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.