Book Review: Will Thalheimer’s Performance-focused Smile Sheets

Performance-focused Smile Sheets

102-word Summary: “The ideas in this book are freakin’ revolutionary.” So Will Thalheimer begins chapter 9 of his book. It’s hard to argue against the statement. In a world where the vast majority of training is evaluated on a 1-5 Likert-style post-training evaluation form, Will Thalheimer proposes a different way to perform a basic-level assessment of a training program. His thesis: while “smile sheets” aren’t the be all and end all of training evaluation, they’re the most common type of evaluation, so if we’re going to have our learners fill them out, we may as well get some good, useful, actionable information from them. 

The Details:

Bright Spots:

  • The length: Only 148 pages stand between you and dramatically better post-training evaluation forms.
  • The research: Every suggestion made in the book is based upon peer-reviewed, academic research. Sometimes the author alludes to the research, more often the research is cited in footnotes. Regardless, this isn’t a book full of theory or bright ideas, it’s based upon stuff that’s actually proven to work.
  • The style: I can’t really think of a worse way to try to spend my weekend than reading through 148 pages of academic papers and research. Seriously, yuck. Thankfully, Will Thalheimer translates tons and tons of research into easy to digest nuggets, written in a natural, conversational, often entertaining style.
  • The challenge to readers: Once an instructional designer, always an instructional designer. The author doesn’t just let you sit there and passively flip through page after page.  Chapter 5 is an entire chapter quizzing readers on what they’ve learned and whether or not they truly get it.
  • The templates: The author offers 26 different examples of training evaluation questions that can be used as-is or modified in order to fit your needs. The templates make it easy to apply the concepts in this book immediately. I plan on beginning to overhaul my organization’s smile sheets using information in this book today.

Who should buy it?

For years I’ve been both frustrated and baffled when I compare workshop evaluation scores across different presenters. I can spend days developing engaging visual aids, job aids, post-training support, and I get the same exact post-training evaluation score as someone who slapped their presentation together on the plane ride to the conference and used 30 slides crammed with bullet point after bullet point for a 20-minute presentation.

If you’ve ever been in this situation. Or if you’ve ever simply wanted to have something better to say about your training programs than “our average scores are 4.2 out of 5” (whatever that even means), then pick up a copy of Will Thalheimer’s book and start overhauling your own evaluation forms as quickly as possible.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Will Thalheimer’s Performance-focused Smile Sheets

    • And what would we do without Prime? 🙂

      Yes, I’m a big fan of Amazon (it is out local Seattle bookstore after all). I plugged the author’s website because he’ll get to keep more of the money himself (as opposed to giving a bigger cut up to Amazon), but in the end, I’d love to see this book on every training professional’s hands by any means necessary… even via Amazon (and even if it’s not Amazon Prime)!

      Thanks Amy!

  1. Brian, I bought the book immediately after reading your blog last week. It is fantastic! The performance focus of the eval helps one design better workshops as well.

    • Yes, exactly! Thanks Pam. Yes, when the evaluation forms are created in advance (especially when they’re structured according to the way Will is advocating in his book), it puts the pressure on the designer to deliver something with very good design. Or, perhaps it just reminds the designer about what good design is. Either way, it certainly rewards good design!

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