Friday, 29 May 2009

Sparkie's Ten Commandments #8

Neither shalt thou get thine audience jumping around after lunch, nor shalt thou put on a long video in the dark

As a facilitator or presenter, one of your core jobs is the manage the energy of both the group and yourself.

To do this well, you need to be able to assess energy levels: to know when your audience are bouncing and when they are slumping. Here are a few signs to look out for:

1) Body language - are they slumped, doodling, eyes vacant? Or are they alert, engaged and following your movements with their eyes?
2) Level of interaction and engagement - what happens when you ask a question or set a task?
3) Your own energy levels - if the room has low energy you might find your own levels are drained as you try to raise theirs.... Conversely when their energy is full-on it tends to make you feel great too!

There is always a balance to be struck, as reflected in the title. After lunch there can be a significant lull in energy levels, as blood moves to the digestive system (if you can, choose a lunch with less stodge). Don't put the lights out and show a video unless you want them to have a snooze. After lunch is a great time to get them working on a case study or interactive exercise.

What signs and evidence can you find or have you noticed that reflects the energy levels of your audience when you are presenting? Post your comments here....

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Sparkie's Ten Commandments #7

Thou shalt not show thine audience how much thou knowest.

No-one likes a show off. Not since school days.

There's a saying that seems appropriate here...
People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Really, I couldn't care less what celebrities you have coached, until you have shown me a simple tip that will make my life better.

I don't want to know how many qualifications you have, or letters after your name, unless you can give me a piece of sage advice that I can use straight away.

An expert knows alot.
A teacher knows how to break down something complex into simple steps that anyone can master. A teacher can take something other people find hard and make it easy.

Be both an expert in your topic and a great teacher - so that your audience can benefit from your years of experience in a way that will transform their life.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Sparkie's Ten Commandments #6

Thou shalt not bore thine audience with irrelevant fluff - thou shalt concentrate on the real NEED TO KNOW data.

This commandment is easily demonstrated using an example - let's use Swine Flu as the topic of your presentation.

Think about what your audience really needs to know about this potential pandemic.
If your audience is the general public, then what they really NEED TO KNOW must be about the symptoms, treatment and what to do if you think you have it.

If that is the NEED TO KNOW information, how do the recent news reports stack up:
* Information on the genetic make-up of swine flu
* That swine flu is a variation of the H1N1 virus
* How the disease spread from pigs into the human population and why
* What the difference is between an epidemic and a pandemic

Lots of this is fluff. It's not offensive, but it's not NEED TO KNOW either.
It confuses the issue and overloads us with facts that are not going to save us.

For everything you are thinking of saying in a presentation put it through the NEED TO KNOW filter.

It doesn't matter how interesting the story is, or how funny your statistics are, or how much research it took some lab rat to discover the origins of the theory. If your audience, in this situation do not NEED TO KNOW, then leave it out. Please.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Sparkie's Ten Commandments #5

Thou shalt prepare for (nearly) every eventuality and be flexible in thine approach to thine event.

It doesn't well you have laid your plans for your presentation, or workshop - the law of sod will sometimes intervene.

As a presenter, it pays to be adaptable. To be flexible. To go with the flow.
The more you consider and even plan for such changes, the better you are likely to react when at the last moment:

* swine-flu puts half your audience into quarantine the night before your event
* the electricity fails five seconds before you power up an incredible video clip (or more likely the bulb blows in the projector)
* the person before you overruns and your time is cut in half and what's more they nearly killed your audience with PowerPoint and they are now semi-comatose
* you find out that your delegates have just been given 30 days consultation before the organisation closes for good

The key to being a great presenter is to be able to think on your feet, and change your direction.

For each of the elements you have planned in your session - your chunks of talking, discussions, interactive exercises, planning or coaching sessions - consider the "what if" options.

What if I have twice or half as long to do this - what would I do?
What if I have more or fewer people at the event - what would I do?
What if the technology fails - what would I do?

By thinking through these options, and having an answer in most cases, then you will be a whole lot better prepared and able to respond if (not when) something does change.

If you have designed your session around core NEED TO KNOW information or skills, then making these changes is much much easier than if you have a long script that rambles. But more of that in commandment #6.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Sparkie's Ten Commandments #4

Thou shalt honour the fact that all people are different & create variety at the heart of your talk.
People are magical. They are wonderfully diverse in what they like and how they prefer to learn. Some people sit in silence, absorbing the content, without ever needing to hear their own voice. Some people like to get engaged with a topic, and start trying things out from the getgo.

I know that until I learnt about the different styles, I tended to design workshops that appealed to me. Fine for those with similar styles, but with little to appeal to the rest of the people present. Appreciating the differences and how they want to learn was a huge eye-opener for me and improved my presentations and workshops beyond all recognition.

There are alot of different ways of characterising people, and today we are just going to discuss one - the preferences we have for how we communicate - our VAK or VARK style. Are you a visual person, an auditory person, a read-write person or a kinaesthetic person?

If you don't know, then follow this link to find out: (on one of my personal favourite websites)

A visual person will benefit from slides, flipcharts, video and colourful handouts.
An auditory person will benefit from discussions, brainstorming and music.
A read-write person will benefit from quizzes and handouts.
A kinaesthetic person will benefit from touching things, movement and interactive elements.

We are a wonderfully diverse people and the more we appreciate our uniqueness, the better our presentations and workshops become. If you design in variety at the very heart of what you do, you increase your chances of inspiring and engaging everyone who is listening - in fact you can Light the Spark in everyone.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Sparkie's Ten Commandments #3

Thou shalt not talk to thine listeners or treat them as if they are your troublesome children

It is amazing what adults can do. They hold down a job, run a household, pay into a retirement fund, look after their parents and children... So why is that some presenters treat them like they are four years' old?

A smatter of condescension, some "guidelines" (read rules) at the start to keep everyone in their place... It's enough to bring out the worst in your learners. Drone on like a school master of old and watch as people start to fiddle and play up!

Your adults know an incredible amount and have decades of life experience. They might not be experts at what you do, but they are experts in their own right. If you choose to treat them as experts (in another field) then your focus grows. Not only do you think of how you can help them, but also, what you can learn from them.

I used to teach a short module on data protection - despite knowing very little about it. At the start of each session I would get groups of around six people to write down everything they knew or thought they knew about Data Protection. Without fail someone in each team would have plenty to say, because either it was or had been part of their role. All I had to do then was to correct any misunderstandings and draw out their own expertise.

The best way to use the experience and knowledge already present in your audience is to ask them questions, set them tasks and get them working in groups. The person with the most relevant knowledge then teaches the rest of the group and you simply correct or add in where there are gaps.

Plus, you treat them like the knowledgeable experts they are.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Sparkie's Ten Commandments #2

Thou shalt not drone on for more than fifteen minutes or thou wilst lose thine audience's attention.

Adults are independent, self-determining beings. We are used to being in control of our lives. Until it is evening and men go to watch the tv (fire) after a long day at the office (hunting), few people want to sit (without moving) and listen (in silence) to someone talk for hours on end. With a few exceptions (comedians or entertainers).

If your speech or workshop lasts more than about 15 minutes, then you need to chunk it down. Split it into segments, with some talking, some discussions, some exercises or interactions - with none of the talking bits lasting more than about 15 minutes.

Even with an audience of 500 people, you can intersperse your session with:
* discussions - ask them to talk to their neighbour/ the person in front or behind
* questions and answer segments - how might they do X? what is their experience of Y?
* polls - use either hands up, or a jack-in-the-box (stand up for yes, sit for no) approach to get people thinking about the questions and information
* small movements - even if it's something as simple as getting your audience to cross their arms, notice which arm is on top, then asking them to do it with the other arm on top. An old faithful for pointing out how new things always feel weird at first.

Think about the attention span of your audience before you plan your session. Last thing on a Friday (for instance) you may decide to have no speaking longer than 10 minutes. Whatever the time of day, design in sections to get them involved, get them thinking for themselves, get them moving and you will not only help keep them awake, alert and attentive, but you'll stimulate the blood flow to their brain and support their learning.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Sparkie's Ten Commandments #1

Thou shalt not shoe-horn thine favourite activities into every workshops thou runneth.

Tempting as it is, your favourite activity or exercise may not going to be relevant nor appropriate for every workshop you deliver. I urge you not to get lazy and rely on your old faithfuls.

Sure, it's better to include a brainstorm that just to talk non-stop, but rely on the same thing all the time and your workshops will suffer from the "Law of Diminishing Astonishment" - or being boring in other words.

Would you teach a child to ride a bike with 57 PowerPoint slides and a brainstorm?
Not if you wanted them to be able to ride it anytime soon!

Teach people about writing, by getting them writing.
Teach people about making difficult choices, by outlining a situation and helping them make a choice.

Try this combination to build confidence in any new skill: some step-by-step instructions (concepts), observation (watching someone else) then doing (practice), then reflection.

Friday, 8 May 2009

What Would You Say To Sum Up the Lessons in Your Life?

This video is amazing and emotional and it touched me deeply. Randy uses simple images, simple phrases and powerful messages to help us all connect with our dreams and what life is really about.

I loved the image of him pouring soda over the back seat of his new car - he knew the difference between stuff and what really matters.

Powerful, persuasive, passionate. If I am half the speaker Randy is here, I will be a very blessed one.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Simplify your slides and data

This short video is a great example of using the principles of simplicity in getting information across.

Friday, 1 May 2009

A new drug called Despondex is revealed...

This short video is similar to Steve McDermott's book on being a complete and utter failure. You both laugh and learn by stealth at the same time. Loving this.