A Nightmare on Training Street


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It was a dark and stormy Halloween night in Seattle. Which was fine with me. The rain helps me fall asleep.

I fell into a dream immediately.

I was in a room. No windows. Paisley carpet. Pale green walls. Fluorescent lighting that was not at all flattering to my skin tone. I sensed that I’d been here before.

It was a ballroom at the Paramount Hotel downtown.

I looked around again. The walls were suddenly covered in flipchart. Beautiful flipchart. Mr. Sketch-infused drawings brightened up the room.

Suddenly, the doors flung open. The wind and rain from the outside quickly wreaked havoc on the room. My Mr. Sketch artwork began to run. The drawings were ruined. Handouts were scattered across the room. I tried to get up from my seat, and realized I was tied down.

In walked the facilitator. He introduced himself.

“Good evening, everyone. My name is Fred Krueger. You can call me Freddy.”

Seriously subconscious?! This is the best you can do? It’s Halloween night and I’m going to dream about Freddy Krueger shredding me up with his stupid glove? Not very original.

As he walked toward me, he pointed a finger at me and one of his knife-like claws sprang out. “This is for you, Brian…” and he laughed as he poked the “On” button to the LCD projector.

The projector would be warmed up in 7… 6… 5…

I started to worry about what kind of diabolical lesson he’d be teaching us before he made some sinister joke, then killed us all.

4… 3…

His sinister laugh grew louder, scarier.

2… 1…

I braced myself for whatever wicked tricks were going to pop out of the evil PowerPoint. And then…


The smile faded from Freddy’s face. He looked at his laptop. He pressed a few keys. He hit the projector once or twice.

“Try hitting Function F7,” I said. He tried pressing the Fn key, and then he hit the F7 key. Nothing happened. He looked at me. No longer was he the playful, murderous movie villain we’d all grown to know and love. He looked… frustrated.

“You have to hold the Function key and the F7 key at the same time,” I said. He did. And then… oh, it was worse than any nightmare I could have imagined.

Freddy projected a presentation he had prepared with a standard, pre-loaded PowerPoint template. And clip art. And some swirly font nobody could read. The swirly font was totally out of character for this guy… or was it?

His smile returned. He let out a low, spine chilling laugh. And everyone in the audience began to scream in sheer terror as Freddy read, bullet point by bullet point, every word on every single, text heavy slide. The deck was 93 slides long. By slide 28, many of the other attendees had keeled over, killed slowly and cruelly from poor presentation delivery.

By slide 52, I felt myself slipping.

By slide 81, I could feel my heart racing. My blood boiling. My head was about to explode. I had to keep reminding myself: if you die in a dream, you die in real life! Don’t give in, Brian!

I tried turning away from the screen. Freddy put a brace around my neck so I had to stare straight at the screen. As he was getting ready to launch into the final, fatal 37 slide addendum deck, there was a big explosion.

Freddy seemed surprised. A half-dozen people had burst through the wall. As the dust settled, I saw my co-workers had entered my dream somehow.

“Even though you write about us all the time in your blog, we’ve still decided it would be ok to save you!”

I let out an uncomfortable laugh. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb, short stuff,” exclaimed the tall co-worker, “we know who you’re talking about when your blog starts off: ‘The other day, a colleague…’”

They had a point. Sorry guys.

But they were here to save me, anyway!

They unplugged the projector (just in time!) and restored the flipcharts around the room. They began to talk to Freddy about the keys to adult learning.

“Nnnooooooooooooooo!” he screamed as if he was being sprinkled with Holy Water.

One co-worker invited Freddy to do a gallery walk around the room, visiting various stations in order to independently explore the elements of effective instructional design.

And then the coup d’ grace, the tall co-worker made Freddy rehearse his delivery. When he received constructive feedback, he suddenly combusted into a ball of flames. His murderous presentation skills would never haunt another dream.

Happy Halloween from the Train Like A Champion blog!

Is Your New Employee Orientation A Nightmare?

Sometimes a New Employee Orientation program is seen as a “necessary evil,” a series of orientation sessions that need to be dumped upon new employees during their first few days on a new job.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Join phase(two)learning’s Michelle Baker and me in a 2-day public workshop where you’ll be able to re-visit, revise and refine your New Employee Orientation program.

Want more information. Send me an email at bpwashburn@gmail.com for more details.

3 Lessons for L and D Practitioners from Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop


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Washington State legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. A pot shop recently opened a few miles down the road, and over the weekend I decided to see what all the hubbub was about. My experience at Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop brought to mind several keys to effective learning experiences.

  1. Self-directed learning works… sometimes. Having never tried marijuana (contrary to what the FBI thinks… but that’s a whole other blog post), I felt a little anxious and extremely out of place as I walked into the store. I was relieved to see both clerks talking with other customers, so I figured I could just browse a bit and educate myself.

The problem was that I had so little knowledge about what I was looking at, I had no idea what the numbers or words on the labels meant. I had no idea what the difference was between a little baggy that had a little clump of weed, and a differently-labeled and differently-priced but no less little baggy of another little clump of weed.

Lesson for L&D professionals: While on-demand, self-directed learning can be an important and cost-effective element of any comprehensive talent development strategy, even the smartest, highest potential employees may need some human guidance every once in a while. Pairing employees up with a mentor to help create a foundation of knowledge upon which to build when it comes to self-directed learning can be essential.

  1. Dude, back off on the buzz words and snobby insider language. When I got to the front of the line, the clerk asked how he could help me. I confessed I had no idea what I was looking at. He told me that there were basically two kinds of marijuana in stock right now: _________ and __________. I can’t for the life of me remember what words he used. They were big and fancy and I’d never heard them before.

I asked him what those words meant. He explained that _________ basically meant that it provided a “deep, chill, stoned feel to kick back and relax,” while __________ offered more of a “lighter, creative stoned feel for the daytime.”

Lesson for L&D professionals: Know your audience, and when necessary lose the industry jargon and sophisticated terminology. Your audience will be impressed by how much they learn from you, not the size of the words you use.

  1. A mentor doesn’t have to love his role as a mentor… but it would be a lot cooler if he did! I was kind of excited to learn more about what I was looking at behind the counter. The closest I’d ever come to imbibing in The Weed was probably when I watched Dazed and Confused. However, the clerks were closer in personality to Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off than Matthew McConaughey’s in Dazed and Confused. They were strictly business, and if I didn’t ask the right questions, I wasn’t going to get many answers.

Lesson for L&D professionals: Sometimes an employee doesn’t need formal training – classroom training, elearning, etc – they just need a mentor to show them the ropes. Simply pairing an employee up with someone who loves your business or who really loves your product isn’t enough; the mentor needs to love working with people and love teaching. Sometimes those qualities are innate and sometimes they’re taught, but those qualities are always crucial for a positive mentor/mentee experience.

In the end, I suppose I did learn a little bit, including the fact I was in way over my head, with no foundation of knowledge upon which to build or make an informed decision. Maybe I need to watch Dazed and Confused again before I head back to Uncle Ike’s.




Finding my Soulmate at DevLearn


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We all know that some conference presentations are spectacular… and some are complete snoozers. I wish there was a Match.com service for conferences and annual meetings. Some type of service that could match me up with great speakers and amazing presentations.

Next week, I’ll be in Las Vegas, attending The eLearning Guild’s annual DevLearn conference. If I could run an online personal ad in order to find the perfect conference session to attend, this is what it might look like:

Profile Name: Flipchartguy

Fly Guy

Location: Seattle, WA

Seeking: A lifetime of amazing learning opportunities… though one amazing fling of a presentation in Vegas will do for now

About Me: I’ve been in the L&D space for 16 years or so, mostly classroom-based but I’ve dabbled enough in elearning to hold my own. I’ve been told I have a one-track mind; all I can think about is how to make learning and development more engaging every day. I hope this little quirk is ok with you. But it means that I also expect you to want to make learning and development engaging every day. Not just in your office. But when you’re presenting, too. Like, when you’re presenting at DevLearn for example.

Who I’m Looking For: I’m looking for someone who can blow my mind and who doesn’t believe in “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” I’m looking for a session that delivers content or builds skills that won’t just be forgotten as soon as I walk out the door of your meeting room. I want to brag about what I did with you, what you taught me, what I can now do when I go back to Seattle and swap stories with my co-workers and other L&D colleagues for years to come.

Interests: Flipcharting, designing learning experiences, playing around with Storyline, geeking out over hot topics in adult learning

Exercise Habits: I’m actually kind of lazy, always looking for keyboard shortcuts to hasten the amount of time I spend in PowerPoint or Storyline or Word or Excel

Favorite Things: I know DevLearn is all about technology in learning, but I still cherish the first whiff of a new pack of Mr. Sketch markers

Last Read: Our Iceberg Is Melting (John Kotter)

Background & Values

Me My Soul Mate
Education M.A. Organizational Psychology Degrees are overrated
Learning Style Visual Kinesthetic
Delivery Style Attempt to be inclusive (as often as possible) Show me the ring (because I want to be engaged by you and your presentation!)
Honesty I may exaggerate from time to time Honesty is a must! What you advertise in your session description in the conference program should be what you deliver in your session!
Risk Taking Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Be fearless.


Delivery Style

Me My Soul Mate
Lecture No way This is a deal-breaker for me
Visual Aids Prefer flipchart; PPT if I must Standard templates, lots of text and bullet points are all deal-breakers
Preparation Almost always Must be impeccable (yes, I have higher standards for you; perhaps you’ll inspire me to prepare better)
Delivery Use a lesson plan as a guide, adapt to the audience and their needs This is a big deal. The delivery should seem natural and smooth (not off the cuff and aimless). Reading verbatim from a script or from the slides is an absolute deal breaker.


On November 3, I’ll follow up this post and will let you know if I was able to find that elusive conference session soul mate at DevLearn.

Will you be there? If so, drop me a line. I’d love to connect and, as I mentioned above, geek out over adult learning, instructional design and whatever else can be taken away from the conference!



Corporate Training Isn’t Little League… Not Everyone Should Get A Trophy


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When I was growing up, I wanted nothing more than to win the Brockport Junior Baseball League championship. Not only would I have bragging rights among my friends, but the championship team also received trophies.

The trophies were coveted because they were rare, and they meant something. The only people who got them were the people who got results.

I didn’t get a little league trophy until 1990. I was a freshman in high school (not-so-little-league, I guess). I didn’t even realize I’d get one. Apparently the rules changed that year. When I went to turn in my uniform for the summer, my coach sat in a room, collecting uniforms and handing out trophies as team members strolled through. No ceremony. Just a guy in a room, collecting stinky uniforms and handing out trophies.

I was confused. It was weird. We certainly didn’t win the league. We barely won any games. And we got trophies for that?!

The Connection between Little League and Corporate Training

Just about every training workshop and conference I attend is very similar to little league in this way: everyone gets a certificate at the end of the session. Honestly, when I receive a certificate, I either dump it in my hotel room trash can or it ends up in the recycle bin when I come across it as I’m sorting through ancient piles of stuff that have accumulated on my desk over the past six months. The certificates are meaningless. It doesn’t matter how much effort someone puts into their participation during a workshop. It doesn’t matter whether someone does anything at all after leaving a conference session. They all get the same certificate.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

About a month ago, a program director from another organization asked me for some thoughts on how to improve accountability and outcomes. He works with doctors who have annual CME requirements, and actually need certificates as proof of their continuing education.

I suggested that, instead of ending a 3-day course on the third day by handing out certificates, he turn his courses into “6-month” courses. In reality the course would still be 3 days of in-person training. But it would be important to set an expectation that the course doesn’t end on the third day when people walk out the door (thus the “6-month” course label). Perhaps it could be followed up with 60-minute webinars (or in-person sessions, depending on funding and logistics) during which trainees would have an opportunity to report on what they’ve done with their new skills or knowledge. At the 6-month mark, once trainees have demonstrated that they have done something with their new knowledge or skills, they could receive their certificate.

And the organization would suddenly have data to report on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of their training program.

Are you doing anything to give “real” meaning to your certificates (or are you just handing them out like little league trophies)?

Cool (and Free!!) Online Tool to Create Animations and Videos

Whenever I spend time reading an industry magazine, I want to be sure I take something away from it. In the issue of td magazine that was sitting on my desk, I stumbled upon an article about PowToon, a free online tool to create animations and promo videos.

I’ve been creating more and more promo videos for various training resources, so I thought I’d check it out for myself. After playing around with it for a few days, here are some initial thoughts on PowToon:

Three Reasons to Start Using It Tomorrow:

1. Cost. It’s free! Unless you want premium features, then you can pay $19 – $57 per month in order to access additional assets, templates and features. Still, the free version offers plenty of built-in material to get you started.

2. Community. PowToon looks like it’s making an effort to build an online community of users to share tips and exchange ideas. While I still say Articulate is the gold standard of online communities, PowToon does have a core of active users on its LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pages.

3. Familiar Interface. If you’ve ever used Captivate or Articulate or Movie Maker or any other software with a timeline, this interface will look familiar. The key to good animation is being able to sync the action on the screen with the message you want to deliver.

Three Things to Think About Before You Use It Tomorrow:

1. Learning Curve. I was hoping to be able to put together a quick demo that I created using PowToon for the purposes of this post. I struggled getting around the learning curve in order to produce a minute-long, animated promo video with voiceover that sync’d up with the animations. Once you play with the tool for a while, you should be able to put together some very cool product demos or promo videos… check out the PowToon landing page for a few examples.

2. Restricted Functionality. During my failed attempt to put together a demo for this blog post, I inserted a hand-drawn arrow. The image was red. I wanted it to be black to match the cartoon figure I had placed on the screen. And I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to change the color of an object on the screen. Little things like this, that can be addressed with a click or two of a button using another application, proved frustrating as I tried learning the functionality of this tool.

3. Does it really replace other applications? Perhaps it’s just my (extremely) stubborn nature, but I’m going to continue to play with this tool until I can produce a respectable (and fun and entertaining) promo video. However, there is a piece of me that wonders if using tools like PowerPoint or Articulate Replay or even Movie Maker might just be simpler.

PowToon seems to hold some serious potential, but as with any powerful tool, it takes some time to master.

Have you found a good way to create animations and promo videos? Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.

Learning and Development Thought Leader: Will Thalheimer


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In this age of social media, where anyone with a computer and Internet connection can post something online and proclaim themselves as a “thought leader” in their industry, it can be difficult to find the true leaders in the industry.

This is the first in a new, periodic series from the Train Like A Champion blog that will highlight L&D professionals who have proven effective in moving the industry to better results and higher performance.

Thought Leader #1: Dr. Will Thalheimer

Will Thalheimer leads Work-Learning Research and is simply on a quest to cut through all the noise and questionable research that’s out there in order to help L&D professionals be aware of evidence-based practices and well-conducted research.

He has the gall to question the effectiveness of Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels of evaluation (and the research to back it up). And don’t even get him started on learning styles.

If you have a sliver of interest in the research behind what truly works in training and presentations, you should be reading his blog, Will At Work Learning.

Two Resources from Dr. Thalheimer that You Should Check Out ASAP:

Research Study: While there’s a lot of good stuff on there, one blog post I found particularly helpful revolved around a study titled The Science of Training & Development: What Matters in Practice. The Science of Training & Development. In my day job, I work with a lot of medical professionals who insist on the science behind things. While facilitation is indeed an art form, having research-based best practices lends necessary credibility to conversations about why lecture and didactic delivery of content isn’t effective.

Slide Design: I’ve never liked the idea of slide templates. I never had a very good argument against them until I watched this 10-minute video:

In Sum:

I could write a lot more about Dr. Thalheimer and why he’s someone you should be listening to. But then those would just be my words. And the Train Like A Champion blog hasn’t (yet) declared me a thought leader in the L&D field. So, check out some of these resources and discover for yourself why you should be paying attention to his work.


Trick Out My PowerPoint: Episode 2


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Every second of the day, PowerPoint is used in approximately 350 presentations around the world. To put that into perspective, there are more PowerPoint presentations born every second than babies.

If you’re planning to use PowerPoint (along with 30,240,000 other people every day), it’ll be important that your slides can stand out and be memorable.

Phase(Two)Learning’s Michelle Baker and I are here to help! In this second edition of our Trick Out My PowerPoint series, we’ve taken a look at an actual slide from a conference I recently attended and put our own spin on the design of the slide.

Episode 2 (Original)

While the presentation itself featured good, relevant information, here’s a sample of how Michelle and I would have “tricked out” this slide deck for maximum impact on the audience.

Trick-out Artist #1: Brian Washburn

All the information is there on this slide, and I would have broken up the bullet points into four separate slides (when you list all your bullet points on one screen, your audience will be too busy reading the text on your slide to pay attention to what you have to say… the brain can’t read and try to listen at the same time).


To me, the word “goal” lends itself very easily to a sports metaphor. One way to trick out this slide deck, at least this particular section revolving around goals, would be to turn the slide into a stadium scoreboard, complete with jumbotron screen for the image.

Episode 2 (V1)

Option 2: This Is Only Made Possible With Your Support

The word “goal” also reminds me of the old “fundraising thermometer” whereby reaching one goal is a small victory along the way, but the ultimate destination is to reach every single goal (filling up the entire thermometer).

Episode 2 (V2)

Option 3: Work Within The Template

Finally, there are times when someone at a higher pay grade insists that a slide template must be used. There are so many reasons I don’t like slide templates, but the biggest one is because the slide template eats up valuable slide real estate. Nonetheless, if a slide template is required, it doesn’t prevent the visual imagery of your PowerPoint slides from being powerful. I might put together a series of slides that looks like this…

Episode 2 (V3-1)

Followed by a series of slides with text that is crystal clear. During the delivery, I’d make the point that without all four of these goals being achieved, millions of people would remain corneal blind and those blurry slides represent all they would be able to see.

Episode 2 (V3-2)

Trick-out Artist #2: Michelle Baker

Well, I took the challenge in another direction. Ordinarily, my gut reaction would have been to take the same approach as Brian, to divide the content among multiple slides. But as I looked at the slide, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could actually communicate the point of the slide on one individual slide, without looking cluttered or forced.

I transformed this slide three ways:

Option 1: Simple and Straightforward

Episode 2 (vA)

On this slide, I specifically called out the two goals of eye banks, using a simple “bullseye” graphic for participants to identify these goals with the importance of achieving the goal. Using a callout box in a contrasting color, I added the additional talking points. The box and color breaks up the text, and allows the participant to focus on “zones” in the slide, rather than looking at many text rows. You could also utilize PowerPoint’s animation/transition features to have the text box float in after discussing the two goals, to make the slide appear even cleaner.

Option 2: Let SmartArt Do the Work

Episode 2 (vB)

When used properly, SmartArt can be a very effective way to visually convey information on a slide without using too much text. It’s a wonderful, easy-to-use feature for non-graphic designers (like myself!) to add to their PowerPoint design arsenal. For this slide, I used two converging arrows. This particular graphic clearly shows the relationship between the two goals of eye banks, and why they are so important to work in conjunction with one another. The ribbon-tied finger graphic at the bottom adds a bit of personality to the reminder of why this is important, particularly for new eye banks.

Option 3: A strong graphic can make all the difference

Episode 2 (vC)

Leaning on the participants’ perceived passion around healthy eyes, I used a strong graphic of a stunning blue eye as the focal point of this slide. By adjusting the image size, the eye appears to fade directly into the blank, white canvas of the slide, which provides an ideal space to add my text – simply stated and clean. Again, using subtle animation/transition functionality, I would add the “What does this mean?” subtext after discussing the two primary goals.

On all three slides, I made sure to call out the source information, but notice that I used a subtle gray color for the font in a smaller size – it is visible, but does not compete with the primary message the slide coveys.

Another point of consistency is the use of animation/transition functionality – subtle is key; avoid crazy twirls, spins and checkerboard effects! A simple float or fade will suffice, and use the same effect, speed and direction throughout your entire slide deck for a polished, professional look.

So, there you have it. Between each of our approaches you see 6 very different, tricked-out approaches for the same PowerPoint slide. Give one of these styles a try the next time you’re faced with a text-laden slide full of content!

What say you?

How would you trick out this slide? What is your preferred approach? Share your creative ideas in the comments below!

Need some help Tricking Out Your PowerPoint?

Let Michelle or me give it a shot! Send us a slide, and we might just feature it in an upcoming blog post on Train Like a Champion and Phase(Two)Learning!

Fun: There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way


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“In our culture, fun is equated with a waste of time.”

I had this conversation twice in the past week. One person was talking about the culture of his country. The other was talking about her work culture.

“Fun” is a Rorschach test of a word. People read all sorts of things into it based upon their previous experiences. The truth is, fun in the training room can indeed be a waste of time, but it doesn’t have to be.

Furthermore, how is a “serious” presentation not a waste of time if it’s boring and nobody remembers anything from it by the time lunch rolls around the very same day?

I’ve been facilitating workshops for 16 years and if there’s one thing I can say for certain: adults like to play. Whether you’re a youth development specialist (where play is a part of your every day job) or a more “dignified” professional such as a surgeon or attorney or some hotshot executive, I’ve never seen participants more engaged, I’ve never been in a room full of participants in which the energy levels have been higher, than when I’m facilitating an icebreaking or energizing or teambuilding activity.

I will concede that an isolated “fun” activity can actually be a waste of time. After all, people aren’t sacrificing time from their day jobs just to have fun in the training room. The fun needs to mean something. And that requires intentional design and an effective de-brief.

Beginning the day by having people work in small groups to see how quickly they can pass a tennis ball around to each team member is fun. De-briefing this activity by discussing the concept of innovation and being able to refer back to this activity throughout the remainder of the day makes this fun activity meaningful.

Beginning a meeting by blowing up two balloons is fun. Having the balloons sit on the boardroom table and referring back to them throughout the rest of the day makes that fun activity meaningful.

Beginning an eye anatomy course by having the participants take a Cosmo-style quiz called “Which Eyeball Part Are You?” seems nonsensical and fun. Using that activity to lower anxiety and build a foundation upon which the students can learn the nuances of ocular anatomy makes it a meaningful and worthwhile exercise.

Playing a game of “telephone” to start a meeting can be fun. De-briefing the activity to ask how it can serve as a metaphor for your team’s communication (or miscommunication) practices helps drive the point home.

When “fun” is intentional, serious learning can happen.

Can the same always be said of the more “dignified” and “professional” presentations we see on a daily basis?

How to Deflate Even the Best Designed Training Program


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Last week I had an opportunity to help plan a training program for an organization with a large presence across India. I was the only training professional sitting around the table. I was joined by several high ranking officials and some operations staff.

At the beginning of the meeting, I was asked to share my thoughts about good training design. With a flare of theatricality, I took out two balloons and I asked a colleague to inflate the first one.

I held the balloon in my hand, but I did not tie it. I explained that this balloon represented so many training programs. It took some work to inflate. It looked nice. It looked festive. Maybe it even looked fun. Nice, festive and fun are all goals of a balloon, so it looks like we’ve achieved what we wanted, right?

Then I let go of the balloon and it shot up, twisting and turning and floating around the conference room. For a brief moment, I wondered if this was a dignified enough monologue with such high ranking officials in the room, but I pressed ahead.

In the end, all that balloon had was a bunch of hot air and now it’s gone and it’s not really nice or festive or fun. It didn’t really achieve anything.

Then I asked my colleague to inflate the second balloon. I tied it.

This balloon represented what we should aspire to, I said. All of the hard work of inflating the balloon is sustained. We had a plan (to blow up the balloon), we executed the plan for maximum sustainability (we tied it) and if we were to come back tomorrow (ie: follow-up later down the road), we’d still be able to see an inflated balloon!

This is how training programs need to be. Good design. Good execution. And measurable, sustainable results.

Looking around the room, reactions ranged from mild amusement to head nodding to one person asking the question: “Ok, I like it… so how do we keep the balloon inflated?”

In that moment, I felt like a genius. I didn’t just talk about adult learning and training design. I showed what it was. I reached not just for the rational minds of my audience, but also their hearts. And they were in love.

Until halfway through the meeting.

I had my back turned as I wrote something on the white board. And then I heard the sound that everyone who has an older sibling has heard at least once in their lives. It was the distinctive sound of my prized possession, my balloon, being slowly deflated.

My head whipped around. I saw who did it. It was one of the executives! He smiled sheepishly. The room was tense. Everyone wondered what my next move would be.

“That,” I began. “That just shows us that my great opening balloon metaphor wasn’t yet complete. Even if we have amazing design and amazing delivery and amazing follow-up… one senior official or executive can come by on a whim and untie the balloon, letting all the air out and killing any long term impact of the program.”

Without manager (or director or executive) support, even the most well-designed training program is just a bunch of hot air.


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.)


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!


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