Friday, 12 December 2008

Memorable Body Language

If you want to know how to use your body language and facial expressions to convey feeling, emotion and story, then look no further than this video. It is surprising and humourous, combining into a short yet powerful experience.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Editing Your Content: the NEED to know basis

Last week I sat through a number of presentations at a networking event. The event was designed to help women grow their business and one of the topics was marketing.

The presenter had great charisma and personal style - she was passionate and enthuiastic about her topic, which she obviously knew a great deal about. She spoke without notes, which meant she could engage with us directly. She even made her talk interactive by asking questions of the audience to demonstrate how some of us had approached marketing for our own businesses.

But she talked about nearly every aspect of marketing known to man: from blogs, to social networking, local and national media, radio interviews, direct marketing and so on and so on. I knew we were in trouble when I saw her handouts - copies of her bullet point ridden slides (never a good sign).

I left in feeling totally overwhelmed - and I was not alone. Various people made comments about how they needed a break now to take it all in.
I was left with that feeling "I am sure I have learnt something, I am just not sure what".

She was suffering from an inability to focus and edit her ideas down into manageable chunks.
As a result her NEED TO KNOW ideas got lost amongst the rest of what she said.

Whatever the presentation or workshop you are designing, before you start cramming in every thing you have learnt in the last ten, twenty or thirty years, think about this...

What does your audience really NEED TO KNOW?

You might brainstorm lots of ideas, but it is vital that you pick out just one thing that you really feel is the most important thing for your audience to learn. You can add in a few more (depending on the time available), but do make sure that you know what thing or few things you really want your audience to leave with.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Presentation Visuals

This week I have been putting into practice and experimenting with new approaches to presentations and the design of PowerPoint (or Keynote) slides... Whilst I know that you can create workshops and presentations without ever touching a computer (and sometimes they are all the better for it), I know that PowerPoint is embedded within the cultural mindset.

So I feel that if you are going to use slides, they had better be brilliant and enhance what you are saying rather than repeating it (and hence distracting the audience's attention, see yesterday's blog)....

PowerPoint itself does not exactly help you to design great slides - it contains ghastly templates that encourage gruesome colour combinations that are way too busy, with a whole host of bullets or text over the top. Whatever you do, please leave all that alone.

The most important approach is one that says: less is more.
There are three key questions to ask yourself about each visual that you use:

1) Is it simple? Can anyone understand the point you are trying to make easily? That means that large amounts of text or data or points on graph or images are out. Think one key point per slide.

2) Is it beautiful? Does anyone want to look at ugly or cluttered images, clipart or fonts? Why not strive for a beautiful image that people will want to look at?

3) Does it add to what I am saying? The images should be a powerful way of enhancing what you are saying, focussing in on key messages that you want your audience to remember.

Step away from the PowerPoint templates and backgrounds.
Step away from bullet pointed lists.
Step away from clipart.

Embrace full slide photographs.
Create your own simple graphs and diagrams (or even better get a designer to do it).

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Making PowerPoint Powerful

Where are people going wrong when they design slides that result in the muttered phrase "Death by PowerPoint"?

There are two basic mistakes:

Mistake 1 - Designing Slides as Handouts.If you have enough information on your slides for them to work as handouts, then your slides are wrong. Why not simply print out the slides and circulate them, instead of becoming the voice in your audience's heads as they read them?
These slides are Death by text.

Mistake 2 - Designing Slides as an Autocue.The next mistake, is to design your slides to help remind you what to say. Your audience will still read your slides, as you fill in some extra gaps.
These slides are Death by Bullet Point.

Research has proven that it is more difficult to process information if it is coming at your both verbally and in written form at the same time.

So your audience should not be both listening to you and either reading handouts or reading slides. If they are, then they will be doing neither well.

The point of slides is that they provide a strong visual backdrop to complement your words, with the audience focussing on listening to you, your passion and knowledge. They are the stills and you are the narrator.

To avoid these mistakes, you must design your slides, your prompts and your handouts as separate items. You can use PowerPoint for all three, but they are likely to be separate files not the same one.

Next time you are designing a presentation, see if you can think of the slides as a visually exciting film, which you are narrating.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Power of Passion

I watched an incredible speech over the weekend, by a 12 year old girl.
She spoke with simple phrases to an audience at the United Nations.

This would daunt even the most extrovert presenters, yet she spoke calmly without a hint of nerves.
What is most extraordinary about her short 6 minutes is the strength of her passion.

She talks about flighting for her future, and how it is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. She pleas for us to stock breaking things we cannot fix (like a desert that was once a forest). She asks us why we are so greedy, why we cannot share. Simple questions that perhaps we forget to ask anymore.

Watch this and learn how to write a great speech that could also silence the world.

Watch it by following this link:

The video is rightly entitled: The Girl Who Silenced The World.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Leave Your Comfort Zone behind

The most amazing events that I have ever delivered were the ones when I felt nervous. I was going to do something new, something different, something outside of my comfort zone.

I was excited about the possibility of finding a new, even unique, way of creating a learning zone, whilst still nervous about it all going rather wrong.

For one event, I wanted to teach my students about communication through real experience. Instead of some dry exercises about words, or tone, or pace I wanted them to have a direct experience that impacted on their minds and challenged their perspectives. Before a break, I asked them to clear the room and place their seats in a circle then come back in silence.

Even those instructions changed their mood: they came back curious, attentive, charged up (which is no mean feat at 8pm after a very long day). We started with silence and darkness. And I let that experience be savoured before adding in anything else.

I then added in elements gently, one at a time. They listened to some music. We handed around a torch for them to shine beneath their face as they shared what they had experienced. Gradually we built in new elements - for them to feel first hand the impact of various elements such as light, music, images, video, sounds and language.

I gave them no handout for this session, asking them only to write a reflective piece for their own records. The results were amazing - their reflections showed how inspired they had felt and how it had shown them new and different ways of thinking about their impact on their learners.

I challenged every single element of this event - no plan, no notes, no slides, no light even, nor much discussion at first, as I wanted each of them to feel and be fully involved in their personal experience not that of the others in the group.

If you never feel nervous, never feel that you are taking a risk, never wonder if your new exercise will bomb or boom, then you are probably not being creative enough.

Creativity is a risk - but whatever happens you will gain greatly from taking that risk - in learning, in new skills, in new confidence, in a whole new approach.

So next time you are designing a learning event, don't ignore that amazing idea that you have (that gives you butterflies). Embrace it. Go with it. Leave Your Comfort Zone behind and soar.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Girl Effect

I have just been watching the most amazing clip on the internet and it moved me deeply.
In less than one minute I had a powerful, emotional experience.

It combined two very powerful aspects of learning:
1) the WIIFM factor
2) the story factor

WIIFM is the 'What is In It For Me?' question that we all have when we are learning.
Why should I learn this new skill or information? How will my life benefit? How will I benefit?
Learning is a process that involves creating new thought processes and getting rid of old ones, so it is vital that your learners know how that effort will be rewarded, for them, personally.

This video clip doesn't tell you WIIFM, it helps you experience it, at an emotional level.

Stories are incredibly powerful ways to help embed learning and create powerful WIIFM elements. By sharing your own experiences (or those of others) you can demonstrate how these skills or information have effected your own life or those of others.

Use great story telling principles, so instead of using a phrase such as "by mastering these skills you could save an hour a day", use a character instead. Your story might then become:

"Sally was feeling overwhelmed juggling all the things she had to do. By using the simple steps you will learn today, she was able to save an hour every day and got to spend that in the park with her young son, having fun and relaxing."

The video I am talking about can be found at, so please check it out.
It will give you a first hand experience of the power of a simple story to engage and inspire people.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Yawnbuster - great idea, wrong solution

Today I read with a mixture of astonishment and horror about a new product that has been launched called Yawnbuster (visit to find out more)....

This product (costing several hundred dollars) is designed to help create a more interactive learning environment. They have (rightly) recognised that some presentations can bore for [insert country where you live]. But they have (wrongly) decided to design some add-in facilities so that you can use PowerPoint to run quizzes/ polls and so forth.

The principle is sound. People do need to interact with information, share their experiences, discuss and debate approaches to certain situations, and generally get involved.

But is reading more colourful images from a projector really the way to add variety and interaction. The most jaw dropping option is the "Show of Hands". For goodness sake!

When did you need a slideshow add-in to get people to put their hands in the air?
For me, that is time completely wasted on pointless pretty technology, which should be spent thinking about what your learners need.

I despair sometimes that trainers are like technological magpies - looking for the newest, shiniest answer to their problems, instead of looking to themselves for the answer.

Great training does not need any of this stuff.
It doesn't need technology.

It needs passion, enthusiasm.
It needs someone who cares about their topic and wants with all their hearts to pass that onto other people.
It needs consideration for your learners, for where they are, what they know and what they really NEED TO KNOW.

Step away from the computer.
Put the mouse down, slowly, on the floor.
Raise your hands up, tie them behind your back, and now design your training event.

email me at for a copy of my free ebook "Beyond PowerPoint".

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Beyond PowerPoint

Today I have been pulling together some tips on Beyond PowerPoint. In mentioning creative training and the need to avoid PowerPoint, one person reacted by saying "I'd be interested to see what she does instead"....

Are we really so wedded to this software that we cannot think of anything else?
Do we really believe that the best way for people to learn is to absorb facts and information through their eyeballs?

So here are my suggestions when it comes to taking your training Beyond PowerPoint:

* firstly aim only to cover NEED TO KNOW information. Think about this in advance and you may find that your event is substantially reduced. The best trainers are ruthless editors.
* next get your learners to tell you what they need to know about the topic. Use a cocktail party style icebreaker where everyone stands up and when they meet someone else, shares one thing they would like to learn from the session. Combining all these at the end on a flipchart gives you a great focus for your session.
* next find out what people already know about your topic. So ask small group of around 3-4 people to brainstorm things that they know (perhaps about specific elements) and to write these on a flipchart. You may be amazed at how much they already know - one person within a group might know quite alot and they will have already taught their colleagues, and by asking each group to summarise their flipchart, they teach the rest of the class. Anything that is inaccurate or wrong, please correct at this point and add key missing items to.

Now you have a clear focus for your event and you haven't even touched your projector.

When it comes to covering the information that bridges the gap between you have a number of alternative options:

* Card Exercises. Here small groups (2-3) are given a set of cards with words or phrases on them. They then have to either put them into some sort of order (first to last, most important to least important) or categorise them (true/ false). Even with little prior knowledge of a topic, people will start thinking, discussing and will do most of this without help. You can then coach them on a few cards they are unsure about. This is a powerful way to interact with information and works for a wide range of topics.

* Case Studies. You provide some scenario or case study for small groups to discuss. If need be, you can also give them some summary information, books or reference material, where they can search for further help. This helps people get to grips with what they already know or don't know and you can provide the information or skills they need to improve dramatically.

* Stories. Find someone who has a powerful, emotive story relating to your topic. If you cannot actually invite them to the session, then video their story. Imagine the power of someone who has your widget keeping them alive in their artificial heart to inspire your technicians to tighter manufacturing tolerances. Imagine the impact from a mother who has lost a child to gang violence.

* Quizzes. By setting simple or complex questions, you can test and evaluate what people know. By providing clear answers, you can teach them a whole range of vital information. Quizzes are very flexible and you can ask questions aloud (preferred as you can alter the questions to suit your learners on the day), and then ask teams to hold up cards with their answer, move to somewhere in the room based on a multiple choice answer (a, b or c for instance) or write their answer down.

Here I have shared just a few techniques to help you go Beyond PowerPoint. I hope you are inspired the next time you are designing some training to step back from the keyboard, and write some cards, or a quiz and a case study, to inspire your learners in new ways.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Make Your Information Come Alive

When it comes to learning new information or skills, one of the things that any learner benefits from is knowing that people like them have already been there and done that.

Your learners need to connect with your expertise during any learning event. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to use names and personalities to create mini stories that help illustrate how other people (like your learners) have used your expertise in your own life.

In order to protect the innocent, I would recommend having a composite character who you name and talk about.

If your audience tends to be mainly female, then use a girl or woman's name, such as Agnes, or Amelia or Annie.
If your audience tends to be mainly male, then use a boy or man's name, such as Arthur, or Adam or

After you have decided on a suitable name, then flesh that character out - with an age, a business, a lifestyle that relates to your ideal learners.

If you tend to talk to retired people about financial planning, then use a 65-75 year old character called Agnes or Ethel who is worried about how she will manage if her arthritis gets any worse.

If you talk to young people about career choices, then use a hip-hop boy called Dizzle who would like to emulate his hero (say 50 cent) and go into the music bizness.

Then use this character throughout your seminar or workshop. You can use them to introduce each new section - at the start the character has a similar problem to the group you are teaching. As you tackle and resolve each issue, then your character moves on and is curious about what comes next. At the end, you can finish the story with what happens next. To make that ending really powerful, if you can then show a photograph of the real Dizzle or real Ethel and give a little more information on how successful their lives have been, that would be fantastic.

There are two main reasons to use a named character:
1) It is far more personable - your learners will feel like they can relate to someone with a name, a background, with the same problems or issues as their own. By showing how that character has benefited, they can see how your topic will transform their own lives.

2) A character can be used to introduce subtle humour into your event. For instance, if your event is around business finances and you wish to illustrate a calculation of your hourly rate, you may introduce a character named Ms P Hilton, who wants to earn one million pounds/ dollars a year, but only wants to work 20 hours a month, 10 months of the year. How much does she need to charge to do so?

So think about your area of expertise.
What sort of character will be most similiar to your ideal learners, those who attend your training events?
What name would they have? How old would they be? Where would they live? What problems might they be facing? What story might they follow from where they are now to where they want to be?

If you have some real case studies, then feel free to borrow from these, whilst protecting the personal information of your clients or customers.

So bring your topic or expertise come to life using real characters, real people, real stories to really connect with the people listening to your information. Capture the journey in a simple story and you have a powerful tool to help people remember and help inspire them to use your information to transform their own lives.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Let's Start at the Very Beginning...

If we are on a mission to design and deliver fantastic and awesome training, then we need to design every step to inspire and engage our learners.

So think about it - what is their very first experience with your learning event, be it a workshop, presentation or seminar?

In many instances, you first chance to inspire your learners is with the invitation you send, or any advertising you do.

So you could just send out a blanket email, giving the time and place of your event.
But is that really creative? Does that really say to them: "This event is going to be different"?

Here are some ideas of ways in which you could make that first impression really stand out:
1) Send out personalised invitations, with handwritten names, by snail mail, that look like an invitation to a wedding or a party. Give your event a sense of occasion or fun.
2) If you have an event for people who work together, why not put up some posters that hint at what is to come, before anyone is even invited. For example for a session on Work/ Life Balance, you could print out posters of different aspects of Work and Life and ask people to choose which are most important to them.
3) Send out a small item that is related to your event - a photograph, a map, or a quotation perhaps. Before an event on creativity, you could send out a large brightly coloured paperclip, with the words "can you think of a thousands uses for this?" on a piece of paper. That will get people thinking and curious about it.
4) Use a quotation or cartoon to associate your event with fun or laughter - why not use Dilbert cartoon strips to get people talking about great leadership or bureaucracy for example?
5) Use a powerful, emotive poster. The "Your Country Needs You" poster would work well in a number of different circumstances. If you are running an event on Health and Safety, you could use a photograph of a spanner falling over the head of someone and point to the person below with the words "She/He needs you".

Think about your next event or workshop.
How could you do something different in the way you both advertise and invite people to your event?
What prop or item could you send them by post that is related to your topic?
What could you ask them to bring to the event, which would get them thinking or curious about what will happen?

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Do Something That Scares You

This week I had the serene pleasure of spending some time in Wales in a cottage with some friends. There were no modern conveniences: no mobile signal, no phone, no tv, no WiFi, no laptop. Just a stream, a swing, a lovely lush garden, stunning scenery, a few sheep and the luxury of complete peace and quiet.

On our last day, I had been paddling in the stream, toying with the idea of having a swim. This was my last chance, yet I was reluctant. I kept telling myself that paddling was fine, was enough.

I went inside to dry off and something inside me snapped back. I couldn't shake off a feeling of disappointment in my gut. I knew that if I didn't do it now, I would miss my chance. Suddenly all my lovely logical reasons for not swimming were just not enough. The scales tipped in favour of going in.

So I dashed up to my room, put on my swimming cossie and dashed out again (before I changed my mind).

My friends were just coming in, having paddled like me, perhaps wanting to swim but not having the courage or needing some encouragement.

As I launched myself down the grassy bank, I shouted "turn around, we are going in"....

I kept up my momentum, throwing down my towel and wading in as fast as the current and pebbles would let me until I just sank down, drenching myself from head to frozen toes.

As I lept into the water, I gave the reason for my madness - a phrase I knew: "they say you should do one thing every day that scares you. This is mine....(yeee hah)!!!"

We let the water flow over our bodies, as our goose bumps rose in miniature peaks over our skin. We splashed and played like children. We all laughed and screamed at the cold. It shook us to our bones. And it was utterly magical - a sensation I can still feel on my skin as I smile in remembrance.

What things are there in your life that you are putting off?
What are you waiting until the right time to do?
What are you going to do when you are (fit, slim, old, rich) enough?

Why are you really not doing it already?

Go on - live a little.
In fact - live a lot.

You can live a life full of reasons and excuses (like nearly everyone else), or you can have a life full of life and stories and magical experiences.

Which would you like?

Friday, 29 August 2008

Know and Use Your Strengths

I have been putting alot of time and effort into swimming of late, as I am due to swim in Lake Windermere as part of the Great North Swim in a few weekends, so have been pretty motivated to make sure I do not have to be rescued.....

My problem is that I tend to forget how many lengths I have swum - I count them all up and then miss count or get unsure about half way through. So usually I just swim a few more for good measure at the end.

I am trying to remember the numbers by just saying them to myself in my head.
Then I had an ah-ha moment as I swum effortlessly along. I know that I learn most through visual means and kinaesthetic means rather than listening. My ears are not my strongest learning mechanism - my eyes and movement are.

I have known this for years, which is why I take notes in meetings, whereas those with a strong auditory sense can just listen and learn without any notes at all.

So instead of just saying the number of lengths in my head and listening, I start creating a huge bubble number in my mind at the same time. And remembering what length I am on starts to feel much easier - so I can spend more time concentrating on my technique and less on whether I am on 33 or 35 lengths.

Do you know your preferred learning or communication sense? If not, then search on-line under VAK or VARK (standing for visual- auditory - read/write and kinaesthetic) and find out. You may be amazed at what you learn.

So I guess I have learnt something too - that if I am strong visually, I need to make sure that I use visual methods wherever possible to help me learn and remember information.

What do you have problems remembering?
How can you use your strongest sense to help you remember?

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Natural Success

This weekend I had the pleasure of going to Duncombe Park, near Helmsley in North Yorkshire, to relax and catch up with friends at the National 2CV rally. I watched some fantastic B movies, howled appropriately at the No Talent Contest, drank beer, cooked on my camping stove, and sat in the sunshine until my nose went red. And once again promised to have a 2CV by next year's rally.

It was all very jolly. I was very relaxed and chilled. At one point a new friend called Jonathan asked me what I do. After a brief pause as I considered my options for summarising what Light the Spark is all about, I said:

"I save people from Death by PowerPoint".

Instead of launching into my mission statement or about transformational learning experiences, I deliberately used a phrase that people know and dread. Sure I backed that up a little by saying that I help people design and deliver interactive sessions (or words to that effect). But it was the first sentence that got the reaction. Two people went "Oo" (in a genuinely interested fashion).

Chris was especially interested, as he has recently pulled the short straw of running his work's induction process. He knows its pants (but getting better apparently). But he doesn't know what to do about it. I said that I could help as I passed him a business card*.

Being relaxed and just talking about stuff is a brilliant way to network. I felt no pressure to impress or to be anything I am not. I just talked to them about what I do and then left it at that.

Yet often at formal networking I feel stifled or as if I am playing a role (as in the successful corporate businesswoman or something). Yet there is no real point in my pretending to be someone or something I am not, as my clients will then be disappointed by my products and services. I am me. I am proud to be me. I can do certain things well (and others not at all).

I believe the name for what happened is "Natural Networking".

So I can take what I learnt this weekend and choose events and places to meet new people that are most likely to replicate that experience. I can have fun and talk to people and just be my natural self: extrovert, playful and passionate about what I do.

*It might seem weird to carry business cards on a camping weekend, but in my experience you cannot predict where or when I might meet someone who wants to Light the Spark in others.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Power of Experience

Last night I watched "The Secret Millionaire". In this series, so far, the millionaires typically come from girl-made-good or boy-made-good environments, and as a result of their own experiences, tend to have firm beliefs at the outset that since they managed to work hard and make it good that anyone can.

We get a glimpse into their beliefs from the things that they say, the thoughts they speak aloud. Sometimes they will come out with things such as "this is a business decision" or "I am not giving my money to people who don't deserve it", or "I have to know that the money will not go to waste". It is also clear that many simply have no idea how young people in deprived areas live, survive, or what they have to deal with. Some are shocked by the money they survive on, the bars on their doors, the graffiti. These are obviously streets they never even drive down.

I am sure that they have heard about inner cities, about crime, about poverty, about poor housing. Perhaps they have listened to both sides of the story, but their views that if they can anyone can, seem initially entrenched.

As the programme progresses, these millionaires have direct and first hand experiences that change their beliefs and thoughts. They soften. They become emotionally involved with the people, the poverty, crime, pregnancy, destitution, even hopelessness. They start to glimpse the situations that create powerlessness in these people, that trap them into a certain environment (perhaps elements that they have never considered or experienced for themselves).

At first they might feel it is hopeless. That there is too much to do, that nothing could make a difference in this place. Then they happen across the angels of the community: people who are giving their time, their homes, their money, their resources to make a real difference.

It is this journey, this experience that is the most powerful for them.
The experience of connecting with other humans, who are making a difference. Of looking into the eyes and hearts of people on both sides - those trapped and those handing them a lifeline.

I believe that there is little prior to their ten days immersed in this environment that could have changed their minds - because in the end this is not a logical nor a rational experience. Information on the poor is simply that: data. But humans are not statistics, not bare figures to use for headlines.

This experience, is human. It speaks not to our minds, but to our hearts.
That knowledge in our hearts will stay with us forever.
It can change us overnight.
It is more powerful than any amount of words, of stories, of photos, of videos, of second hand knowledge.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Sinking In Time

Today I start my holiday camping with my bestest friend Mags. Watch out Oxford.

So will I be learning whilst I am holiday - apart from reading books that is?
Sure, by the magic that is Sinking In Time.

Some of the greatest thinkers of our world knew and lived by the importance of Sinking In Time. Those Eureka moments that were had in the bath (Archimedes), under an Apple Tree (Newton), dozing and daydreaming (Kekule) and perhaps most famous of all in this respect the brilliant Edison. It is said that he spent each afternoon sailing. A brilliant way to help the mind consider, analyse, process and eventually come up with an unexpected breakthrough or so. It is well known that the creative part of our brain cannot function under stress, so that it is no surprise really that new ideas and thoughts come when we are truly relaxed (and it is at its most powerful).

If the best scientists and thinkers on this planet had never turned off, daydreamed, sat in the bath or under apple trees, then we would be a poorer world for it.

So I am devoting this holiday to the creative process of Sinking In Time. Letting my brain consider all the information I have been feeding it of late, and letting it come to some conclusions, or come up with some brilliant new ideas.

The question I have for you is this - when is your Sinking In Time?
If you design workshops or learning experiences, do you deliberately give your learners or audience some Sinking In Time?

Today you have my permission to do nothing for as long or short as you can manage. Sit in a chair, in peace and quiet and let your mind daydream. Don't judge the thoughts it has, or try and direct it. Simply watch as it daydreams and know in your heart that this is just as important as any work you do in your day, if not more so.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Leading by Example

Yesterday I was watching one of my favourite all time TV shows - Extreme Makeover Home Edition. As the tears poured down my face and my heart melted for the family whose dreams had come true, I realised that this show teaches me things, without even trying. It powerfully connects with my emotions, so will stick with me for a long time.

I learn about dreams, about everyday people who just want a house over their heads that is safe, yet are still giving to others and putting others before themselves.
I learn that having a terrible thing happen, or being diagnosed with cancer puts a new perspective into our lives that most of us need. It helps me reconnect with things I know and have forgotten.
I learn that doing something good for others is a great way to pay it forward in this life.
I learn that it is important to me that I pay it forward and make a difference in this world.
I learn that by setting a great example and telling a story, can inspire me to new heights.

and I learn that you can never have enough tissues for an episode with Ty and his friends.

Apart from being a very uplifting way to reconnect with the magic and wonder that humans can create when we work together, by the end I was thinking how I personally can pay it forward with Light the Spark. By passing some of my profits to others, by offering reduced rates to those working in the charitable sector.

For now, I am going to let those thoughts stew. Watch this space to see how I resolve it.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Learning By Stealth

Humour is a fantastic asset to any learning environment. It's a great way to help people learn - opening their mind, fostering creative and imaginative thinking, reducing stress, encouraging people to risks and make mistakes and it creates natural stickiness.

But boy, can it bomb.
I recall watching a new trainer deliver her first presentation. We had introduced the concept of humour as a learning tool, and she had taken that rather too literally. So she started her presentation with a joke. She was very nervous, the joke was poorly told and I am sure you can imagine the learners' reactions. Embarrassed tittering. They were now in a right state, rather than the right state.

Humour in learning does not demand that you become a stand-up comedian (or comedienne), or that you tell a stream of knock-knock jokes. It is about creating playful and imaginative scenarios, surprising your audience with the unexpected, perhaps even (if you are able) telling the occasional funny story or witty quotation.

To my mind, humour comes best when it is a reflection of your own attitude to the learning process. If you want to be playful and enjoy yourself, then your learners will generally join in. If you set yourself a goal to have fun, then you will design exercises and find materials that support that aim.

There is a great book by Steve McDermott* where he exemplifies the principles of learning by stealth. The entire book is written as series of instructions not to do. So there are suggestions as such:
  • don't stop having a deep fear of failure and of making a fool of yourself
  • if you do have goals (you shouldn't), don't put them in writing and if you do, don't think too big
  • don't know what you value in life (and if you do, lose sight of it)

I loved this book and was reading it at a station in London, waiting for a train home, laughing so much that a man bought me a drink for cheering up his day. We talked and laughed and I missed at least one train connecting with this random stranger, who was drawn to someone laughing (or was it the way a smile makes anyone look ravishing?).

A few years ago, I designed a brief sketch on sexual discrimination at work. Instead of following a predictable path, we designed in some subtle twists. First we placed the scene in the pub, at a Christmas party (by law still a place of work) and two women made innuendos towards a male member of the audience (who we knew would respond in character). It raised some eyebrows as well as making people laugh. I am sure they remember it all the more for the twists.

You can use humour in very simple ways. If you create pairs in exercises, you can pick the person to go first (A) using suggestions such as the one with the longest little finger, the one with the most celebrity sitings in their life, the one who has the biggest head, the one with the most expensive unused kitchen gadget.... These are not necessarily inherently funny, but they are a surprise, they are lighthearted, they are playful.

Here is your challenge then - how can you be more playful in what you teach or train or learn? How could you use the opposite to help people engage in your subject?

*"How to be a complete and utter failure in life, work and everything. 39½ steps to lasting underachievement" by Steve McDermott.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Inspire or Inform or Both

Today I want to let you know my thoughts on information or inspiration.

I have attended too many learning events (workshops, presentations and the like) where talented and gifted individuals informed me of many things. They shared their knowledge and experience. They gave me principles, guidelines, handouts and more handouts.

A few of these I actually remember.

What made these stand out of the many hours spent learning?
They inspired me. They touched my heart and my emotions and grabbed the whole of my attention.

Legislation is one topic that too many people highlight as a "boring" topic. You can choose facts - such as the dates of all the legislative statutes, the history of the legislation, what the law says. Or you could use a story, a case study and inspire people to truly understand.

One great session on discrimination used photographs of people set to the music of Christina Aguilera - her song Beautiful. In two minutes it had us all engaged and inspired and somewhat humbled as we considered our own beauty and those of the various images displayed. I remember that over three years later.

Did it inspire me? Without a doubt. Do I remember all the information given - not completely. But I do remember my own reaction to the video (revelling in the sheer diversity and wonder of the human race) and that I learnt how it important it was for me to treat every single person as a person - with respect, with dignity, with compassion. Probably the most important thing they could have taught me.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Welcome to My New Blog

This week I set a mission: to change the way one million people learn - moving into a new realm of learning which is interactive, engaging, memorable and even fun!

I want learning to be:

  • imaginative - using all our creative juices to grab the attention of our learners
  • inspiring - so that our learners leave the room full of enthusiasm and wanting to learn more
  • sticky - I want the learning to stick in their minds, for all the right reasons
  • passionate - I want teachers and trainers to be passionate about what they share and to pass that passion on

If you think you already do this, get in touch and I might even award you with the coveted Sparkie award.