Which Eyeball Part Are You? (and other ways to introduce content without resorting to lecture)

I’ve never looked around a conference room to see hundreds of people engaged and excited to be sitting, listening and looking at PowerPoint slides.  Ever.

Here are three strategies to introduce new content that I’ve found engage everyone in the audience.

1. Cosmo-style Quiz

No, I’m not telling you to rip a page out of Cosmopolitan magazine and quiz your learners about whether they’re good in bed.  But a Cosmo-style quiz can be a fun way to mix things up.  Last year, I ditched a medical school-style lecture to teach basic eye anatomy and replaced it with an activity called “Which Eye Ball Part Are You?” (click here to see the activity).  It’s been one of the most popular, lively and memorable activities in the week-long training curriculum.

2. Gallery Walk

Wouldn’t it be ironic to deliver a lecture on the concepts of adult learning principles?  When I introduce adult learning principles to new trainers, I print the name and definition of each principle on a separate piece of paper and post them around the room.  I’ll ask learners to take a stroll around the room, read each concept, then stand next to the one concept they feel is most important.  This is followed by a large group discussion.

3. Forced Ranking

When content is supported by empirical research, there’s an opportunity to keep learners on the edge of their seats… as long as you don’t blow it by putting everyone to sleep with a conventional PowerPoint presentation.  I can think of few things that grip an audience more than a good mystery.  I like having groups of managers force rank the most important people who influence whether or not training will be used on the job (the learner, the trainer, the trainer’s manager).  It leads to some great discussion and debate over how to make training stick before I give learners the answer to the mystery of who is most important (the learner’s manager).  I’ve seen others use this effectively in orienting new employees to the steps in a process that must be mastered.

This list simply scratches the surface when it comes to ways to introduce content without lecture.  People can certainly learn from lecture, but how can a presenter tell whether or not the learners are “getting it” when the presenter is the only one who talks during a session?  The three ideas above work best with audiences of 50 or fewer, but here are some ideas on how to engage larger groups.  If you haven’t been given much time, here are some ideas on engaging learners in 15 minutes.  Doing a webinar?  Click here for some ideas.

If you have other ideas, I’d love to read them in the comments section!

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7 thoughts on “Which Eyeball Part Are You? (and other ways to introduce content without resorting to lecture)

  1. While in grad school all of my professors used similar techniques rather than using the traditional lecture. It truly made the world of difference. It took us from sitting there with our eyes glazed over to incredibly rich and dynamic discussions. This is a great post and I love that you give different examples of how to engage audiences!

    • Thanks Jessica. Wow – ALL of your professors?! Where did you go to grad school – that’s pretty amazing!

      You’re absolutely right – it’s so easy to criticize presentations for being boring. It’s a little more difficult to come up with some creative ways to present traditional information. Glad you liked my examples. Feel free to add any of your own!

      • I went to the New School in NYC. The main reason I chose this school was because of their teaching style, everything is hands on and discussion based. I personally love learning by doing, it can mean more work, but it also means gaining a better understanding 🙂

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