A Letter of Thanks to Maya Angelou

Dear Ms. Angelou,

I know you’ll never have a chance to read this. I’m sorry for that, but I’m writing this letter anyways.

As I grow older, I find genuinely life-changing ah-ha moments are fewer and farther between. Several Christmases ago, you gave me an ah-ha moment that has stuck with me. It improved my parenting skills, my presentation skills, and maybe even my appreciation for the kind of poetry that doesn’t rhyme.

When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher (Mr. Reddinger) asked the class to take a few moments and write down what poetry meant to us. When he walked by my desk and looked at my paper, he saw that it was blank. He rolled his eyes, shook his head, and moved along.

Poetry was pretty meaningless to me. It used way too much symbolism, which made me think harder than I felt I should have to think in order to understand something that was written in my native tongue. Why not just tell me what you mean? Besides, how can writers call themselves “poets” if their words don’t rhyme?

As the years passed, I grew older and wiser and more set in my ways about poetry.

When I had kids, I was thrilled to read Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. They mostly rhymed, but even when they didn’t, they still made sense.

At Christmastime, it was a lot of fun to snuggle around the fire as a family to read The Night Before Christmas.

When the night before Christmas turned into Christmas Day in 2008, my very young daughter opened a present. It was a book. Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace. A Christmas Poem.

Amazing Peace

I had a sinking feeling. I opened it but noticed that this “poem” didn’t rhyme. What fun was that for a toddler, let alone for me? Luckily, it came with a CD, so I didn’t have to fumble through a bunch of poetic verses and stanzas, dripping with symbolism and meaning.

When the presents had all been opened and we all had a chance to take some time to appreciate the gifts we had been given, my wife popped in the CD. My daughter was captivated, perhaps mostly by the illustrations in the book. As I listened, I was captivated by your passionate narration.

It was a poem that didn’t rhyme and was dripping with symbolism and hidden meaning, yet listening to your narration it all seemed to make sense.

The next time I opened Amazing Peace, I tried reading it myself (without resorting to the CD). Not just reading it, I tried reading with passion. I could never equal your narration, but I could improve my own narration every time.

This experience was one of the first things that came to mind a few weeks ago when I read Lauren Hug’s blog post about how her own husband improved his public speaking skills by reading bedtime stories to his child.

Finding something worth being passionate about. Practicing it with passion. Delivering it with passion. These are the lessons I learned from you. These lessons have made me better in what I do.

Thank you Ms. Angelou for helping me to be better.

With great affection and appreciation,


5 Haikus about Learning and Development

I’ve been in Japan for the past two weeks – a combination of an industry conference and some R&R. I like it here. And to give you a taste of my experience, I’ve decided to give each of you a gift. The gift of a blog post in traditional Japanese Haiku.

Instructional Design

What do they need most?

How will you know they “get it”?

Let them show and tell

Classroom-based Training

Please use Mr. Sketch

Booooooo for the sage on the stage

Yay for engagement

Blended Learning

Flipping the classroom

Learning content on your own

Then show your mad skillz



Simulating real life stuff

As fun as a game!

Learner Experience

They are the reason

We all get a nice paycheck

Always respect them

How about it? Feeling inspired? If you have a learning and development-based Haiku, I’d love to read it in the comments section below. Writing Haikus also make a great ice breaking activity. For more on this idea, click here.

One final Haiku (sorry, I can’t stop today!):

Know Haiku lovers?

Pass this link along… and hit

“Follow” to subscribe

Oh, the Places You’ll Train!

If I could write a children’s book about my training experiences, it would probably go a little something like this:

You’ve gotten the call,

A gap has been found,

No chance it can be dull,

’cause you’re the best trainer around!

Armed with certificates and fancy degrees,

And classes and skills and subject matter expertise,

A lesson is needed, so do not delay,

A rockin’ lesson is needed, so be off, on your way!

Some classes are big,

Some will be small.

Sometimes you’ll use a computer

And you’ll see no classes at all!

Some locales will be exotic

But mostly they’re tame

After a while the airports and hotels

All start looking the same.

Helping people to “get it”

is what you were born to do,

From sales to coaching to building a canoe.

There is nothing you can’t train,

When given due time,

You assess certain needs,

Then you develop the design.

You’re a super trainer all right,

You ought to don a red cape,

It’ll be an amazing day of activities,

Until the hotel staff says you can’t use tape.

No tape blue and no tape masking,

No tape duct, thank you for asking.

Nothing can be taped to the wall,

No flipcharts, no signs… nothing at all.

This doesn’t bode well

For your planned gallery walk,

No movement and writing,

Just lecture and talk?!

You’ll have to adjust on the fly

C’mon, there is no time to cry

Your learners march in

Start time has drawn nigh.

Most learners are eager,

They’re eager to grow,

Eager to think, pair and share,

Eager to know.

And when they get it,

It’s like someone switched on a light,

It all makes sense now,

They shout “Ah ha!” with delight.

Things are rolling,

Connections made dot-to-dot,

Full steam ahead,

Until one guy says: “I’m just too hot.”

It’s easy to solve,

you turn on the A/C,

“Actually!” exclaims another,

“More heat would satisfy me!”

The session is sidetracked

By the temperature debate

And now people realize

It’s been five hours since they last ate.

These things happen

To even the best lessons planned,

But the trainers who thrive

Are the most flexible in the land.

Stick to the objectives, but go with the flow,

Be there objections or questions, just go, go, go, go!

Deliver with strength, deliver with grace,

Deliver with poise, presence and good pace.

Focus on the learning need

And you will succeed

(57 3/4 percent guaranteed).

If you’d like better odds

Here is a clue:

The key to training success

Is to accept it’s not all about you

Your learners’ bosses can be a giant post-training black hole,

Unless they’ve asked some questions, like:

Does your learner have a goal?

Will she be asked to use her new skills? Does this even align with her role?

Often your evals score high,

Except when they’re low.

Sometimes the comments get personal,

Sometimes they land a low blow.

The important thing is,

And write this right down,

That learners use what they learn

Whether they smile or frown.

Be they from Toledo, Teribithia or Tellygaloo,

Training success is really measured by what learners can do.

Oh, the places you’ll go when someone does something new,

Then says: “thanks so much, I learned that from you!”

The Train Like A Champion Blog is published Mondays and Thursdays.  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!

A 17-syllable Icebreaker Can Reveal A Lot

In the beginning

I want to know my learners

Their Challenge: Haiku


I model the task

I’m not “too good” to do this

I write on flipchart



My haiku reveals

I really like Mr. Sketch

And lifelong learning


Breaking the ice – smiles

Or sometimes they roll their eyes

But now I know them


Their expectations

Their subject matter knowledge

Three intriguing lines


Use this icebreaker

The next time you meet learners

What will they reveal?


Actually, don’t wait!

Leave a comment in haiku

What is your story?


You may also like 6-Word Memoir as a concise way to break the ice!