang more than once or twice.

Maybe giving up some control really isn’t that high of a price.

And it can happen in small groups!

And it can happen in large troupes!

The next time they have a task,

I will hold my answer when they ask.

Instead I will use the boomerang.

Thank you, thank you Flip Chart Gang!

Want to know more about empowering learners with the “Boomerang Technique”? Check out these related blog posts:

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.

Like what you read here? Click on the FOLLOW button at the top of the page!

On Super Bowl Sunday, a 6-Year-Old did something Peyton Manning couldn’t

He kept me paying attention, with a vested interest, until the very end of the game. And it’s a lesson that every presenter can use in their presentations.

As soon as we walked into the door of his house for a small Super Bowl party, 6-year-old Theo gave everyone a handout (click here to download it for yourself). It was a questionnaire asking for predictions on things that might happen during the game such as:

  • Which team would win the coin toss?
  • Which team would be the last to score before halftime?
  • Would the defense score a touchdown?
  • Will there be more than three field goals in the game?
  • Would Peyton Manning throw for more or less than 290 yards?
  • Would Russell Wilson throw for more or less than 210 yards?

The genius behind Theo’s handout was that you could get a question correct at any given time during the game. Some of these questions could be answered right away (the Seahawks won the coin toss). Some of these questions could be answered at halftime (the Seahawks were the last to score before halftime). Some questions could be answered at various times during the game (yes, there was a defensive touchdown… by the Seahawks). And we had to stick around for the entire game in order to find out who might have gotten the most questions correct. Would Russell Wilson pass for 4 more yards during the final possession or would the Seahawks run the ball? Theo’s activity kept me engaged, watching every play until the end of the game.

What can presenters take away from Theo’s activity? If a 6-year-old can keep a group of adults interested in the utter snooze-fest that was this year’s Super Bowl by putting a little effort into a 10-question handout, I think professionals who are passionate about their topics should be able to come up with a way to keep people interested in their topics.

Theo asked some questions whose answers unfurled themselves like a time-release capsule throughout the game. Whether you use a handout or not, presenters can use the same strategy – asking several questions at the beginning of a presentation and challenging the audience to see how many answers they can find throughout the presentation. Maybe the person with the most correct answers can even walk away with an autographed copy of your PowerPoint slides!

Think you have a better idea than Theo to keep your audience engaged from start to finish? Write it in the comment section.

Know someone else who might benefit from Theo’s strategy? Pass this along.

Looking for more training tips? Hit the follow button at the top of the screen.

5 things pink eye and training have in common

Last week I spent an afternoon at home with my 3-year-old. He couldn’t go to school because he had come down with pink eye. As we found ways to keep ourselves busy, I couldn’t help but to think that pink eye and training have a lot in common. Here are five ways:

1) Nobody wants to be diagnosed with it

For many people, being told you have pink eye might even be preferable to being told it’s time for annual compliance training (or time to fulfill CME or CLE or other professional education credits).

2) It won’t get better unless you do something about it

Pink eye requires quarantining the patient and applying medicine. Presentation skills require continual attention and care and development and rehearsing and trying new things in order to get better.

3) Bad habits just make it worse

Rubbing and scratching an infected eye only leads to a longer recovery time. Not washing hands regularly can even help spread the infection to others. Along similar lines, bad habits such as developing presenter-centered (as opposed to learner-centered) training, the propensity to just “wing it” (as opposed to preparing and rehearsing) and hastily thrown together slide decks will lead to boring presentations. It’s been my experience that organizations that tolerate boring presentations allow poor presentation skills to infect entire workforces.

4) A little lava makes everything better

When my son and I went to the local park and ran around, we of course spent time imagining the wood chips at the bottom of the slide was a lava field (don’t touch the ground or your feet will burn up!). Having some time to get out of the house and play just seemed to raise his spirits. Similarly, presenters that can incorporate a sense of play into their training sessions seem to more effectively engage their audiences.

5) Follow-up is essential

In order for pink eye to go away, you can’t just use the eye drops one time. They need consistent, regular application (every six hours!). Training is the same way. It can’t simply be a one-time thing. It requires consistent and regular reinforcement.

Interested in other parallels between parenting and training? You may enjoy these other posts:

Know someone else who might appreciate the parallels between family life and learning and development? Please pass this link along!

Interested in a steady stream of tips, techniques, strategies and insights on the topic of learning and development. Click the FOLLOW button at the top of this page.

These 140 characters tell you everything you need to know about effective learning & development

It begins with the learner. It’s about connecting with the audience. It’s about changing forever. #presentationskills #learning #development

Know someone who might be able to benefit from this succinct summary of the essence of every effective learning program that has ever existed in the history of mankind? Pass this post along (or better yet, just copy the above text and tweet it).

5 People to Follow on Twitter if You’re a Learning Professional

I resisted signing up for Twitter for a long time. How much can you actually get out of a series of 140-character messages? I’m starting to change my tune on this.

I’ve found that if you’re following the right people, it can be a pretty amazing professional development tool. The following five people are doing a lot of the legwork for me when it comes to finding articles and resources on training, learning, elearning, general human resources and professional development:

General Human Resources

Warren White posts about general human resources information, particularly from a recruiter (and job seeker) perspective.

New Hire Orientation and Onboarding

Michelle Baker shares articles (including content from her blog) focused on increasing employee engagement and how to put together a rockin’ new hire orientation and onboarding program.


Nicole Legault began blogging about e-learning several years ago and now posts a ton of content specific to Articulate Storyline. Whether you’re using Storyline or just looking for some good ideas on creating engaging elearning programs, you’ll get some great stuff.

E-learning (and a smattering of traditional learning, too)

Cathy Moore has some amazing ideas about how to design engaging learning experiences – mostly elearning but there are a lot of concepts that will improve traditional classroom-based learning as well.


“Gamification” is a trendy topic in the learning world these days. Jane McGonigal is the queen of all things game-related. I don’t think she likes the term “gamification”, but if you’d like to learn more about game design and how it can make a real-world impact, she’s an amazing resource.

If you’re on Twitter, I encourage you to follow them for these reasons:

  1. They post links to really interesting content.
  2. If you’re in the HR or learning and development field, their posts will often lead to resources that can solve a problem.
  3. They won’t overwhelm your Twitter feed with a million posts each day.

Are you following someone that posts good L&D content? Please share in the comments section!

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.

Mind the Gap: Learning Lessons from Riding The Tube

Returning from India last week, I had a 7 1/2 hour layover at London’s Heathrow Airport. I had little desire to sit in the lounge all day, so I made a dash through Customs to see some of the city.

As I bought a ticket for the Underground train service, I asked how I could get to the Tower of London. The attendant at the ticket office pulled out a map of the train system, told me to take the train to the Earl’s Court station, then transfer and get off at Tower Hill.

Tube Map

The directions seemed straight forward, but somehow I still managed to screw it up. As I reflected on this experience, I realized there were some important lessons in here for presenters and trainers. Here are my top 5 take-aways:

Motivation only goes so far. I was certainly a motivated learner. I wanted to see a castle-like landmark that was almost 4 times as old as the United States, and I didn’t want to get lost (or I might have missed my flight home).  Yet as badly as I wanted to follow the instructions that had been given to me, I still got lost.  I needed to ask several other Underground staff and consult several maps in order to get back on track. It reminded me that one-off training events where there is no follow up often fails, regardless of how motivated the learner is.

Learning styles matter.  There’s been a number of articles about the false science behind learning styles (here’s one example).  All I know is that I do need visual aids in order to process and retain important information.  When the attendant showed me the map, it was easier for me to understand his directions (I wasn’t used to his accent, which is a lesson for anyone presenting to multi-cultural audiences) and I pulled out my iPhone to make a note of the transfer station and the ultimate destination.  Had I relied solely on verbal instructions, I might still be in London today.

So does consistency. The map the attendant showed me had all of the stations for all of the train lines. However, when I boarded the train I found that the map posted on the train only illustrated the stations for that particular train line. Using only the map on the initial train, I had no idea where to find my final destination. This pared down map turned me into a confused and anxious tourist.

There’s often more than one right answer. In my adventure on The Tube, I ended up stopping at several additional train stations before I arrived at the Tower of London.  It wasn’t the most direct route, but I did get there and I even had an opportunity to see more of London (if only from the inside of several additional stops along the Underground lines).

There’s no replacement for learning-by-doing. Immediately after getting directions from the attendant, I could have easily recited those directions back to anyone needing to find the Tower of London.  I could have answered multiple choice questions about which stations that I needed to transfer and exit. But I obviously wasn’t proficient in how to navigate the transit system in order to actually arrive at the destination until I went through the process.

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.

Competition: A Training Tool to Use Very Carefully

After lunch, I decided to design a short competition into a recent training session to make sure my audience stayed awake. I accidentally awoke a monster.

I broke the group up into two teams. I gave each team a marker and a flipchart. I gave them two minutes to list as many concepts as they could remember about the topic we had covered before lunch. Instead of the post-lunch lull, the room was abuzz with activity, excitement and urgency.

After each team presented the list of concepts they had generated, one team was declared the winner and we moved on to the next activity.

Later that afternoon we needed to come up with a common definition of one of our concepts. I thought the group was too large to try to come up with a common definition and to involve everyone in the process, so I asked participants to return to the two teams they had been in during the post-lunch competition. Each team was asked to come up with a definition, then we’d come together in the large group and wordsmith until we all came to a common definition.

When it came time for the large group to come together and wordsmith, each team staked out their territory and the old battle lines of competition were drawn again. The team that did not win earlier was especially motivated to try to come up with a “winning” definition. Neither team seemed very interested in appreciating and using aspects from the other team’s definition.

In the end, we came up with a solid definition that everyone was happy with, but the “us vs. them” mentality of competition that had been introduced earlier in the afternoon seemed to have a lasting and unintended impact. As I reflected on this experience, I still believe that fostering a competitive spirit during certain times of a training program can be helpful (even in this example, it helped power us through the post-lunch lull). But I also think there are three keys to the productive use of friendly training competition activities:

  1. Incentives And Prizes Aren’t Necessary

I offered the winning team a package of full-sized Hershey’s chocolate bars. After the competition was over, participants were looking for extrinsic rewards (chocolate) every time they were asked to participate. I’ve come to realize that in training programs, bragging rights are often the best prize. Without tangible rewards, participants seek to participate to add value (and get their own bragging rights) going forward. With prizes such as chocolate, people sometimes stop participating when they don’t have any hope for additional rewards.

  1. Clear Transition Away From Competition Is Necessary For Closure

If I could do it over again, I still would have broken the group up in half to ensure everyone’s voice was heard in coming up with a common definition, though I would have changed the group up so new teams were formed. When I put them back into the same groups, the tendency to reach back into the “us vs. them” mentality was only natural. Changing the groups would have been a physical symbol that we were done competing.

  1. Sometimes Collaboration Is Even Better Than Competition

In hindsight, I could have just asked every learner to grab a stack of post-its and to individually write every concept from the morning that they could remember within a two minute time limit. Perhaps we could have set the goal to be: let’s see if, as a group, we can remember 25 different concepts from the morning. Perhaps this could have created a “we’re all in this together” attitude that would have been much more helpful with the remainder of the day.

What’s your view about pitting individuals or teams against one another in competition during training events?

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.