Lessons in Presentation Skills from… WordPress?!

PressPublish

“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.

 

Choosing An Icebreaker That People Will Not Hate

The phrase “Let’s get started with an icebreaker” will inevitably be followed by groans from your participants. Yet, breaking the ice at the beginning of a workshop or presentation is an essential ingredient to building rapport between audience members and establishing a relationship between the audience and you.

The first step is choosing an activity that is related somehow to your content and sets an appropriate tone for the remainder of your time with your audience. Here is a list of sixteen icebreaking activities that you may find useful.

Once you think you have an icebreaker that’s going to work for you, here is a list of five questions you’ll want to ask before you finalize your choice of ice breaker.

Icebreaker Challenge 1

Icebreaker Challenge 2

In the spirit of this weekend’s Sweet 16 stage of the NCAA basketball tournament, I’ve concocted a little game – a bracket challenge – if you’d like some help narrowing your selection of icebreaking activity. You can fill out your Ice Breaker Bracket here. If you do decide to take me up on this bracket challenge, I’d love to hear which ice breaking activity would be your 2015 champion. Drop a line in the comment section.

Do you have a preferred ice breaking activity that didn’t make it to my Sweet Sixteen list? Let’s hear about it in the comment section below.

5 Reasons I Got Involved With My Local ATD Chapter

 

ATDps Logo

Some professional associations offer little more than another line on your resume. Honestly, this was a big reason why I joined my local ATD chapter a few years ago. I had been a member of the national association for a while, I was beginning a job search and I wanted to show potential employers how connected and invested I was in the world of talent development.

As I’ve come to attend more local chapter meetings and more recently, as I’ve become involved in a more official capacity with the chapter, I’ve found that the benefits go much further than a simple line on my resume. Here are five benefits I’ve enjoyed as I’ve gotten more involved, and these benefits double as five reasons you should consider not just joining but becoming involved in your local ATD (or other professional association) chapter, too.

1. Networking. I continue to be surprised by what I can learn just by talking with others in the L&D field. Over the past week, I’ve had two conversations with two separate Board members of the local chapter, and I was introduced to two different sales models that their organizations use. Yes, I’m more of an instructional designer, but everyone in the training field needs to be able to sell their modules and resources to key influencers – whether at the executive level or line managers. If they don’t buy in, we don’t have traction.

2. Structured Learning. The chapter provides educational sessions on a monthly basis. Some of the speakers are great and talk about topics that I’m currently struggling with in my own work (free resources to make our LMS more user-friendly and engaging, evaluating training, creating a culture of learning). There are other times when I take more from small group conversations and other attendees. Sometimes a seed is planted and hopefully I’ll be able to use it at some point. Regardless, the monthly chapter meetings help remind me that I need to take a few hours out of the month to come up for air and sharpen my own skill set.

3. A Learning Community. I work on a very small training team, so being able to geek out on training ideas with other like-minded individuals on a regular basis is both energizing and helps open my eyes to a world of new possibilities.

4. Playing with House Money. Recently I volunteered to take on the role of “partnerships coordinator”, figuring: what do I have to lose? Stepping into a situation in which I have to seek out new relationships and approach potential corporate sponsors goes a tad beyond my comfort zone, and it’s a skill set I wouldn’t have a chance to work on in any other setting. Yay for personal and professional development!

5. The Lay of the Land. It’s so easy to focus solely on my work at my day job and not care about what others are doing or how they’re doing it. After all, in my day job, I have an opportunity to cure blindness. How cool is that? Except, I can’t do that to the best of my abilities if I’m not on the cutting edge of learning and development. Being more active in the local chapter has given me a much broader perspective on what people are doing and how their learning departments are organized and how their projects are managed. As part of the local chapter, I soak up insights on professional development from independent contractors, small consulting firms, large aerospace companies and huge technology firms.

And you? Have you found any benefits to getting more involved in professional associations in your local area?

Training Delivery: To Push or to Pull?

Tug of War

Learning should be self-directed. L&D departments should provide resources for people to access and then get out of the way. Allow your employees to access the resources they need, whenever they need them. Heck, most people find what they need just by doing a quick Google search.

The L&D department of the future is less about an army of instructional designers pushing training out to the masses and more about being nimble, responsive to needs, curating resources and putting them where people can find them, while providing on-demand performance support.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles and engaging in a lot of conversations with other learning professionals lately, and this seems to be the prevailing attitude.

It makes sense. A McKinsey study I like to cite from time to time says companies spend $100 billion (with a “b”!!!) each year on training initiatives around the world and only 25% of those initiatives actually show measurable results. With numbers like that, pushing training out is definitely wasteful. Professional development is something that should be “pulled” by employees, when they need it.

“Learning Zealot” Mark Britz shared his organization’s experience creating more of a “pull” learning culture last week in an article entitled Money Talks, Bullsh*t Walks. Author and all-around learning revolutionary Clark Quinn expanded upon the idea yesterday in a short post on his blog.

I like the idea of training and professional development that should be pulled. Mostly.

On the other hand, training and professional development programs aren’t necessarily all about the return on investment. They’re not always about whether people walk away immediately being able to do something new or differently or better.

Sometimes pushing a training program is necessary. Sometimes supervisors should require their employees to attend certain training programs. While the employees may not do anything right away with what they’ve learned, sometimes a seed is planted. Sometimes a new idea that a self-directed learner may never have thought to expose him or herself to will be presented.

Diversity training is a prime example of this. Sending employees to an industry conference or association’s annual meeting to gain exposure to new trends and technologies is another example. I could go on.

Self-aware, self-directed learners with an enlightened L&D department of the future and an effective manager is great. Maybe it’s even the ideal situation. Yet even the most self-aware, self-directed learner needs to be nudged into new and challenging directions in order to continue to grow. And pushing learning onto them from time to time can be a key piece of their development.

 

The Case for Net Promoter Score as a Measure of Presentation Effectiveness

When it comes to post-training evaluation forms, the rule of thumb to which I’ve adhered is: high scores may not guarantee learning happened, but low scores often guarantee learning didn’t happen.

For years I’ve tabulated and delivered feedback for countless sessions that have received Likert-scale scores well above 4 (on a 5-point scale), yet I knew deep down that some of these presentations weren’t as effective as they could be. How can we tell if the presentation was engaging and effective if the post-training evaluation scores are always high?

Several weeks ago I attended a Training Magazine-sponsored webinar on training metrics (view the recording here) and I was introduced to the idea of Net Promoter Score as a way to evaluate presentations. After some deliberation, my colleagues and I decided to test this concept out during a recent 2-day meeting. We added one question to our evaluation forms: Would you recommend this session to a colleague?

Following are the scores from our traditional question about whether people were exposed to new insights, information or ideas on a scale of 1-5 (5 representing “Strongly Agree”):

NPS 1

Not too shabby. Apparently we were exposing people to new insights, information and ideas! So that’s good, right? Who cares whether presenters were engaging or boring, stuck to their lesson plans or went off script, all the scores averaged between 4 and 5. Yay for us!

Then we took a look at the same sessions through the lens of Net Promoter Score, and this is what we found:

NPS 2

These scores showed some variance, but it didn’t tell much of a story until we put these scores side-by-side:

NPS 3

People may have been exposed to some new ideas or insights in each session, but would they put their own reputation on the line and recommend the session to any of their colleagues? It depends. There’s a huge difference between presentations that scored above 4.5 and presentations that drew an average of 4.2.

Here are three reasons why I think this matters:

1. A Wake-up Call. In the past, someone could walk away from a meeting with a score of 4.13 and think to himself: “Well, I wasn’t as sharp as I could have been, but people still liked that session, so I don’t really need to work to improve my delivery… and furthermore, who cares about all these adult learning principles that people keep telling me I need to include?!”

However, if that same presenter sees a Net Promoter Score of 6 or 19 or 31 (with a high score potential of 100), the reaction is very different. People suddenly seem a little more interested in tightening up their next presentation – rehearsing a little more seriously, having instructions for activities down cold, sticking more closely to their lesson plans.

2. Before On-the-Job Application, People Need To Remember Your Content. Some L&D practitioners care less about whether a presentation was engaging, instead being wholly focused on whether or not someone actually does something new or differently or better on the job. To this, I say: “Yes, and…”

Yes, better performance is the ultimate goal for most training programs.

And, you can’t do something new or differently or better if you weren’t paying attention to the presentation. You can’t do something better if you forgot what you learned before you go to bed that evening. While better job performance matters, the presenter plays a big role in whether or not people remember the content and are excited to use it when they return to their offices.

3. Marketing Matters. The principle objection to Net Promoter Score as a training evaluation tool, articulated very well in this post from Dr. Will Thalheimer, is that it is designed for marketing, not for training effectiveness. I would argue that L&D professionals must have some sort of marketing chops in order to generate interest in their programs. After all, Dr. Thalheimer also cited a significant body of research that “found that one misdirected comment by a team leader can wipe out the full effects of a training program.”  If influential people wouldn’t recommend your presentation, research shows that you have a problem.

What do you think? Is Net Promoter Score something you’ve used (or are thinking about using)? Or is it a misguided metric, not suitable for L&D efforts?

 

 

 

What do you do after you learn something?

At some point over the last week, I’m willing to bet there was a time – even if only a fleeting instant – in which you said: “huh, that’s interesting, I didn’t know that.”

Maybe you read something in the last week. Or listened to a podcast. Or attended a workshop. Or spoke with a colleague.

What did you do with that new piece of information?

Did you pass it along to someone else? Did you tweet it out to the universe? Did you try to do something new or differently or better at work? Did you say to yourself: “I learned something new, my day is complete” (and then promptly forget about it)? Did you file it away, thinking: I should do something with this later (and then perhaps forget about it)?

When I have downtime, I read a lot of articles and blog posts and links I’ll find on Twitter or LinkedIn. I try to stay up to date on the latest trends in learning and development by attending a webinar or two each month. I’ll engage in Twitter chats a few times a month. Looking back on all this “learning”, I realized that I don’t often do much afterwards.

With this in mind, I declared in late December that my 1-word resolution for 2015 would be “execute” – spend less time in the act of learning and more time acting on what I’ve learned.

Earlier this week, when I read an article by Jane Hart entitled The Modern L&D Dept requires other skills than instructional design, I grew excited immediately. I’d been looking for a new way to frame the learning and development strategy on my team and this image from her post struck a cord with me:

Screen-Shot-2015-03-09-at-16_50_00-1024x776

I spent some time with a colleague thinking through how we might apply this to what we’re trying to do (here’s an image of today’s flipcharting session):

Learning Strategy

It’s nice to stay on top of industry trends. It’s fun to share ideas on a theoretical level with colleagues at the water cooler or in a Twitter chat. But the magic happens when there’s an opportunity to apply this self-directed learning on the job.

Monday, I’ll share a second example of a way that I’ve been able to implement something I learned into my work. If you’re looking for a fresh way to conduct post-evaluation training and derive meaningful feedback from such Level 1 “smile sheet” evaluations, be sure to tune in.

In the mean time, tell me: what’s one thing you’ve learned so far this year… and how have you put it into action on the job? I’d love to hear it in the comments section.

9 Trends in Presentation Skills (And Most of Them Aren’t Good!)

A week ago, Litmos’ Brent Schlenker used Google Trends to ask: “Why is instructional design trending downward… since 2004?

Instructional Design

According to the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies’ Top 100 Tools for Learning, Google Search was ranked as the #5 tool used around the world for learning in 2014. It seems like Google search trends should offer some insights as to what’s important to people when it comes to subjects they want to know more about.

I’m always curious to know what’s on the mind of “part-time trainers” – people who may not have “training” in their title or much background in learning and development but who are asked to deliver presentations. This weekend I spent some time sifting through Google trends on terms focused on what I think would lead to more effective presentations.

Most of the trends are pointing downward, which was a bit of a letdown for me. I figured, why not begin with the term “effective presentations“? Here’s what I found:

Effective Presentations

I figured that perhaps people had heard that adult learning principles would be important for their presentations and would want to learn more…

Adult Learning

Hmmm, maybe people were growing a little less formal and a little more hip in their search terms, so I tried “killer presentations“:…

Killer Presentations

Ok, maybe not (apparently I’m the only person who used that term late last year!).

None of these trends seemed very positive, so I held my breath and sat at the edge of my seat, worrying that people may be searching for the wrong things such as the de-bunked idea of learning styles

Learning Styles

Whew! It was encouraging, at the very least, that people were searching less and less for “learning styles”.

Perhaps, based on Google trends, people were savvier than I gave them credit for and were looking for ways to improve their results. So I searched “training evaluation“…

Training Evaluation

None of these trends seemed to be pointing in the right direction. Based on my experience working with SMEs, they’ll often begin mapping out their presentation using PowerPoint. Maybe there’s been an increase in searches for better PowerPoint design

PPT Design

Not really. Prezi has been trendy over the past few years, maybe that’s what people are interested in, so I searched trends for “how to use prezi“, and this was one of the only growth trends I found…

How to use PreziDespite the upward trend with Prezi searches, this exercise led me to grow quite cynical about just what mattered to folks who were searching for ways to improve their presentation skills. Then it dawned on me, perhaps people were intentionally creating worse and worse presentations! Maybe they were searching for ways to make their presentations terrible. I checked the trend for the phrase: “how to bore people” and this is what I found…

How to Bore People

Ok, maybe people weren’t waking up, looking in the mirror, and wondering how they could bore people with their next presentation. So, that’s good.

One last trend I decided to search for was whether more people were simply looking for help to organize their thoughts, so I tried “training plan template“…

Training Plan Template

That was a fun trend to see, especially because it’s one of the more popular search terms that will land folks on this blog (this post from 2013 on lesson plan templates remains one of the most popular posts on this blog).

I’m curious about your thoughts. If Google Search is such a powerful performance support tool to help people do their jobs better, what terms did I miss in my Google Trends analysis that you think people should care about when they begin mapping out a presentation?