Tomorrow I’ll take my children to a coffee shop in front of their school where we’ll enjoy “Tully’s Friday.” Each Friday we leave the house a little early and we’ll go to Tully’s and order pastries and look up questions to some of life’s most difficult problems (recent examples include: what do you do if you work in a crane and need to go to the bathroom; why can’t we just throw all of Earth’s trash into a volcano) using Google and YouTube.
On these Friday morning outings, we also tend to run into a gentlemen who serves as an usher at church on Sunday mornings. The first time we ran into him, I asked how he was doing and he responded: “Best day of my life!”
A few weeks ago we ran into him again and I asked how he was doing and again he replied: “Best day of my life!”
As I reflected on this later, it got me wondering: at the end of a full day training program, how many of our training participants would respond: “Best day of my life”?
We certainly can’t control everything happening in our learners’ lives, but we can definitely control the experience they have during our presentations and workshops. If it’s not the best day of their lives, we can at least make it a very good day. Here are a few ideas that may help:
1. Surround yourself with positive people. At the end of the day, we choose where we work and who we work with. It may not feel that way – after all we’re tied to our jobs in order to pay our bills and receive health coverage. That’s true… and there are lots of jobs out there. Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most creative, hard-working, smart and positive people. People who say “yes, and…” instead of “yeah, but…” is where so much of my creativity and uplifting instructional design are rooted.
2. Be positive yourself. Life happens and sometimes we wake up on the wrong side of the bed, sometimes the dog gets sick, sometimes there’s a jerk participating in our training program. In these times it’s essential we keep ourselves in check and remind ourselves that this isn’t the fault of our learners. Participants pick up on our own energy in front of the room, and they deserve for our energy to be positive.
3. Allow for stories. Recently I was facilitating a workshop and the topic of organizational culture was on the agenda. Afterwards, one participant came up to me and said: “When I saw ‘culture’ was on the agenda, I had no idea how you were going to frame it, but it sounded like it was going to be a snoozer of a session. The way you allowed us to come up with stories of our organization and how those stories illustrate our culture was such a helpful way to frame it… and the stories that came out from the audience were so good!” People like telling stories. Find ways to let them tell their story.
4. Play. People like to play. It doesn’t matter if they’re new employees in an orientation program, managers learning to transition from their role of individual contributor or high profile surgeons – they like to play. I wrote about this in TD magazine several years ago. It’s who we are as humans. Give participants an opportunity to play and you’ll hear the buzz of excitement, you’ll see total engagement and with a good debrief, you’ll bring key points to the surface in an accessible way.
5. Solve a problem. Designing fun and games is nice, but combining those with the solution to a work-related problem can actually improve someone’s quality of life. Think about it – we spend more waking hours at our offices than we do with our families during the week. If our participants can do something new or differently or better as a result of what we bring, we’re changing their world. This means we need to perform due diligence as we set learning objectives, define success and structure the program. By the way, I’ve never heard anyone ever say that a PowerPoint presentation solved their problem. Less bullet points, more doing.
6. Be open to the outcome. It’s not a good day for anyone when we jam what we assume to be the answers down others’ throats. Are there certain policies and procedures that have right and wrong ways to implement? Indeed. However, when we can allow our participants to own the importance of these policies and procedures, own the stories that come up throughout the session, own the outcomes of the activities we’ve planned, own the questions (no matter how basic we feel those questions are), own the results of a role play, own their next steps, it’ll be a better experience for all involved.
What else have you found needs to be incorporated into the design of a presentation or training program to have the best opportunity for our participants to say: “That was the best day of my life”?