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

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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!

Why I Still Teach Learning Styles

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Wow, do people get fired up about learning styles or what? In 2009, a now famous study de-bunked the “science” behind the idea that different learners would benefit by having access to materials customized to their specific learning styles.

Recently, Will Thalheimer upped the ante for his “Learning Styles Challenge” to $5,000 for anyone who can scientifically prove the value of learning style theory.

I respect science. If scientific studies have been conducted that say we don’t need to customize our training courses to offer only verbal information to auditory learners, only written information for visual learners and only movement-based information for kinesthetic learners, then let’s not create all those individualized materials.

But I’ve never, ever heard of anyone spending any extra time customizing three sets of materials for their learners, depending on their learning style.

I have, however, heard of presenters who lecture and talk at their audience for their entire presentation.

I have sat through training sessions in which trainers tell us the theory behind their topic, without allowing anyone to de-brief the ideas that were shared.

I have sat through many a sermon and homily on Sunday morning when, in the absence of any visual cues or movement, I simply zone out and begin thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch.

Incorporating design elements that include auditory, visual and kinesthetic activities into a presentation or training module is simply good teaching. It’s simply a way to engage learners, to get them involved, to make them feel a part of the presentation and to capture their imagination. Therefore, it’s something I continue to teach in my train-the-trainer sessions.

 

PowerPoint: Should You Be Using It For Presentations?

The other day, a co-worker said that he felt he was getting mixed messages from this blog regarding whether or not he should be using PowerPoint.

So, let me be clear. In response to the question: “Should you use PowerPoint for your next presentation?” My unequivocal answer is no. Unless you need to. Then I say yes.

How do you know if you need to use PowerPoint? Well, what would happen if you didn’t use slides for your next presentation?

Perhaps a better question is: what would happen if the power went out or the LCD project bulb blew? Would you still be able to deliver an effective message without your slides? If the answer is “yes”, then perhaps you don’t need slides in the first place.

My problem isn’t with PowerPoint software. If you feel visual aids will enhance your presentation, then please go ahead and use PowerPoint. BUT, if you’re going to use PowerPoint, then you have a responsibility to your audience to make sure your slides add value.

Your slides should look more like this:

 

Or this:

 

But if your slides look like this:

 

The truth is that your audience will probably be reading all the information on your slides instead of listening to you. If that’s the case, what value are you bringing to the presentation?

If your slides look like this:

 

Your audience may just fall asleep.

These last two examples are ho-hum. Nothing special. And they’re probably like slides you’ve seen dozens (if not hundreds) of times over your career. They may even take a lot of time to put together. And they add little value.

If you want to use slides, go ahead. If you want to make sure the time you invest in creating a slide deck is worth your (and your audience’s) while, then spend a little time on your design.

Interested in learning more about how to craft more effective slides? Try this article: Trick Out My PowerPoint.

 

 

93% of Learners are Just Saying No to L&D

A colleague emailed me this report on attitudes toward elearning from Towards Maturity, and it was eye opening. Perhaps the most striking statistic in this survey, which gathered responses from 2,000 learners, was that only 7% of them thought that the learning and development department would be most influential to encourage them to learn online.

Just Say No

It’s long been known that “if you build it they will come” is a losing prospect for learning departments – you can’t simply build elearning programs, no matter how amazingly designed or relevant to learners’ work, and expect people to flock to your LMS and complete a bunch of courses. But only 7% view L&D as essential to bringing staff to learn online?! Wow.

So what are the implications of a statistic like this?

1. L&D needs friends (especially among line managers). Relationship building is at least as important as instructional design skills when it comes to L&D teams being effective. And that means…

2. There is no room for training snobbery. Patience, understanding and a willingness – no, a desire – to meet non-training folks where they are when it comes to their appreciation for sound learning and engaging design are also essential qualities for the L&D team.

3. “Intel Inside” is a pretty good model. Very few people buy Intel products directly. They buy Lenovo or Dell or Sony. Very few consumers know (or care) what kind of processor is inside their computer. The only hint that there even is a processor inside the computer is a tiny, obscure sticker that says “Intel Inside” on the bottom left corner of the computer. This can serve as a model for L&D teams around the world. It really doesn’t matter if a state of the art elearning program comes from the L&D department; if it can be accessible to learners with little effort or thought as part of their every day work flow, staff will be more likely to use it, learn from it, benefit from it and do something new or differently or better because of it.

There’s my take. What do you think? What implications do you think this Towards Maturity survey could have on learning and development?

6 Reasons Your Presentation is no TED Talk

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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.

Are You Using Some Of The Top 100 Tools For Learning?

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Each year, the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT) puts together a list of the top 100 tools for learning. This year, I decided to vote for my top 10.

When I read the voting requirements – that I had to list ten tools in order for my vote to count – I started to wonder if I would be able to complete my ballot. I have several go-to tools, but I’m not sure that I have ten tools that I consider essential to my role as a learning practitioner.

Throwing caution to the wind, I began completing my ballot. Seven minutes later, I realized that there are more than ten tools that I use and my ballot was complete.

I then clicked on this link and started perusing how other people completed their ballots. It was interesting – many others use the same tools as I do. However, there were some tools that I’d never heard of and which I plan to check out in the very near future. And there were some tools I’d used in the past and then forgotten about, which I plan to begin using once again. And these last two points, I believe, hold the power to this list: an opportunity to be exposed to new tools and a reminder of old tools that have long since been forgotten.

If you have ten minutes, I encourage you to fill out your own ballot by clicking here. I’d also encourage you to see what kinds of tools others are using – perhaps you’ll be exposed to something new (and life changing?), perhaps you’ll simply be reminded of an old favorite.

10 Alternatives to PowerPoint (or Keynote or Prezi)

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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.

5 Models to Pull Out of Your Hat on a Moment’s Notice

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About 10 years ago, I was sitting in a training session when the facilitator stopped the conversation, drew a diagram on the flipchart, and pivoted into a new conversation so seamlessly, it was like he had designed for the exact conversation we were having. Only, there’s no way he could have possibly known where our conversation would go that day.

A co-worker, awe-struck by how smoothly this facilitator worked through our issues, leaned over to me and whispered: “How amazing is it that this guy simply has a bunch of different models always in the back of his mind and can pull out the right one at exactly the right time?!”

At the time, I was still new to the corporate learning and development space, and in that moment I suddenly had something to aspire to: if I was going to be an effective, credible facilitator, I needed to have an array of models, ideas and theories I could bring into any conversation at a moment’s notice. Following are five models I always keep in my back pocket in case I need them, regardless of the topic:

  • In the event we need to explore a new concept: de Bono’s 6 Hat Thinking Model. Sometimes there is an individual (or group) that is vehemently opposed to a new idea or concept and unless I come up with some type of drastic measure quickly, this resistance can torpedo the entire conversation or project. de Bono’s 6 Hat Thinking Model is a non-threatening way for a group (or individual) to systematically look at an idea or concept from all sides. There is time to talk about the problems with an idea, and time to talk about the merits of the idea, and any data that exists, and any creative ways an idea can be put to use, and the idea within a larger system, and any emotional reasons someone may love or hate an idea.
  • In the event learning isn’t happening as fast as it should: the 4 Stages of Competence. Sometimes there is frustration that learning isn’t happening fast enough or there is disappointment that someone didn’t realize something sooner. The 4 Stage of Competence model is a 2×2 matrix that provides a simple explanation for how learning – in individuals and in organizations – generally happens.

4 Levels of Competence

  • In the event change isn’t happening as fast as it should: the Heath Brothers 3 Keys to Change Management. There are a lot of models for change management. John Kotter’s work is perhaps the most famous. However, I’ve found Kotter’s work to be very “academic” and difficult for audiences who are new to concepts of change management to completely wrap their arms around. Chip and Dan Heath have taken a look at many models of effective change management and boiled effective change management down into three essential elements: making a rational case for change, appealing to people’s core emotions, and providing structure for change to take place.
  • In the event a simple list of barriers and solutions won’t work: the Force-Field Analysis. I feel that simply making a list of barriers and solutions is too simplistic of an activity to really allow people to go back to their offices and get things done. I was introduced to the Force-Field Analysis in my master’s program during a course on strategic planning. A Force-Field Analysis forces an audience to think about all of the things that can drive a new initiative or project or idea forward, and all of the things that can restrain that same initiative or project or idea. Then an audience must discover all of the ways to remove or mitigate those “restraining forces” and come up with a specific action plan to address each restraining force.
  • In the event someone says “Why can’t we just tell them what they need to know?!”: a 4-step instructional design model. Simply telling someone does nothing to ensure they’ll retain it or use it later. There are many instructional design models out there, the most prevalent is ADDIE (which I argue is more of a project management model than instructional design model). This is the 4-step model I’ve come to embrace: 1) introduce content through some type of anchor activity, 2) provide the actual content, 3) offer an opportunity for application in the training environment and 4) provide learners specific ideas and ways they can use this content in the future. I honestly don’t know who came up with this model, but I’ve found it to be easy to explain to SMEs and effective in engaging audiences.

What are some of the models, tips, tools and tricks you keep in your back pocket when you’re facilitating? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

Sometimes All You Need Is A Fresh Set of (Non-L&D) Eyes

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I spend a lot of time looking at the training lesson plans of subject matter experts, giving them feedback and suggestions on how to make their presentations more engaging.

About a month ago, I was preparing to deliver a segment of new hire orientation introducing my department’s work to a group of new hires. Before I began, I asked what the new hires thought of some of the other new hire sessions they’d attended. One woman said: “I’ve been impressed. There have been some presenters who have taken what could be very boring, technical topics and they’ve turned them into very interesting and cool presentations through interactive case studies, simulations, demonstrations and other activities.”

It made me feel good. Some of the things I’d worked with our subject matter experts on had been integrated into their lessons and apparently well-received.

Then I delivered my presentation. It was slated for an hour, but fifteen minutes into it I got a sinking feeling. The new hires were politely listening. And that was the problem. They were simply listening to my information.

I had been able to provide feedback and ideas to others, but I hadn’t actually used my own advice to make an amazing presentation with my own content.

I took my lesson plan to some (non-learning and development) colleagues and asked for some thoughts. With their fresh eyes on my lesson plan, we were able to come up with several stories to frame the work of our department. We came up with a case study. And of course, we ended with a short “pop quiz” just to see if people were paying attention.

For learning and development professionals, sometimes all of our theory and education and experience can’t stack up to simply getting a fresh set of eyes on our work.

Want more information about lesson plans? Try these other posts:

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A Lesson in Gamification from Car2Go

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I was in a hurry to get home the other day and the bus wasn’t going to get me there in time, so I hopped in a Car2Go (if you’re not familiar with Car2Go, it’s a pretty ingenious way to get around town without having to own your own car; check it out here).

As I sped home in the little Smart Car, I noticed what seemed like a warning light. I pressed on the touch screen display and up popped a message, something along these lines: “you need to drive better.” Apparently I wasn’t driving in a very fuel efficient manner. Then, on the touch screen display, this image popped up:

Gamification 1

My initial thought was: What the hell? I’m just trying to get home. It’s rush hour. I’m driving in city traffic. Seattle is full of hills. And drivers who don’t go when a light turns green (nor do they honk). How am I supposed to drive in a more fuel efficient manner?

And then I took a closer look. Those trees did look pretty sad. And who wants a monitor displaying grey rain clouds? And what were those numbers? What was the highest score? 50? 100? Guess there’s only one way to find out. So I started pressing a little lighter on the gas pedal when I accelerated. When I was cruising I stopped pressing the gas pedal when I was going down a hill. I eased into traffic stoppages and stop lights a little more gently.

I noticed that the forest started looking a bit healthier. A cloud even went away. And those clouds that remained had turned white. Who doesn’t like a few white, puffy clouds in the sky?

Gamification 2

What lessons can learning & development professionals take from this?

As I drove, there were no detailed instructions. There was no carrot nor was there a stick. Nobody at Car2Go would ever yell at me (nor would they ever reward me) for my driving habits. There was barely any message given to me at all, yet my fuel efficient driving apparently improved. It tapped into my curiosity (hmmmm, how do I get these numbers to go up? How do I make the trees get bigger? Wait, the clouds turn different colors? And if my score gets high enough, the clouds go away? Well then, what happens if I ease off the gas pedal a little more? What happens if I ease into slowing down and stopping a bit more?). It tapped into my competitive nature (just how high can I get those numbers?). It tapped into my playful nature (all right, there are some electronic images of trees… how can I get them bigger and healthier?).

Whether elearning or in-person, do we need detailed instructions? Is there a way to tap into our learners’ inner curiosity? Their innate sense of play and competitiveness? Is there a more fun and simple way to motivate our learners?

If the car sharing service Car2Go can do it, why can’t instructional designers and learning and development professionals?

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