When You Present, Are You “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named”?

Magic Wand

On Thursday, I offered up a daydream of what my first day might look like when I step in front of the class this fall as an instructor at the University of Washington’s new professional certificate program in Workplace Learning and Professional Development.

This is what a second day in the classroom might look like:

“Sir, you promised to reveal the identity of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named today.”

“Well, I am a man of my word. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is…”

“C’mon professor. It’s lecture isn’t it?” It was that arrogant blonde boy again.

“No, it’s not lecture. While lecture is an oft-overused tactic, it’s not inherently evil.”

“Is it disorganization?” asked the round-spectacled boy with a scar on his forehead.

“Close, Mr. Potter. But not quite.”

“Is it boredom?” asked the goofy looking kid who never quite seemed to get it right.

“No, Mr. Longbottom. Although you-know-who often causes boredom. The true identity of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is someone you’ve all seen before. He was a student here long ago. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.” I wrote the name Zane S. Sil on the blackboard.

The students exchanged confused glances with one another. “I’m sure you’ve seen the influences of Zane S. Sil in presentations you’ve attended. Perhaps, if you think hard enough, you’ll see him in yourself as well. You’ll see him every time you’re asked to give a presentation and the first thing you do is open PowerPoint. You’ll see him in a presenter who begins a presentation with the silly disclaimer: ‘I want this to be an interactive session, so be sure to ask questions as I go.’ You’ll see him in a presenter who talks at the audience, making no effort to engage them. You’ll see him in a presenter who insists that there’s no reason to get too creative with a topic because his audience just needs to know what he’s about to tell him.”

“I got it!” It was the smart girl. “Zane S. Sil isn’t a student’s name… it’s an anagram!”

I smiled. This Hermoine Granger is one smart cookie. “Yes, Miss Granger…” I began, and the letters on the blackboard magically began to re-arrange themselves. A murmur arose amongst the students. I heard a scream from the back of the room. One student passed out. It was simple. And terrifying. Continue reading

My Next Job: Defense Against the Dark Arts Instructor (Eat Your Heart Out, Snape!)

Defense Against the Dark Arts InstructorThis fall I’ll begin working as an instructor in a new Workplace Learning & Professional Development certificate program at the University of Washington. I can’t quite recall the formal title of the position, but I kind of see it as a modern day, Seattle-based Defense Against the Dark Arts sort of position. The Dark Arts being poorly designed learning experiences (obviously).

This is how I envision my first day:

“Interactivius!” shouted one of my pupils as he pointed his wand at the PowerPoint slide that was being projected on the screen.

Suddenly the clip art on the slide was transformed into… well, into an animated gif file. “Keep working on the Interactive Charm, young master Neville,” I said, “animated gifs can be fun creatures, but more often than not, they’re nasty little beings that simply make poor slide design worse.”

“Who’s next?” A red haired boy stepped up and as he was about to try his spell he suddenly became distracted. A little rat hopped out of his pocket and ran out the door. The red haired boy ran after it as the class burst into laughter.

The next student to step up was a young man with round spectacles and a funny little scar on his forehead. “Enumerate!” he shouted, and a bolt of light shot from his wand and transformed the bullet points on the slide into numbers.

“Nice start, Mr. Potter,” I explained, “numbers definitely make it easier to identify which point you may be talking about, but there are more engaging ways to present.”

“Step aside, Potter!” a little blonde haired boy shouted, then pointed his wand at the screen and cried: “Transitious!” Suddenly, the slide swirled off the screen, advancing to the next slide which dissolved into the next slide which evaporated into a series of random bars, and finally a checkerboard pattern took the last slide off the screen and left the class facing a blank image that said: “End of Slideshow.” The students who weren’t nauseated or dizzy laughed uncomfortably.

“Mr. Malfoy,” I tried to be as tactful as possible since his father was rumored to have been a very ill-tempered and powerful man, “let’s try to ease off on those slide transitions next time.”

“Hocus Poll-cus,” said a soft-spoken young woman in the class. The bullet points and text were suddenly replaced with a brief series of PollEverywhere questions.

“Brilliant, Miss Granger!” I exclaimed. “Where did you learn that particular enchantment?”

“It was quite an easy one to learn, actually,” she said. “It’s one of 100 different charms I learned from The Big Book of Technologies that can Transform Any Learning Experience! By polling the audience instead of talking at them, you can get them involved in generating content for the lesson!”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself. Now that we’re warmed up,” I continued the lesson, “this will be the first and last time we play with PowerPoint in here. For even though there are a gazillion PowerPoint presentations given each day, it’s actually a very dangerous creature that’s been misused, overused and certainly abused for quite some time. It wasn’t born dangerous, but He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named transformed PowerPoint into a dangerous, perhaps even deadly (if you can die from boredom) creature long ago.”

“He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named? You mean, Lecture?” There was a collective, panicked gasp among the students.

“No Mr. Malfoy, Lecture is not the root of all evil, contrary to what many may tell you. There is a time and place for the kindly old soul of presentation delivery methods. No, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is…”

Just then, the bell rang.

“Nice job today. We’ll get into it more deeply on Monday,” I said. “Class dismissed.”

Think you know who He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is? Let’s hear your divination(s) in the Comment section.

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5 Ways to Start a Webinar for Maximum Interactivity

A while back I asked: “Why are people checking their email when they should be paying attention to my webinar?!” The answer to that question revolved around engagement and interactivity that can be designed into a webinar. That blog post had several ideas for interactivity depending on your tolerance for risk (the cooler and more engaging you may want to make your webinar, the greater the reward… and the greater the opportunity that the technology could fail).

One thing to remember about interactivity in webinars, however, is that your audience may not be ready for it. Many people still see webinars as little more than glorified conference calls (and by “glorified” I mean conference calls that simply have accompanying on-screen PowerPoint presentations… and maybe a poll or two).

Why not take the first five minutes of your next webinar – you know, the time that you’re needing to kill as you’re waiting for last-minute joiners to log on to Adobe Connect or download all the stuff that needs to be downloaded in order to hop on to Blackboard Collaborate – and get your attendees warmed up with some of the web conferencing features you’ll be using to engage them.

Here are five ideas of how to do this as people are logging on:

How Many Of These Tools Have You Used For Learning?

How Many Tools

Savvy learning and development professionals keep their eyes out for tools and technologies that can help make the learning process easier. Each year, Jane Hart’s Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4PLT) publishes a list of the top 100 tools for learning. Curious how many of these tools you’re already using? I’ve made a little calculator to help you quickly add them up.

I love exploring this list from time to time because it points me toward new technologies I’ve never heard of and otherwise wouldn’t think to test out.

It was from this list that I got inspired to use PowToon (#46 on the list). I also spent a little time exploring Socrative (#72) and Kahoot (#81) in hopes of finding an alternative to PollEverywhere (#70). In the end, it seems PollEverywhere is the best solution for my needs.

Overall, I’ve used 46 of the technologies from this list in some way, shape or form. I’m looking forward to examining many of the other 54 tools to find out what they might be able to do for me and my learners.

How experienced are you with these tools? Use this calculator in order to add up the number of Top 100 tools you’ve been using, then drop a line in the comment section to let us all know your count!

As a side note, if you want to have a say in which tools make the 2015 Top 100 list, go here and cast your vote.

How Does Learning Stick? 5 Resources that Help Answer This Question.

I had been working in training and instructional design for several years and was feeling pretty good about myself. I was creative. I was charismatic. I loved being in front of people in a room. I loved using Mr. Sketch Markers to create fun (and great smelling) flip charts. And people seemed to love my presentations.

People would come up to me after presentations, telling me they were some of the best presentations they’d ever attended. Ever!

Yet when I looked around, I didn’t see people doing many things new or differently or better as a result of my presentations and training programs. So I spent a lot of money and a couple years’ worth of time on earning a master’s degree in organizational development in order to study how better to make training stick. I learned that there were a lot of other, non-training factors that go into whether or not a training program is successful.

That said, training professionals and instructional designers have an obligation to do everything in their power to make sure a training program is well-designed so that their learners have the maximum opportunity to remember what they’ve learned.

Here are five resources that can help you better figure out how learning will stick:

1. Will Thalheimer’s “Decisive Dozen”

Will Thalheimer has sifted through tons of research in order to distill evidence-based practices down into 12 key concepts.

2. Make It Stick

Looking to go further in depth on the topic? Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniel have written the best book I’ve read on this topic in a long time. It’s both informative and filled with ideas on both how to design learning programs more effectively and how to boost retention long after the event has passed.

3. Transfer of Training

This book is a little older (written in 1992), but the concepts that Mary Broad and John Newstrom have laid out in this book continue to influence the way I design training programs today. One of the most fundamental pieces to this book is the importance of both the trainee’s manager and the trainer, who can both play a more significant role than the learner him (or her) self when it comes to whether or not the content will actually be put to use.

4. Art Kohn’s monthly column in Learning Solutions magazine

Art Kohn’s presentation at DevLearn 2014 was my first introduction to the concept of learning boosts. Since that presentation I’ve been a pretty faithful reader of his column, which offers bite-sized chunks of brain research and its role in how people learn.

5. Meta-analysis: Is Blended Learning Most Effective?

Every once in a while I still hear the question: isn’t in-person delivery better than online? In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education studied this question and cited research that concluded… well, I’ll let you read the study for yourself (click on the link above!).

What did I miss? I’d love to hear about other resources you use to figure out how learning best sticks.

One Rule that Could Transform Every Meeting and Presentation

Successful applauding executives sitting at the table

When you’re sitting in a meeting, do you ever feel like Danny Zuko, getting ready to race for pinks (you know, pink slips, ownership papers) and suddenly some ugly dude turns to you and says: “The only rule is: there are no rules!” Then, as you try to stay professional and focused on the meeting, it feels like that guy is taking whatever the meeting equivalent of a spiky thing sticking out of his car, and he’s running you off the road and ruining your paint job with it?

During meetings and presentations, that “spiky thing” usually comes in the form of comments, things such as:

  • Adding two cents to the end of every point someone else makes.
  • Side conversations.
  • Jokes (either good-humored or snide).
  • Random pontifications.
  • I even heard about a meeting recently when one participant stood up and began reading from his own book!

Often, these verbal spiky things add unnecessary minutes to meetings and presentations, yet don’t add value.

Earlier this week I was exposed to a meeting ground rule that could go a long way in mitigating or totally preventing meeting attendees from wielding such verbal spiky things:

Statements can only be made in response to a question.

I found this rule to be helpful, not only in limiting the amount of time-sucking, superfluous comments but it also forced participants to think deeply about the topics at hand and to sincerely listen and to be ready to ask thoughtful questions of the speaker.

Looking to reduce the amount of noise in your next meeting? (It’s ok to respond in the comments section… after all, I did just ask you a question.)

Lessons in Presentation Skills from… WordPress?!


“When I think of you going to ‘BlogFest 2015′ in Portland, I picture you surrounded by a bunch of other introverted, slightly awkward folks, all sitting in a room… maybe even complaining how you were missing this weekend’s Emerald City ComiCon!”

This email from one friend is exactly the reaction I dreaded when I confessed to people I’d be spending my Saturday at a conference on blogging. Apparently our next door neighbor was really hoping that I had made a career transition to urban forestry and had to ask my wife three times whether I had travelled to Portland for a conference on “logging.”

I’ve written before about searching for my presentation soul mate at conferences and how I’ve had my heart broken. Needless to say, I had pretty tempered expectations for WordPress’s Press Publish conference.

The day I spent among several hundred other bloggers exceeded expectations. Here’s what I liked:

1. The featured speakers all showed up prepared and each spun an engaging, unique story.

2. Each featured speaker was limited to about 20 minutes of content, so there was structure in place to keep someone from rambling too long about any one thing.

3. Each featured speaker was followed by someone at WordPress, describing features of WordPress (or perhaps some general blogging tips) related to the featured speaker’s presentation.

4. The content was great and I could apply it immediately, while sitting right there in the session. For example, look at this: I learned how to change the color of the font in my posts!

As someone who is constantly looking to understand what helps distinguish between good speakers and speakers who are so-so, I asked around in order to find the meeting organizer, I wanted the recipe for her “secret sauce” underlying the quality of speakers at this small event. I was told to speak with Andrea Middleton.

When I asked her for her secrets, she didn’t hesitate. She immediately rattled off a five-step process she felt led to the high quality of presentation delivery for her featured speakers:

1) WordPress reached out directly to potential speakers with a cold email. (There was not a request for presenters.)

2) Meeting organizers interviewed every potential speaker via video conference to gauge their speaking ability. (This is a step that meeting organizers across the country would be wise to emulate. You can only tell so much about a person’s ability to speak in an engaging manner through a written application to present.)

3) Session outlines were due a month in advance. (This prevented anyone from putting off their presentation until the last minute.)

4) Follow-up video conference sessions were arranged to discuss suggested edits to the session outline. Some speakers were even asked to practice 5-10 minutes of their presentation via video conference in order to receive feedback.

5) Slides were due two weeks in advance of the conference. (This prevented anyone from slapping together a slide deck on the airplane, en route to the conference.)

Oh, for good measure, Andrea also asked each speaker to deliver the best presentation of their lives.

Beyond all the good blogging tips and ideas and secrets I am excited to put to use over the next few weeks, my biggest take-away was that the single most important factor separating poor and ho-hum presentations from amazing presentations is the level of preparation beforehand.

For both the blogging community as well as anyone interested in effective, engaging presentations, I hope WordPress expands their Press Publish conference idea (which right now is just in the pilot stage).

There was nothing introverted or slightly awkward about these presenters.