Classroom Training is a Bit Like Live Theater

The choreography matters.

When you go to see a play – whether a local high school production or a Broadway musical – a lot of time, thought and rehearsals are devoted to where the actors will stand and how they will move across the stage.  They don’t show up each night with a general idea of how they’ll approach the show.  There is a very intentional plan for how the performance will proceed.

I spent the past few weeks reviewing my colleagues’ lesson plans.  My biggest contribution has been to ask for more detail from them.

Here is an example of something I’ve seen a lot recently in lesson plans I’ve been reviewing:


Content/Key Points

Instructional Technique

60 min. Coaching – Application

  • Have learners work in groups of 3 or 4; rotate roles as coach, coachee and observer(s)
  • Large group discussion

Small group work

Large group de-brief

While I never advocate for a verbatim script in a lesson plan, I strongly suggest that instructions for each activity are spelled out in detail.  For the example above, I have several questions:

  • Does it matter how the small groups are created?
  • Should supervisors be part of (or perhaps be intentionally separated from) their direct reports during this activity?
  • To save time, should the facilitator simply assign groupings or is it ok for participants to spend several minutes breaking up into groups of their own choosing?
  • When it comes to the observers, will they simply give general feedback or will there be a specific observation form they’ll use?
  • When it comes to rotations, does it matter that groups of 4 will only have 15 minutes per rotation while groups of 3 will have 20 minutes per rotation?
  • Will the large group discussion have any structure?
  • Are there specific questions that should be asked during the large group de-brief?

When people take time out of their schedules to participate in a training session, we training professionals owe them a good show.  Having a general idea of what we want to happen and then just “winging it” at the time of the presentation generally doesn’t make for a great show.

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The Key To Amazing Presentation Delivery

“I have meetings all morning that may run long.  I may not be able to make our practice session today.”  When my co-facilitator said these words to me earlier this week, not only did my heart sink, but I began to panic.

We’re scheduled to deliver a 60-minute presentation in front of a national audience next week and this was the only slot remaining for us to rehearse our presentation and get feedback prior to next week’s conference.  Fortunately for us, her meetings did not run long and we were able to rehearse.

And our performance was not good.

Would it have been “good enough” in front of our audience next week?  Probably.  Would attendees have walked away thinking: I learned something?  Probably.  Would we have achieved our full potential?  Would we have given our audience the presentation they deserved for choosing to invest an hour of their time with us?  No and no.

The handful of co-workers we had roped in to watching our rehearsal gave us a lot of feedback.  Some if it was downright brutal.  But the rehearsal we had and the feedback we received has led to a number of minor changes throughout the presentation – we’ve re-ordered some content, dropped some content, de-emphasized some content, added more focus to other areas – will have an enormous impact on our learners’ experience.

I’ve been presenting in front of groups for fifteen years.  I’ve given some great presentations.  I’ve given some stinkers.  And it still amazes me how much of an impact a practice session will have on the final presentation.  The stinkers I’ve given, the stinkers I’ve sat through as others give, often are presentations that have not been rehearsed in advance.  The ones where someone says: “I know this topic very well, I have an outline, I have some slides for this… I can just wing it on the day of the presentation.”

Every afternoon at 4:15pm, Jon Stewart rehearses his script for The Daily Show before taping it in front of a live audience later in the evening.  The president rehearses his State of the Union address before getting in front of Congress (and live television) to deliver it.  If these very busy people can find the time to rehearse their presentations, perhaps we presenters can find a little time in our schedule to make sure we’ve practiced before we get in front of our learners.

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.

Don’t Let Your Own Voice Get in the Way of Your Success

Bill Belichick, and I have something in common.  If you’re a trainer or presenter, perhaps you do, too. 

Every elite level coach and athlete will watch hours of game film each week, dissecting each play, finding out how to improve their performance and where to make adjustments the next time around.

As trainers, do we take advantage of available technologies to review our performance with an eye toward continual improvement and effectiveness in our delivery? Or do we cringe at the thought of watching ourselves in action?  If you’re like I am, hearing your own voice is the one thing worse than hearing nails on a chalkboard.

Seeing is Believing

About six years ago, I facilitated a train-the-trainer session for the first time in a new job.  The end-of-session feedback was incredibly positive; to sum it up, the participants felt that my co-facilitator and I rocked, we had exceeded expectations. 

Except for one participant.  She literally thought I rocked, as in I swayed slightly from side to side as I was talking in front of the room.  She said I made her sea sick.  I dismissed it because there’s always one attendee who just has to say something critical.

A year and a half later, as an assignment for a masters program, I had to videotape myself delivering a 5-minute presentation.  And I rocked!  Literally. I was gently swaying from side to side.  Reviewing the video, I grew sea sick.

Since then I have made a conscious effort to beware of my body language and posture when in front of a group.  I never would have made this adjustment (and I would still be gently swaying) had I never seen that video.

Hearing is also Believing

Recordings – whether video or audio – can also be an extremely helpful tool when working with others (such as clients, subject matter experts or co-workers).

Recently, a co-worker and I spent an hour in a conference room reviewing a recorded webinar he had delivered. He’s a subject matter expert and knows his stuff forwards and back.  In all honestly, his presentation was fine.

Listening to his voice grated on his ears. But it was his opportunity to listen to his own voice that was the most important part of this exercise.

Feedback after the live event could have easily turned into a debate between my observations and my co-worker’s perceptions of his delivery.  But after we reviewed a recording of the webinar together, he could hear how many times he said “uh” or “um.” He could listen to the way he struggled to respond to some of the questions.  And there was no disputing these observations.

We identified opportunities for more learner participation:

  • throwing questions back to the participants to answer
  • using the polling feature
  • allowing everyone to see the questions in the chat box (watching the recorded webinar, we realized that participants did not have access to see others’ comments in the chat box)
  • stopping at critical points in a case to ask what others would have done with such a limited amount of information

As we thought about future webinars, we even saw the potential for using the breakout room feature.

After Further Review

Whether you’re working on a 60-minute webinar or a week-long training program, the fact is that your participants are investing time out of their lives to spend with you – time that they’ll never get back.  In exchange for this investment, you owe your participants a top notch learning experience.  Recording technologies offer trainers and presenters an opportunity to catch bad habits and improve every element of your delivery. 


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, please follow this blog!