Training Tip: The Messy Start

Imagine a world in which the training session begins as soon as each individual learner enters the room.  The learners don’t have to wait for the official start time.  There’s no awkward sitting and waiting and passively watching other learners enter the room, wondering who (if anyone) will sit next to them.

Imagine a world in which a facilitator can break the ice without eating up a single minute of precious classroom time.

This is the world of the “messy start.”

The messy start is a strategy I first experienced in grad school.  My professor (Jean Singer) posted a flipchart with the following instructions at the entrance of the room:

“Welcome.  As you enter, please grab a marker and write your response on each of the flipcharts posted around the room.  Then walk around the room and read what your colleagues have written.”

Normally there’d be a series of 4 or 5 questions related to the day’s topic posted on flipchart around the room.

I’ve adapted this strategy to my training sessions – I’ve found it a useful way to get my learners thinking about the topic at hand as soon as they walk into the room.  Participants who show up 10 minutes early now have something to do.  Even before the session begins, I get an idea of how much my participants know about the topic at hand, what their expectations for the session are and I have a host of participant thoughts to reference throughout my session (“When it comes to getting organizational change to stick, several of you wrote that there need to be adequate incentives.  This is true, but even before we think about incentives, there are several other things to keep in mind…”).

How does the messy start work?

  1. Come up with 3 or 4 or 5 questions related to the topic you’d like to have your audience think about.
  2. Write each question on a separate piece of flipchart paper.
  3. Hang these flipcharts around the room prior to participants entering.
  4. Distribute markers around the room for each participant.
  5. Post instructions for the messy start activity outside the entrance on flipchart and/or on the projection screen.
  6. Greet participants as they enter the room and encourage them to pick up a marker and begin writing.
  7. Be sure to refer to the comments that participants have written – during your introduction and during the session as each topic arises.

Have you used a messy start? Tell us about it in the comments.

Training Tips: Avoiding the “Plop”

It’s early on in the training session and it’s time to get some thoughts from the audience.  You pose a question and you wait for the answers to come streaming out.  But nobody raises their hand.  There’s silence.  Like an auctioneer, you scan the audience for any possible movement.  And you continue to find nothing but lonely, uncomfortable silence.  Your question simply plopped.

Should you call on someone?  Should you just give the answer?

I don’t like either of those options.  I like to ask people to turn to the person next to them and discuss their thoughts on the question.  Once they do this and the ice is broken and there is some energy in the room and people have obviously come up with some thoughts and answers to my question, then I’ll bring it back to the large group and ask for someone to respond.

The “plop” is never fun, but it happens.  In a large room, it’s easy to not volunteer an answer, it’s easy to hide among the rest of the participants.  When participants are asked to pair off, it’s much more difficult to remain silent.  And once the silence is broken, it’s much easier to find answers when you come back to the large group.

The Train Like A Champion blog is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  These brief “Training Tip” posts are a series of quick reference tips that are published while your beloved Train Like A Champion blogger is currently enjoying a little vacation.  The more in-depth posts will resume again in August.

Do you train like an ESPN announcer? Or an announcer from Univision?

I’m amazed at how similar some presentations (and audiences) are to soccer games (and audiences).

Some people I know are truly soccer fans.  They’ll stream Euro League games through their computer in the afternoons as they work.  And there’s no way they’d miss a World Cup Qualifier on ESPN in the evening.  The game may end in a 0-0 draw, but these fans will stay on the edge of their seat for a full 90 minutes (plus stoppage time).

Then there are the casual fans who might really appreciate the game if there was something to get excited about. Watching a game on tv, they may sit for a few minutes, but inevitably there will be better things to do around the house.  The announcers on ESPN know what they’re talking about, but they don’t make much effort to draw casual fans into the game.

Of course, if you’re watching the game on Univision, it’s a completely different story.  You don’t have to speak Spanish to get caught up in the announcers’ excitement.  Certainly the Univision announcers are well known for shouting GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLL! after each score.  But these announcers also get excited about every pass.  They get excited about every player and make a big deal about every player’s nickname.  Watching soccer on Univision is fun and engaging, even for the casual fan.  And often even for the fan that may not even speak Spanish.

This pattern is similar to many presentations and their attendees.  A presenter may drone on and on and click through slide after slide, but if it’s a specific topic that speaks to a specific portion of the audience, then there will inevitably be some participants who take feverish notes and hang on every last bullet-pointed slide in order to take something away.

Most presentation attendees are much more likely to be similar to casual soccer fans.

As a presenter, do you more closely resemble an ESPN soccer analyst – professional and assuming your audience has an inherent passion for your topic? Or do you more closely resemble a soccer announcer from Univision – professional and passionate, finding fun things to talk about and that everyone in the audience can connect with in addition to sharing your deep knowledge?

The Train Like A Champion blog is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  These brief “Training Tip” posts are a series of quick reference tips that are published while your beloved Train Like A Champion blogger is currently enjoying a little vacation.  The more in-depth posts will resume again in August.

Training Tip: When You Can’t Tape Things To The Wall

Some hotels and other meeting space venues don’t allow you to use tape on the walls, which generally rules out the ability to post flipcharts around the room.  Several years ago I stumbled upon a solution to this.

Plastic Sheets

Flipchart-sized plastic sheets that can serve as a cross between a white board and a flipchart have been a savior for me on several occasions.  They stick to the wall using the power of static cling – no tape, no irritated conference facility staff.

As much as I love Mr. Sketch markers, they actually are one of the worst things you can use when you write on these plastic sheets.  You’ll need to use either dry erase markers or something extremely permanent (like chisel-tipped Sharpies).

Bringing a package of these along takes a little extra space in the suitcase, but they’ve helped me look prepared on several occasions.  I’ve used these sheets in training sessions and with team members and executives during last-minute strategy meetings while on the road.

The Train Like A Champion blog is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  These brief “Training Tip” posts are a series of quick reference tips that are published while your beloved Train Like A Champion blogger is currently enjoying a little vacation.  The more in-depth posts will resume again in August.

Training Tip: PowerPoint as a Photo Editor

When Tom Kuhlman recently posted his 7 reasons why PowerPoint doesn’t suck, I was skeptical.  But as usual, he’s right.  Using tips from his blog post, I was able to quickly turn this image…

I Am Not A Role Model

…to this image in order to remove the background and create the look and feel I wanted…

I Am Not A Role Model (no background)

…with two clicks of the mouse.

I Am Not A Role Model - PPT

PowerPoint is actually an amazing tool… I’d love to see more presenters take advantage of its features to create amazing presentations.

Related Posts:

The Train Like A Champion blog is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  These brief “Training Tip” posts are a series of quick reference tips that are published while your beloved Train Like A Champion blogger is currently enjoying a little vacation.  The more in-depth posts will resume again in August.

Training Tip: The Handout that Keeps on Giving

2 part NCR

What kind of training worth its salt doesn’t have some type of action plan activity toward the end?

How many training professionals know whether or not their learners even think about those action plans once they’ve returned to their office?

Several years ago when I began facilitating a diversity training designed by Casey Family Programs called Knowing Who You Are, I was introduced to 2-ply, carbonless paper (if you go to a print shop, the official name for this paper is “2 part NCR paper”) as a way to help the facilitator follow-up with learners about their action plans.  The learner would write her action plan on this paper, tear off the top copy and take it with her, then put the second copy in a self-addressed envelope.  The facilitator would send that envelope to each learner 45 days after the training session as a reminder on what the learner had committed to doing.

You can get the same result if you collect everyone’s action plans and make photocopies, but I find the 2-ply carbonless paper to be much easier, much quicker and it involves many fewer logistics.  You can have something printed on this paper by sending an electronic file to your favorite print shop or by going to a place like Office Max.

I’ve used this tool in a variety of ways to help follow-up on training with my learners.  I’ve also found 3 part NCR paper helpful by offering the third copy to immediate supervisors so they can help follow up on the training and review action plans when their employees return to their offices.

The Train Like A Champion blog is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  These brief “Training Tip” posts are a series of quick reference tips that are published while your beloved Train Like A Champion blogger is currently enjoying a little vacation.  The more in-depth posts will resume again in August.

Training Tip: Keeping Handouts Organized

Multi Colored Handouts

Handouts are a great way to help learners follow along with the content you’re presenting and they can serve as a physical reminder for the learner to use your content when they return to their offices.

If you’re distributing multiple handouts, it can be helpful to copy each handout onto a different colored piece of paper.  This allows you to call your learners’ attention to the “pink sheet” or the “green sheet”. When all of your handouts are printed on white paper, you’re left having to describe the handout that you want people to pay attention to (“please turn to the fourth page in your packet” or “please turn to the page that looks like this”).  Even with page numbers, it can take valuable session time for learners to find the correct page.

Different colored handouts allow your learners to identify the correct page with one quick glance.

The Train Like A Champion blog is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  These brief “Training Tip” posts are a series of quick reference tips that are published while your beloved Train Like A Champion blogger is currently enjoying a little vacation.  The more in-depth posts will resume again in August.