Why I Still Teach Learning Styles

Wow, do people get fired up about learning styles or what? In 2009, a now famous study de-bunked the “science” behind the idea that different learners would benefit by having access to materials customized to their specific learning styles.

Recently, Will Thalheimer upped the ante for his “Learning Styles Challenge” to $5,000 for anyone who can scientifically prove the value of learning style theory.

I respect science. If scientific studies have been conducted that say we don’t need to customize our training courses to offer only verbal information to auditory learners, only written information for visual learners and only movement-based information for kinesthetic learners, then let’s not create all those individualized materials.

But I’ve never, ever heard of anyone spending any extra time customizing three sets of materials for their learners, depending on their learning style.

I have, however, heard of presenters who lecture and talk at their audience for their entire presentation.

I have sat through training sessions in which trainers tell us the theory behind their topic, without allowing anyone to de-brief the ideas that were shared.

I have sat through many a sermon and homily on Sunday morning when, in the absence of any visual cues or movement, I simply zone out and begin thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch.

Incorporating design elements that include auditory, visual and kinesthetic activities into a presentation or training module is simply good teaching. It’s simply a way to engage learners, to get them involved, to make them feel a part of the presentation and to capture their imagination. Therefore, it’s something I continue to teach in my train-the-trainer sessions.

 

6 Reasons Your Presentation is no TED Talk

TED Talks are all the rage these days. They’re amazing 5- or 10- or 20-minute presentations delivered by thought leaders from around the globe in an effort to give “ideas worth sharing” a platform to ignite the world on fire.

Recently I published a list of Amazon’s top 40 books on presentation skills and 10% of the books were how-to guides on turning your next presentation into a TED Talk.

TED Talks have given renewed vigor to the argument that we can “just tell” an audience what they need to know. Why not lecture? After all, TED Talks are generally given before large audiences in auditoriums where interaction isn’t possible.

In fact, here are three TED Talks you could use to inspire the design of your next presentation.

And here are six reasons why your next presentation will not be TED-caliber:

1. Amateur slide design. The minute you flash a slide like this, your aspirations of giving a TED-style presentation have gone down the drain. Even if your goal isn’t TED-caliber, poor slide design can ruin your message. Click here for some ideas on how to spruce up that design.

TED

2. You think everything about your topic is important. When everything you have to say is “important” then nothing is a priority. TED speakers understand that they’re not going to create an audience of experts in 20 minutes. They are ruthless in their prioritization of what gets air time during their presentation. Click here for some ideas on how to be ruthless in prioritizing the content for your next presentation.

3. You think your content is boring. I’ve been surprised by how many times I’ve worked with a subject matter expert who has told me: “look, my area of expertise is boring, there’s no way to make it exciting, people just need to know this information and go forth and do what I say.” If you think your topic or area of expertise is boring, why in the world would anyone else pay attention, let alone be ignited to want to do something with your information?

4. You don’t want to be in front of the audience. That public speaking causes people great anxiety is no secret. Of course, if someone asks you to speak, then there’s something about you and your message that nobody else can offer to your audience. Embrace it! Relish it! Find a way to get others as passionate as you are about your topic. If you’re just going to go through the motions of a presentation, it’ll be an icky experience for you and your audience.

5. You make no effort to connect with your audience. Perhaps the single biggest problem I see when I review presentation plans is that people tend to launch straight in to their content, assuming their audience knows about it, cares about it and/or is interested in it. Click here to watch Jane McGonigal tease her audience’s interest by promising them longer lives if they simply follow the steps in her presentation. Click here for some additional ideas on how to connect with your audience.

6. You “just do it”. Nike’s message isn’t necessarily for presenters. TED speakers do not simply throw a presentation together on the airplane en route to their conference, then get up and put on a magical display of amazing slide design, smooth delivery and inspiring message. They spend countless hours designing what they want to say and how they want to say it. Then they rehearse. Then they tweek their presentation and rehearse it again until it comes out exactly how they want. Rehearsal helps hone your message, perfect your delivery and perhaps most importantly, lower your level of anxiety.

Whether you call it “lecture” or “didactic delivery” or a “presentation”, TED Talks have demonstrated that speakers can be incredibly engaging by “just talking.” However, if you find that one or more of the items in the above list are true for you, then you may not have a TED-caliber presentation on your hand. Effective lecture (or didactic delivery or presentation) requires a lot of work.

If you truly want to capture your audience’s imagination and inspire them to do something new or differently or better, it may actually be easier for you to bring some adult learning principles and interactivity into your next presentation.

“Is didactic really all that bad?”

Last week I was reviewing some lesson plans with a colleague. At one point he stopped and asked: “Why do we need all these activities? Is simply doing 15 minutes of didactic learning all that bad?”

I don’t remember exactly what happened next. Some type of argument or a scuffle or maybe a brilliant defense of all that is good and holy about adult learning principles. When cooler heads prevailed, we found ourselves reminiscing of our own training experiences around this particular topic. We’d seen these concepts in training sessions or in practice many times, yet neither of us was a master of this topic. In fact, neither of us really knew much at all about this topic (thank God we have a bunch of really smart SMEs to lean on!).

In the moment, training participants will probably take well-designed, interactive, engaging content over didactic lecture and PowerPoint slides any day. But long term? None of this matters – didactic or interactive – if there is no follow up. Either way, people will forget most of what they’ve “learned” before their heads hit their pillows that same night.

I still say: yes, didactic really is all that bad. Even phenomenal speakers (think TED talks) may put on a good show, but three weeks later what do you still remember? Of course, the same can be said of well-designed, interactive sessions: what do you still remember three weeks later?

In the end, if you want people to be able to do something new or differently or better, and you don’t design follow-up activities to build upon what they’ve learned in the classroom, you’d probably be better off not doing the training in the first place. Chances are, they won’t remember it anyways.

What advice would you give to this SME?

Last week, a colleague had an unfortunate run-in with technology at the start of his presentation. What’s one piece of advice you’d share with this subject matter expert?

“I had been asked to deliver a 30-minute lecture on the anatomy of the eye and I was concerned about two things:

1)      How on Earth would I fill up a 30-minute block of time on this subject?

2)      How on Earth am I supposed to present on this topic when there will be eye surgeons in the audience? They’ve forgotten more about the eye than I could ever teach.

I put together a slide deck and I rehearsed my session. Continue reading

8 Ways to Involve Your Audience

Why would you not involve the audience in your presentation? Regardless of whether you’re presenting to a few colleagues in a small conference room or whether you’re presenting to thousands of people in a large ballroom, here are eight ways you can engage and involve your audience:

Ask Them A Question

Questions pique the audience’s curiosity. Sometimes questions help the audience to forge a personal connection to your content. Sometimes it’s more fun to ask a question that the audience will only be able to answer if they pay close attention to what you have to share with them throughout your presentation.

Make Them A Promise

Within the first 30 seconds of her TED Talk, Jane McGonigal promises to increase her audience’s life span through the content of her presentation. What kind of promise can you make about your content, hot shot?

Unravel A Mystery

Did you ever see the movie Memento? It’s about a guy who has lost his short-term memory. As you watch the movie, you’re just sitting in your seat in the theater, but you’re trying just as hard as the main character to figure out what’s going on. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen employ this same storytelling technique – beginning by sharing a major challenge or problem, then revealing the solution, piece by piece.

Small Group Discussion

The larger the audience, the easier it is for individual audience members to mentally check out (through emails, texting, checking Facebook or simply daydreaming). Break people up into a small group for a short discussion and it’s a lot more difficult to “check out” (plus, it’s kind of rude to check your Facebook account on your smart phone as two or three other people are trying to have a discussion with you).

Messy Start

This is one of my favorite ways to start a presentation. It involves the audience from the very beginning of the presentation. Curious to know more about this strategy? Unravel this mysterious presentation technique by reading a prior blog post entitled: Training Tip: The Messy Start.

Role Play

I can’t think of a better way to reinforce soft skills such as coaching or mentoring or customer service than through role plays. I also can’t think of a better way to illicit groans from the audience when you tell them you’re going to ask them to role play. So think of a better name for this activity. Call it a “simulation” or something.

Large Group Activity

I was so impressed when Jane McGonigal (yes, the lady from the TED Talk above) got two thousand people up during a keynote speech I attended in order to engage us all in a game of massively multi-player two-handed thumb wrestling. I’ve been successful in getting a ballroom full of about 300 people to work in groups and do some flipcharting. If you have the guts, getting a large group up to experience what you’re presenting on can be fun and engaging for a room full of people.

Peer Feedback

During my train the trainer sessions, I can assess whether my participants understand the concepts I’ve taught when they can correctly use a feedback form to identify what their peers are doing well during practice facilitation segments.

There you have it, eight ways to involve your audience for in-person presentations. If you ever present via webinar, you may be interested in these prior blog posts:

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.

7 Keys To Keeping Your Audience Engaged And Awake (Even If You Present After Lunch)

You know that conference session that comes immediately after lunch (where more people than usual are nodding off)? Guest blogger, Megan McJennett (full disclosure: she’s also my wife), attended one of those sessions this week and a funny thing happened.  Everyone was engaged. Here’s what she observed:

As I prepared myself for the always-dreaded post-lunch keynote address at the recent School’s Out Washington Bridge Conference, I thought to myself: how is he going to keep me engaged? Is he going to keep me awake? Is he going to keep me from checking my email?

John Medina (of Brain Rules fame) did not disappoint – he is a gifted speaker and the content is riveting.   But about 5 minutes into it, I realized something. As “Mrs. @FlipChartGuy” I have been ruined. My husband’s one-track mind and crusade about how every presentation should be engaging has crept into my own psyche. No longer am I paying attention to content, I am paying attention to style. What is it about John Medina’s talk that was so engaging? What kept me from sneaking a peek at my iPhone?

Dr. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist speaking to a crowd of after school educators. How did he reach us so effectively?

  1. He spoke about neural pathways and neurotransmitters in a way that was very accessible by using nonscience-y vocabulary to introduce the concept.
  2. He primed his audience at the beginning by letting us know that we were going to walk away with 2 practical ideas we could implement as soon as we got back to our programs.
  3. He used slides as props not crutches.
  4. He used his voice and body – raised and lowered his voice, moved purposefully across the stage.
  5. He told anecdotes to illustrate his points; the stories made the group laugh and get teary. He left space for both.
  6. He reiterated his point succinctly before introducing the next point.
  7. He kept us guessing (have you ever heard of a developmental molecular biologist refer to truuconfessions.com as a source?)

Sitting through this post-lunch keynote, I have to admit that he made this social worker want to go back to college just to take a few molecular biology classes.

You Can Only Change The World If People Pay Attention To You

Introducing yourself can be such a routine, mundane task.  But it doesn’t have to be.  In fact, it can be a way to capture your audience’s attention for the rest of your presentation.

To which of the following introductions would you be more likely to pay attention?

Example 1:

Example 2 (go ahead and check it out – even though the cover slide is the same, I promise there is different content underneath that cover slide):

In the second example, you’ll notice two strategies designed to hold the audience’s attention:

  1. Don’t just tell.  Tell a story.  It’s too easy to simply speak mindlessly about your topic, especially if you know it well. It’s more engaging if you can create a storyline for your audience to follow. In this example I teased my topic by dressing it up in three secrets. When I actually gave this talk, I was hoping to cash in on most people’s innate desire to be let in on another person’s secrets.
  2. Make the audience feel special. In this example, I was willing to share something with my audience that not even my wife knew about. I could actually see the audience’s eyes get bigger when they unexpectedly found that they were going to hear something so unique that not even my wife had heard before.

In his very entertaining book How To Be A Presentation God, Scott Schwertly repeatedly says that a presentation can change the world. I believe this to be true… as long as you’re able to get your audience to pay attention to your world changing thoughts.

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.