If L&D Professionals Don’t Set Clear Expectations, Someone’s Gonna Get Hurt

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Last week, as part of a teambuilding activity, I played paintball with some co-workers. Before we were allowed to fire away at each other, we were given a mandatory “briefing” during which the rules of engagement were explained.

  1. The goal was to capture the flag
  2. Wear protective masks at all time
  3. Do not aim for someone’s head
  4. If you’re hit, you’re “dead” and you need to run back to a specified area of the field to “seek medical attention” before you can re-engage in the paintball fight

As we got going, I spied two co-workers and I opened fire. I hit them both, then I made a break to capture the flag. When I ran into the open, I was stunned to see a co-worker, who had just been “killed”, pop up from his position. It was like a scene from The Walking Dead. He was “re-animated” without ever having sought medical attention. The dead guy opened fire on me.

And he hit me in the shoulder. And the bicep. And tricep. And the funny bone. And the rib cage. And the leg. And he practically blew my hand off when he hit me on the middle finger of my left hand. (Below is a photo of the real-life medical attention I needed in order to avoid amputation.)

Paintball

During the initial paintball briefing, the rules were clear to me. But they obviously weren’t clear to everyone. And blood was literally shed as a result. (To be fair, there were no clean hands in this matter… the “kill shot” that should have knocked my co-worker out was a shot to the head, right between the eyes… which was not only against the rules, but because he had yellow paint splattered across his face mask, he couldn’t see if he had hit me and therefore kept shooting.)

Implications for L&D Professionals

  1. Practice giving instructions before you get in front of your audience. There are times when we come up with an activity that we think will really make our point crystal clear. But when we try getting our audience to do the activity, chaos breaks out and it doesn’t quite go as neatly as it did in our imaginations. I’ve found that practicing the delivery of activity instructions in front of the mirror or in front of a few trusted co-workers can be very helpful in ensuring the instructions will make sense to the audience and lead to the intended results.
  2. Model what is expected. There are times that we’ll work with subject matter experts or people unaccustomed to effective presentation design. For example, I often work with colleagues and clients and ask them to create a lesson plan to organize their thoughts around their content. I’ve found that when I give them a completed sample lesson plan, it becomes much more clear about what the expectations are in terms of how to fill out the plan, how much detail to include, etc. The same can be said about activities or assignments we ask our audience to complete during a presentation. Modeling what is expected will give the audience a much better picture of what is expected of them.

If only our paintball guide had modelled the appropriate behavior of what to do once you got hit, I might still have the full range of motion in my middle finger!

Instead of PowerPoint… dance?

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If you’ve read my blog posts for a while, you know I have some strong opinions about PowerPoint. In short, I think it’s a powerful tool that is all too often poorly used in presentations, wasting people’s time and turning them more cynical to training and presentations in general.

A while back, I proposed 10 alternatives to PowerPoint. But I never thought of dance as an alternative to PowerPoint until this past weekend when I watched this TED Talk.

If you have 11 minutes, I encourage you to give it a view. If you only have 5 minutes, then fast forward to the 6:00 mark, where he offers his proposal on an alternative to PowerPoint.

 

I’m not sure I’m sold on dance as a visual alternative to PowerPoint. Honestly, I felt the dancers were more distracting to me than anything during his first five minutes. But I like his thinking in terms of the need for more effective ways to visually represent information.

What do you think? Is dance something you’d ever consider as an alternative to PowerPoint? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Will PowerPoint Replace You?

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The other day, as I cleaned up a colleague’s slides, he said: “Wow Brian, you’re a PowerPoint ninja!” It was a nice compliment. While I’m still nowhere near the ability of a Garr Reynolds or a Nancy Duarte, I’d like to think I’m getting better with every slide deck.

When I need some inspiration on ways to create more visually appealing sets of slides, I often turn to Slideshare and their front page which always features amazing slide decks.

Over the weekend, this slide deck caught my eye. Who in the presentation field doesn’t want to learn more about being a better storyteller? And, eureka, is storytelling really dying?

The creator of this deck strung together a fun, entertaining narrative while adding a set of images that help add to his story. And I didn’t even need to attend his presentation in order to grasp the point he was making.

To be fair, my guess is that he modified this deck in order to upload it to Slideshare so that everyone who viewed it would understand what this deck was about. But what if he didn’t? What if the slides he presented were these exact slides? He’d be talking. The audience might be listening to him… but more than likely they’d be distracted by his voice as they tried to read ahead on his slides. People like to read what’s in front of them, and unless they’re four years old, they generally don’t like to wait for someone to read for them.

The presenter himself would not be necessary. He’s totally replaceable by PowerPoint!

I came across this slide deck, too. At first, I didn’t think it would be a very good example to put into this blog post. After all, there were so many holes in the narrative of this slide deck, I wasn’t always sure what point the presenter was trying to make.

Of course, that’s one of the things that actually makes this a good slide deck. The presenter didn’t put all of the information on her slides. Her slides offer a visual aid for her audience while the expertise, stories and narrative she offers provides the true value of her presentation.

Looking for some help in putting together a slide deck that will augment (not replace) you? Try this article.

Looking for some alternatives to PowerPoint? Click here.

Do You Train Like Barney Stinson?

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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)

18 Places for Training Professionals to Sharpen Their Skills

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Training other people is an art form that, if done well, can change the world… and if done poorly, will not only have an adverse impact on your own session, but can turn your audience cynical about the value of any future training opportunities, too.

Friend and fellow blogger Michelle Baker recently raised the concern that training professionals in some organizations are like the “cobbler’s children who have no shoes” – they take care of others’ learning needs but often don’t have opportunities to develop their own skills.

Do you happen to suffer from the Cobbler’s Children syndrome? Here are 18 ideas and resources for training professionals to brush up on their own skills:

Free:

1. Reading others’ blogs. This is where I get fresh ideas and energy to try new things every week. Five of my favorites include:

2. Write your own blog. I’ve found that by getting into the routine of writing a blog post twice each week, I’m forced to stay on top of what’s happening. And when I’m not on top of what’s happening in the industry, a reader will often gently remind me of more recent research and findings. I’ve also connected to a number of other thought leaders across the training field through my blog.

3. Industry publications. As long as you can prove you’re in the training field, you can subscribe to the following publications for free:

4. Twitter. Finding nuggets of wisdom through 140-character tweets is still a hit-or-miss experience for me. I have been exposed to a number of articles and research papers through some of the people I follow on Twitter. (Click here if you need some ideas on a few people to begin following)

Low Cost:

1. Industry groups. It’s important to be a part of something greater than us as individuals, and it’s crucial to stay on top of trends and research in the field. Here are a few industry groups that training professionals may be interested in. Each of these groups carries a membership fee in exchange for publications and discounts on events.

Higher Cost

1. Professional development classes. I’ve found conferences and workshops in which I have an opportunity to be exposed to thought leaders and get my hands on new ways to create change through my training efforts while networking with others in the field to be the most energizing way to sharpen my skill set. Although these opportunities can be pricy. Some of my favorites include:

What am I missing? How do you avoid being like the cobbler’s children that have no shoes?

Make End-of-Training Action Plans Obsolete

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Transfer of training: the Holy Grail for training professionals. So how do we get there?

Traditional training design includes a rockin’ presentation followed by an action plan and finally an evaluation form.

I’ve been reading a lot of Will Thalheimer’s blog lately. If you’re a training professional and you’re not familiar with Dr. Thalheimer’s work, you ought to be. He’s dedicated to the integration of evidence- and research-based training methods while de-bunking models, theories and traditional practices that fly in the face of scientific research (such as Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels of evaluation).

Recently, he wrote about building a better action plan. He calls it “triggered action planning”, and he cites research that suggests this method may “double the likelihood that our learners actually apply what they’ve learned.” Double the likelihood that learners will apply what they’ve learned! Not too shabby.

When I shared this idea with a co-worker, she told me that she liked this idea… though she didn’t like this idea as much as the idea of eliminating the action plan altogether. She asked: why not send our trainees on their way with a work product they’ll be able to use as soon as they get back to their offices?

She reminded me of our organization’s Presentation Skills training. We don’t ask the participants to complete an action plan, we ask them to put everything they learned during the day’s session together in order to craft a lesson plan they’ll be able to use when they return to their offices.

The traditional action plan is well-intentioned, but not very effective. With the Triggered Action Plan, Will Thalheimer has built a much better and potentially more effective mouse trap. Giving your learners an opportunity to build something they’ll use as soon as they get back to the office, well, that might just be the key to ensuring new skills are transferred directly onto the job.

Interested in a transfer of training case study? Read this: Transfer of Training: A Case Study

No Pain, No Gain: How To Make Your Audience FEEL Your Point

John Medina’s Brain Rule #4 is that we don’t pay attention to boring things. Medina writes that “the more attention the brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded – and retained.”

When we can create an emotional experience for our learners that produces a visceral reaction, our audience will pay attention to what we have to say. This is especially true (and important) when it’s time to present information with which our audience is not familiar (or perhaps information about which our audience isn’t excited).

One of the best examples I’ve seen happened this summer. A colleague was kicking off a presentation on the oh-so-fascinating topic of documentation, and why meticulous documentation is essential to stay out of trouble.

He began the session by giving the audience a pop quiz abount a completely unrelated topic. Before he posed his pop quiz question to the audience, he promised a chocolate bar to anyone who got the question correct. He then asked his question and immediately three audience members shouted out the correct answer.

My colleague took out a chocolate bar, unwrapped it, and began eating it himself, as he started the main part of his presentation. There were some grumbles from the audience. One of the participants who had answered the question correctly shouted: “Hey, where’s my chocolate?!”

My colleague looked puzzled. He asked what people were so upset about. He didn’t recall promising anything. Could anyone produce any documentation to this effect?

When this point sunk in, the audience erupted in laughter. It was an experience they wouldn’t soon forget. They had been “had”. By losing out on an opportunity, they wouldn’t soon forget the point that documentation matters. It made the rest of my colleague’s presentation about how and when to document much easier and relevant.

Sometimes what’s true in the world of physical fitness training is also true for audiences in the world of corporate training: no pain, no gain.

Start Worrying (A Lot) More About Level 1

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I generally consider Level 1 evaluation forms to be a waste of time and energy, so when I read Todd Hudon’s The Lean CLO Blog post this week, Stop Worrying About Level 1, I cheered and said YES! And…

Todd’s point is right on. The most valuable learning experiences are generally uncomfortable moments and generally not even in the training room. Even in the training room, trainers can often tell by observing their audience’s behavior (not by using an evaluation form) when participants are engaged.

The best argument I can think of for Level 1 feedback is that it provides institutional memory. What happens if you – the rock star training facilitator of the organization – win the lottery and retire to your own private island in the Caribbean tomorrow? Or perhaps something more likely happens – you need to deliver the same presentation a year from now. Will you be able to remember the highlights (and the sections of your lesson that need to be changed)?

This point was brought home to me earlier this week when a co-worker was asked to facilitate a lesson someone else had presented back in the spring. I shared the lesson plan with my co-worker and his first question was: do we have any feedback on this session?

Searching through my files I realized that my disdain for Level 1 feedback led me to create a quick, too-general post-training evaluation form for this meeting and it didn’t yield any useful feedback for this particular session.

In addition to questions about the overall meeting, I should have asked specific questions (both Likert-scale style and open-ended) about each session during this meeting. Yes, this makes for a longer evaluation form, and if we’re going to ask learners to take the time to fill out the forms anyways we may as well get some useful information from them!

I absolutely agree with the idea that the best, most powerful learning experiences happen on the job. And in a world where formal training experiences are still part of our annual professional development experience, we training professionals need to ensure we continue to build better and better learning experiences for our audiences, both through noting our own observations of the session as well as crafting more effective ways of capturing our learners’ reactions.

What are some questions you’ve found particularly helpful on post-training evaluation forms?

Let me know in the comments section below (and perhaps it will be the subject of a future blog post!).

 

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.

 

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