When You Die, Will You Discover That You Had Not Truly Presented?

I visited Walden Pond yesterday and I marveled at the fact that, over 150 years after living like a recluse in the Massachusetts wilderness, Walden Pond is a state park, Henry David Thoreau has an entire society of followers and high school teenagers take field trips to visit the place in the woods where Thoreau built his cabin. More than a century and a half ago, there was a two year span during which something profound happened in this spot.

Thoreau4  Thoreau2

I’m guessing that every single person reading this article has presented at some point in their lives – at a team meeting, in church, in front of an important client, in a court room, in a classroom, in a training room, in a lecture hall, in an online webinar, to their boss.

I’m guessing that some of the presentations you’ve delivered have been important.  I’m wondering if something profound happened when you presented? Was your presentation worthy of having a state park created on the spot where you presented?

Perhaps that’s setting the bar too high. Though to be sure, every presentation you give offers an opportunity to change someone’s thinking, an opportunity to have others do something differently or better, an opportunity to start a chain reaction – in short, an opportunity to change the world.

To build upon a phrase from Thoreau, when it comes to preparing your presentation, are you living your preparations deliberately?  Are you paying deliberate attention to what new or different things you want your audience to do? Are you paying deliberate attention to the experience you’ll offer to your audience?

In the end, presentations are meant to serve the audience. And if we haven’t served our audience, then we really haven’t presented, we’ve just talked (and wasted others’ time).


Standing there in the woods around Walden Pond, reading a quote posted near the spot where Thoreau’s cabin once stood, my one-track mind returned to the idea of presentations and the fact that so many of us give presentations and the fact that presentations truly can change the world.

And I wondered how any of us would answer this question: when you come to die (or at least when you come to the end of your presentation), will you discover that you had not actually presented?

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.

Death of an Avocado Tree

Have you ever been frustrated when a great idea of yours fizzled?  In hindsight, do you think it was missing any of the keys to successful change (listed below)?

The Avocado Tree

Last October my mother-in-law and my 5-year-old daughter got very excited about a science experiment.  They put an avocado pit into a cup of water and then observed what happened next.  My daughter was fascinated by the idea of a tree sprouting out of the ping pong ball-sized pit that came out of the middle of an avocado.

My mother-in-law eventually went home, but we continued to see changes occur. Little by little, the pit cracked open and a new plant began to emerge.  After several months, we transferred the growing plant from its original home in a cup of water to a pot filled with dirt.

At first, we watered it regularly.  Leaves began to grow out of the stem.

Then other things came up. The end of the school year. Camping trips. Vacation.

Interest in the avocado plant waned. Remembering to move it to a spot so that the sun didn’t scorch it as the summer took hold and remembering to water it regularly just wasn’t as interesting as other, newer stuff in our lives.

Less than a year later, this…

Avocado Plant (Alive)

…turned into this…

Avocado Plant (Dead)

This weekend I walked by the dead stick, and three thoughts struck me:

  1. If this is how we care for new little living things, we’re definitely not ready for a puppy!
  2. There’s no doubt in my mind that if my mother-in-law lived closer, this plant would still be alive.
  3. This is an incredible metaphor for way too many new initiatives at work.

Translating the Metaphor

How could this avocado plant have eventually flourished and survived long enough to become a tree?  Its best hope would have been for our family to have treated this like any other change initiative.

In his book The Heart of Change (and in pretty much any other book he’s written), John Kotter outlines 8 keys to successful change initiatives:

  1. Increase urgency: With so many other distractions, allocating time on the avocado plant wasn’t really a priority for anyone.  And once we transplanted it into a pot with soil and had to water it, nobody had a sense of urgency about keeping up with it.  Which is similar to that new, shiny online training academy; with all the day-to-day work to be done, does anyone really have time to keep signing up for courses and completing them?
  2. Build the guiding team: Once my mother-in-law left, nobody was really in charge of continuing to labor over the plant.  If a change initiative depends wholly on one person, it may never grow to maturity.
  3. Get the vision right: Was this a one-time science experiment? Or did we really want to grow a tree? And was that training on the new performance management system a one-time event?  Or were people expected to actually do      something with it when they left the training room?
  4. Communicate for buy-in: Most everyone in our house thought the experiment was neat… and as long as someone else took care of it, it might make a fine tree someday. It may have been helpful if the ultimate vision was shared and if expectations around workload had been agreed upon.
  5. Empower action: My mother-in-law initiated the project.  I watered it for a while.  But my daughter – who was clearly enthusiastic about the project – was never included in the caretaking of the plant.  When there are willing      supporters, they should be involved and empowered to take control.
  6. Create short-term wins:  It was fun and exciting to see a stem sprout from the seed.  And then to see leaves sprout from the stem.  But then new developments took longer and there was no more excitement.  Would this thing ever      turn into an actual tree?! And while we’re speaking of short-term wins, who cares if I complete one course or seven courses or thirty courses in that new elearning system?  When can I finish my learning and just be good enough?
  7. Don’t let up: Yeah, watering the plant should have been routine.  But we stopped.  And it died.  Perhaps if we had someone reminding us on a daily basis or sending us a watering schedule, even if from afar, it would still be alive today.
  8. Make change stick: Ultimately, John Kotter suggests the true sign of successful change is when it becomes part of the daily routine.  Our poor little avocado plant, like so many other ideas that were once new and exciting, never made it that far.

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.

We All Need Someone To Show Us What’s Possible

At a conference I recently attended, every session combined mind-numbing PowerPoint with lecture.  That’s how it’s always been.  And that’s how future presenters learn to design their presentations.

I guess I was fortunate to have grown up living with someone who taught me differently.

My father was the kind of science teacher who blew stuff up to get his students’ attention, then he’d de-brief and discuss safety.  He was the kind of teacher who set up his class like a forensic lab and created a murder mystery in order to immerse his students in the scientific method.

When I began as a classroom instructor, teaching GED to high school dropouts in Washington, DC, I had no idea what I was doing.  My father was quick to share information on Bloom’s Taxonomy and lesson plan design and classroom management.  When I thought “curriculum design” simply meant piecing together a bunch of lesson plans, alarm bells probably went off in my father’s head.  In his gentle, guiding way he sent me boxes of notebooks and binders that he quickly assembled in order to provide me with a self-study course on McTighe and Wiggins’ Understanding by Design model (first focus on outcomes, then how you’d assess it, then the lesson plan itself).

In short, my father was part coach, part teacher, part mentor.  He showed me what was possible and I’ve been able to integrate many of these lessons – both lessons I observed in watching him in action as well as the lessons he’s sent me through the mail – into the learning experiences I craft for my own audiences.

Modeling facilitation techniques and instructional design practices is something I strive to do for every one of my audiences.  I strive to show them what’s possible when it comes to engaging a learner – through classroom-based training, webinars or elearning.

It all begins not by asking: how has instruction always been done, but rather: what can I possibly do to make this an insanely great learning experience?

On this Father’s Day, I’d like to thank my father for helping to get me where I am today.

Of course, if you don’t happen to have access to my father, here are a few other resources I’ve found to be incredibly important in showing me what’s possible when it comes to presentation design:

Tom Kuhlman’s Rapid Elearning Blog to imagine what’s possible in elearning design, even if you don’t have much time or money to put something together.

Alex Rister’s Creating Communications blog to imagine what’s possible when it comes to effectively communicating through visual aids.

Seth Godin’s blog to imagine how much you can express in a simple paragraph or two.

Who do you have in your life – personal or professional – to show you what’s possible?

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.

Potty Training and Corporate Training: Eerily Similar

My son has entered week three of potty training. As I attempt to facilitate a smooth transition away from diapers I’m struck by how similar this experience is to my day job in the world of training.

Potty Training - Toilet Paper          Businesswoman giving presentation

It’s Compulsory (a sort of compliance training)

Recently, my son was offered a promotion.  His teachers wanted to move him from the young toddler room to the older toddler room.  The promotion comes with all sorts of perks: better toys, a nice corner classroom with sweeping views of the playground and a new set of challenges (the monotony of learning about primary colors will now be replaced with new and exciting secondary colors!).  With more perks, however, come more responsibilities.  One such responsibility is the need to use the bathroom.  And therein lies a skills gap.

Even though a need has been identified and a development plan is now in place, there’s still a lot of resistance when it comes to combatting the status quo.  Basically, he wants the new perks but he’s being forced to go through potty training in order to develop the requisite skill set for this promotion.  I think he resents having this change thrust upon him.

Learning by Doing can be Messy… But it’s the Only Way to Go

As much as I’d like to ease the process along, the fact is that I can’t do the work for my son.  He needs to figure out how to do this on his own.  And he totally gets the theory of using the bathroom when it’s time to go.  We’ve read books.  I’ve modeled the behavior for him.  I’ve even introduced technology (I’ll let him watch this clip from Sesame Street on my iPad if he’ll just stay seated!).  When he’s asked where he should go when he feels nature is calling, he’ll give me the correct answer.  In the world of corporate training, this would be enough to earn a certificate of completion for the training program.  But I’m not quite ready to award this little guy a certificate of completion.  Until he acts on this knowledge, all of these tools and technologies and theories alone will not have guaranteed skills transfer.

Feedback and Rewards

After outlining the need for the change, after introducing the theory and modeling the desired behaviors, we have also implemented an incentive system to ensure we celebrate the small victories along the way.  Simple potty success earns a small treat (such as a piece of Halloween candy from what is apparently a magical, bottomless bag of sweets that found its way into our house last October).  Demonstrating success in more complex potty maneuvers earns ice cream.  In order to reinforce these successes, incentives are immediately payable, even if that means ice cream for breakfast.  I do wonder sometimes what will happen when these incentives – new and novel now – are no longer seen as “special”?  What happens when these incentives disappear altogether and it’s simply an expectation to deliver consistently successful results on behaviors that should be part of the everyday routine?

Follow-through and Follow-up

I do want to be sure that my son’s new skill set is used regularly as he prepares for his promotion, which is why I want to be sure that I follow up with his teachers to check in on his progress. The process of change isn’t a straight line, I know there will be some days when these skills aren’t used as well as other days.  I may even need to prepare a refresher training at some point in the near future.  Making sure there is an open line of communication between the trainer, the learner and the day-to-day supervisor (the teachers) is important.  At the end of the day, I’m looking for signs of measurable post-training transfer of skills, things such as the percent decrease in the quantity of changes of clothes that need to be laundered after school each week.

Implications for the Working World

I’m really struck at how many similarities there are between potty training and corporate training – analyzing the gaps, designing the program, evaluating the results.  Yet I’m also struck by the fact that, when I look around, even though it may take a year (or more), potty training is about 100% effective.  How many change initiatives in our work have similar results?  What happens during a major change initiative such as potty training that does not happen when we go about facilitating change in our work lives?

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” at the top of the page!