Learning how to peel an orange has made me a better L&D professional

Orange

When I was growing up, my father would chop off the very top of an orange, then he’d score the peel vertically with a knife, cutting lines about an inch apart around the circumference of the orange. Then he’d use his thumb to remove the orange peel, section by section.

This is how I learned, and it’s the only way I knew how to peel an orange. When I found myself in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, a friend handed me an orange one day. I took out my handy Swiss Army knife, scored the peel, and spent several minutes determinedly trying to remove the peel. These oranges didn’t peel as easily as the oranges back home.

When I finished peeling the orange, my hands were sticky and the peel was all over, but I was ready to dig in. I looked up and saw my friend staring at me in amusement. She had finished her orange already.

“Why do you peel your orange like that?” she asked.   Continue reading

There May Be No Such Thing As A Dumb Question, But There Is Such A Thing As A Bad Question

Whether you’re de-briefing an activity or pushing your learners to go deeper on a thought they shared, the type of questions you ask your audience matter.

For example: Is there a particular type of customer you’d prefer to browse (and return to) your website?

Answer: Yes.  Or no.  But that’s it.  Yes.  Or no.  Head nodding.  Or shaking of heads.  Or blank stares because closed-ended questions like this don’t really require much thinking.

Yet in presentation after presentation, I’m surprised at how often a facilitator uses closed-ended questions in an attempt to engage the audience and to make a session more interactive. In the end, closed-ended questions generally serve to needlessly (and sometimes painfully) prolong a session and the facilitator often does most of the talking.

What’s the solution?  A slight tweek to the way questions are phrased.

For example: What kinds of customers would you prefer to have browse (and return to) your website?

Answer: Customers with deep pockets and lots of money and who fit our core demographic.

Facilitator: Interesting.  Tell me more about what you mean by “deep pockets” and “lots of money” and just who is our “core demographic”?

Suddenly, instead of head nodding (or shaking), we have a conversation!  And now others can jump in and agree or disagree.  With a slight tweek to the way a question is asked, things can get good and lively very quickly.

Next time you’re looking to engage your audience in truly engaging conversation – whether in the middle of a lesson or during a de-brief, try a few of these question starters:

Instead of beginning with…

Try this…

Is there… What kinds of…
Has anyone ever… Tell me about a time that…
Does this sound familiar… How does this situation compare to your own experiences…
Do you agree with… What would make you agree with…

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.

Assessing Learning Needs: 3 Questions to Ask before You Start Facilitating

How do you know what your learners are expecting to learn from you?  Are you simply assuming your intentions align with your learners’?  We all know what happens when you ass/u/me, right?

I’ve found that, even when I’ve sent out a course overview, learning objectives and a high level agenda in advance, my learners are often expecting to walk away with something different than what I intend to present.  And this can be a frustrating experience for my learners and for me.

Here are three questions I like to ask prior to beginning a training session:

  1. What are you expecting to get out of this session?
  2. How do you plan to use what you get from this session when you return home?
  3. How will you be held accountable for using what you take from this session?

The first question is to be sure facilitator and learners are in alignment.  If learners are expecting to take something away that you do not intend to cover, a clarification around the scope of your presentation is necessary at the beginning.  Items outside the scope of your presentation can be placed in the “parking lot” and if you have time to cover them (perhaps a brief conversation during a break or at lunch time), then more power to you.

The second and third questions are more for the learner.  As I’ve written before, in order for knowledge or skills to be transferred from the training room to the actual job, the learner will need some help – at least from the facilitator, and ideally from his or her supervisor.

My ideal scenario is to send these questions out to participants in an email or via online survey prior to the training session.  However, when I present at a conference and don’t know who my learners will be in advance, I sometimes have participants write the answers to these questions on post-it notes or on flipchart as they enter the room.

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.