Fun: There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way

“In our culture, fun is equated with a waste of time.”

I had this conversation twice in the past week. One person was talking about the culture of his country. The other was talking about her work culture.

“Fun” is a Rorschach test of a word. People read all sorts of things into it based upon their previous experiences. The truth is, fun in the training room can indeed be a waste of time, but it doesn’t have to be.

Furthermore, how is a “serious” presentation not a waste of time if it’s boring and nobody remembers anything from it by the time lunch rolls around the very same day?

I’ve been facilitating workshops for 16 years and if there’s one thing I can say for certain: adults like to play. Whether you’re a youth development specialist (where play is a part of your every day job) or a more “dignified” professional such as a surgeon or attorney or some hotshot executive, I’ve never seen participants more engaged, I’ve never been in a room full of participants in which the energy levels have been higher, than when I’m facilitating an icebreaking or energizing or teambuilding activity.

I will concede that an isolated “fun” activity can actually be a waste of time. After all, people aren’t sacrificing time from their day jobs just to have fun in the training room. The fun needs to mean something. And that requires intentional design and an effective de-brief.

Beginning the day by having people work in small groups to see how quickly they can pass a tennis ball around to each team member is fun. De-briefing this activity by discussing the concept of innovation and being able to refer back to this activity throughout the remainder of the day makes this fun activity meaningful.

Beginning a meeting by blowing up two balloons is fun. Having the balloons sit on the boardroom table and referring back to them throughout the rest of the day makes that fun activity meaningful.

Beginning an eye anatomy course by having the participants take a Cosmo-style quiz called “Which Eyeball Part Are You?” seems nonsensical and fun. Using that activity to lower anxiety and build a foundation upon which the students can learn the nuances of ocular anatomy makes it a meaningful and worthwhile exercise.

Playing a game of “telephone” to start a meeting can be fun. De-briefing the activity to ask how it can serve as a metaphor for your team’s communication (or miscommunication) practices helps drive the point home.

When “fun” is intentional, serious learning can happen.

Can the same always be said of the more “dignified” and “professional” presentations we see on a daily basis?

Do You Train Like Barney Stinson?

This interaction resonated with me for two reasons.

First, I’m beginning to train for a marathon and there’s something appealing to the idea that there’s only one step I need to take in order to prepare for a 26.2 mile run.

Second, I hear similar statements when I talk with co-workers and clients about putting together a training program. “Look, adult learning principles are nice and all, but honestly I just need to tell them what they need to know. And then they just need to do it.” When it comes to training, too many people carry the attitude that “there is no step 2.”

The problem, as borne out by research, is that when you bring people together for training and it’s a bad experience and nothing new or different results from that training, people grow more cynical about the value of the training going forward. When people are more cynical about training, they are less likely to engage or take anything away.

“There is no step 2” is a simplistic fantasy (if you were to watch the whole episode, Barney indeed pays for this guiding philosophy later on!). The truth is, if someone wants you to help put together a training program and your name will be attached to it, then there are three steps you need to take.

  1. Set clear objectives. Basically, you need to finish this sentence: by the end of this training, the participants will be able to ___________________. And your sponsor (supervisor, executives, client, or whoever else asked you for this training) needs to be aligned with the way that this sentence ends.
  2. Design something amazing. Yes, this is easier said than done. Of course, if you have well-crafted objectives, your task of designing something amazing should be a lot easier. Click on the link for “Instructional Design” on the left-hand side of this blog if you want some ideas on ways to engage people and get them involved in your next training session.
  3. Follow-up! Just because you said something and/or because your participants had a great time in your session doesn’t mean it’s going to stick. How will your participants be held accountable for doing something new or different or better once they return to their desks? (Click here for a more effective way to create an action plan)

Labor Day is a Good Reminder for Training Professionals to Work Less

Sometimes it seems we training professionals work too hard. As we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, this is a simple reminder for anyone in the training field that we don’t have to work so hard!

I was on vacation last week and spent some time at the beach with my kids. At one point, they asked to learn how to skip stones on the water. I had a decision to make: what would be the best way to train them to skip stones?

My first instinct was to pull out my computer (yes, I even bring it to the beach in case I get a good idea for a blog post) and develop a quick PowerPoint presentation. It only took 45 minutes or so to do a little research on stone skipping and I threw together this presentation for them:

 

They were intrigued by this presentation at first, but quickly lost interest. And when they actually found a few round(ish), flat(ish) stones and tossed them in the water, the stones did not skip.

And then their grandfather came along, helped the kids pick out some good skipping stones, and spent about 3 minutes working with them on their throwing motion. My four year old tossed a stone that skipped 7 times.

Skipping Stones 1

So, to recap:

  • I spent an hour putting together a PowerPoint deck at the beach and then presenting to my children on what stone skipping was, a brief history, reasons to do it and how to do it. It resulted in 0 skipped stones.
  • My father spent three minutes working with the children on how to skip stones. It resulted in countless skipped stones (and even more laughs and smiles and ooo’s and aaah’s).

If someone needs to learn a new skill, perhaps we don’t always need to spend so much time preparing presentations and materials. Sometimes there might be an easier, more effective, less time consuming way to train.

Happy Labor Day!

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.

10 Alternatives to PowerPoint (or Keynote or Prezi)

PowerPoint can be an incredibly powerful tool, but for too many presenters, it’s their go-to tool. Every. Single. Presentation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here is a PowerPoint presentation I put together in order to share 10 alternative ideas to using PowerPoint:

 

(If you’re reading on a mobile device or cannot see the embedded PowerPoint presentation, click here)

What did I miss? I’d love to hear your alternatives to PowerPoint in the comments section below.

If you really, really, really, really need to use PowerPoint during your next presentation, be sure to check out this article:

Using PowerPoint? Take Some Ideas From These Spectacular Examples.

Do You Give Your Audience Too Much Of A Good Thing?

On Saturday, we stopped for ice cream on the way home from a family hike. This is what they brought my son:

Too Much Of A Good Thing

I’m sure the person in the kitchen thought she was doing her customer a favor. Who doesn’t want a LOT of ice cream, topped by even more whipped cream, when they order a treat? I’m sure she was thinking: I want to make sure my customer is getting his money’s worth!

Do you ever feel the need to do this with your audience? You only have 15 or 30 minutes and your topic is really important, so you’re going to be sure your audience gets its money’s worth. You’re going to load your presentation full of facts and figures – all stuff that you obviously feel is both essential and interesting – to make sure your audience leaves full and satisfied.

What’s that, someone suggests? Cut down on some of your content and identify the one or two most important points? Ha! That’s insanity. It’s ALL important.

The problem with this line of thought is that if it’s all important, then nothing is truly a priority. Look at that ice cream cone in the picture. My son stopped after a couple of minutes because it was too overwhelming to him. He certainly tried, but after a while it didn’t even taste good to him. In fact, it took three family members to put that ice cream cone down.

When it comes to presentation design, it’s essential to separate the “must have” information from the “nice to have” information. As Shannon Tipton has written in her excellent Learning Rebels blog, “people don’t need to know how to build a watch in order to tell time.”

The next time you’re getting ready for a presentation, make sure you identify the #1 essential thing that people need to know when they walk out the door. Putting too much content into your next presentation because you find the topic interesting can be intimidating and overwhelming to your audience. And they may decide that your presentation isn’t worth the calories.

 

 

“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.

Presentation Lessons from A Small Town 4th of July Celebration

I spent the Fourth of July on Bainbridge Island, which is a short ferry ride away from Seattle. They do a great job of putting together an event that an entire community can enjoy: a 5k run, kids activities, booths with food and crafts and political parties giving out bumper stickers and funnel cakes (not sure these fall into the “food” category, but they are sooooo good), and of course a parade.

Looking around this year, I noticed some things that really seemed to get people engaged in the activities. Not just attending, but truly engaged! And when I see people who are riveted by what they’re seeing, I begin searching for transferable lessons that can be applied to the presentation world.

Here are three transferable lessons from the 4th of July to which every presenter should take note:

1. From a Punch & Judy Puppet Show: The children’s entertainment this year (a puppet show) was surprisingly entertaining. And the entire crowd – kids and parents alike – was into it. Perhaps they were captivated by the terrible, fake English accent of the puppeteer, but I think it had more to do with the fact that every couple of minutes, the puppets would ask the audience a question. And the audience shouted the answer back, waiting on the edge of their lawn blankets for the next time they’d be asked to participate. Transferrable Lesson: People of every age love to have an opportunity to participate.

 

2. From the Dunking Booth: Judging by the size of the line – both of participants and spectators – one of the most popular activities was the dunking booth. People paid a couple bucks to throw three baseballs at a target in hopes of dunking somebody in water. And people happily parted with their money in order to try to dunk someone in water. Sometimes when they missed the target on all three of their throws, they’d plunk down a few more bucks to have another opportunity to “win” (hit the target and dunk someone). Transferrable Lesson: People love to play. Find an opportunity for them to play with your content.

3. From the 4th of July Parade: Kids love a parade because they have an opportunity to perform a death-defying scramble onto the parade route, narrowly missing disaster from an oncoming fire truck for a chance to grab a jolly rancher that was thrown by the town’s Citizen of the Year. Adults, well, they may not love the parades so much. Looking around, most adults we chatting with one another, or scooping up their children before their scramble for candy screws up the marching band’s rendition of Louie Louie. Until the Shakespearean actors came marching down the parade route. And one actor shouted: “TO BE OR NOT TO BE…” and then he paused and gestured for the crowd to join him. And everyone yelled in response: “THAT IS THE QUESTION!” I don’t remember how many bands or emergency vehicles or community organizations I saw. But I remember the Shakespearean group. Transferrable Lesson: Give the audience an opportunity to participate. It keeps them awake. And they’ll remember it.

Visual Representations: A New Twist (literally) on the 2×2 Matrix

I’ve heard that in the consulting world, every single problem can be solved with a 2×2 matrix. I’ve seen a lot of 2×2 matrices in my time, and I’ve discovered that the secret is to always be in the upper right quadrant.

2x2 Generic

When it comes to Stephen Covey’s 2×2 time management matrix, make sure you’re spending your time in the upper right quadrant.

2x2 Covey

When it comes to whether you’ll actually do anything with this blog post, I want you to be in the upper right quadrant.

2x2 Skill Transfer

The upper right quadrant is where the two “high’s” intersect: the high on the vertical axis and the high on the horizontal axis.

Sometimes, however, a facilitator will try to persuade me that “no single group in this 2×2 matrix is better than any other group.” On some subconscious level, I always feel the facilitator is lying when I hear that. I’ve simply been trained to accept the upper right quadrant as the optimal state of existence.

Last week, I attended a session on how stakeholder management is integral to change. It was facilitated by Michelle Miller, a designer-turned-organizational development professional. She offered a unique twist on the old 2×2 matrix. Literally. She decided to twist the matrix about 45 degrees, and put it into a circle instead of a square. She wanted to represent that there was a relationship among adjoining quadrants, but that no specific quadrant was superior to any other.

And I believed her.

2x2 Twist

The traditional 2×2 matrix has been touting the upper right quadrant as superior since the first consultant took out a stick and wrote four options in the dirt.

2x2 Cave Man

The next time you want to use a visual representation to illustrate a concept that includes four options, none of which are better than any of the others, don’t confuse your audience by plugging those options into a traditional 2×2 matrix.

Just give it a little twist.

Hello. My name is Brian, and I’m a training snob.

It’s been three days since I last shared a snarky comment about something training-related. I don’t know if I can go three more days. I suppose I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.

I realize now that training snobbery is a sickness. It took hold of me. I got so passionate about theory or the way I was taught to do something, or maybe the latest cool trick or hack. And nothing else in the world seemed to matter.

I still remember the last time I fell off The Wagon. It was last Friday. In the lunchroom at work. I didn’t have snarky thoughts once… I had them… twice. I’m so sorry.

The first time, I had just put my leftover pasta in the microwave and I was waiting for it to cook. Something caught my eye. It didn’t just catch my eye. It caught me.

A pack of markers. Just sitting on the counter. Generic, Office Depot-brand flipchart markers. I thought to myself: “Who in the world would buy these?! And, good Lord, why?! These aren’t Mr. Sketch. They don’t have hypnotic fragrances like grape or cinnamon. They probably don’t even write very well on paper!”

And then… oh God. I’m so sorry. And then I opened the pack of markers. And I took the cap off the blue marker. As I suspected, it did not smell like blueberries. But it didn’t stink, either. And when I wrote on a piece of paper, it made marks. It was like I had been punched in the stomach. Maybe something that’s not Mr. Sketch can still be effective. My world was shaken.

Then the microwave beeped, snapping me out of this momentary existential crisis.

A co-worker passed by with his dirty dishes. “You all right man? You don’t look so well.” I think I may have turned a bit ashen. I was definitely perspiring.

I grabbed my re-heated pasta and sat at a table, alone. Except for my old friend, a copy of T+D magazine. Any time I really need to feel good about myself, I pull out a copy of T+D and read an article and shout: “I already know that! You’re not teaching me anything new!!” It makes me feel superior.

I was feeling a bit vulnerable at the moment, so I opened that magazine and found the weakest target I could find: Re-visiting the Lecture by James J. Goldsmith. Who advocates for lecture?! I just needed to hold my nose, read this article, and then all the self-aggrandizing, superior thoughts would flow.

I finished the article. Then blackness.

When I came to, I was surrounded by three or four colleagues. “Stop slapping me, I’m not dead!” I shouted to the guy who was slapping me in order to revive me.

I pushed my colleagues away. “You don’t know me! You can’t judge me! Just because I don’t lecture doesn’t make me a bad person! I’m not hurting anyone!” Someone put a gentle arm on my shoulder and told me I was slurring my words.

I ran from the lunchroom. I went to the bathroom and splashed water on my face.

“So this was what rock bottom feels like,” I thought to myself. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror.

The funny thing is it all started so innocently. I just wanted to help people learn and do their jobs a little better. And then I was at a conference one day and I overheard some more experienced people talking about how the session’s presenter’s handwriting on the flipcharts was too messy. Throughout that conference, there were a lot of whispers from audience members about how they could do something better.

Everyone else was doing it. So I tried it. First it was a snarky comment during a conference session. Then it was a snarky blog post or two. Before I knew it, I was even making snarky comments about a homily in church and I couldn’t look away when the snark and superiority took over various Twitter sessions like #lrnchat and #chat2lrn.

I accept that everyone is entitiled to his or her own opinion. And snarkiness can be contextual and an entertaining way to blow off steam. Problems come, however, when those opinions dismiss the possibility of being open to other ideas. Problems come when those opinions come from a place of superiority or arrogance.

Standing there, looking at myself in the mirror, having hit rock bottom, I realized that the disease of training snobbery (something Litmos’ Brent Schlenker recently described as Instructional Design Bias) is a problem when it limits your willingness to accept other ways of doing things. The T+D article was right on, lecture can be an effective delivery method. The Office Depot markers can get the job done.

Snobbery in any field – whether it’s politics or science or even L&D – is an ugly condition.

The first step to overcoming it is to acknowledge you have it.