Saturday, November 15, 2014

Death by Lecture

Can you remember the last time you thoroughly enjoyed participating in a training or lecture?  You may need a bit of time to dig deep in your memory banks to find the one training session that fired you up to make a difference.  Don't feel alone, until last week I hadn't experienced an entertaining speaker for several years and kept asking myself, "What makes them think they are such a good speaker or trainer?"

There are many presenters who simply talk to hear themselves talk without evaluating if anyone is interested in what they are saying. That's all to say that a trainer or speaker who never pauses to catch a breath is usually the only one learning about him or herself because no one else is listening.  I truly believe this is the reason text messaging is so popular, especially when we are not being entertained and given the exciting information that we hoped to discover.

Do you ever stop to ask yourself what you are like as a speaker or trainer? As a facilitator and trainer I am constantly practicing, learning from others and sharpening my presentation skills. A great trainer once shared a thought with me that I have never forgotten, amateurs work until they get it right, professionals work till it can't go wrong. I always strive to be a professional, always learning, always changing my presentation and listening to the audience.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to witness two great presenters. The first presentation was a short lunchtime event on media perception and the way we see things, or don't see things. Our overall intuition or perception can sometimes deceive us or have an impact on our decisions for projects or other related work. The presenter was the best I have ever witnessed. His presentation was tight and well thought out. In other words he was prepared and in sync with the audience. I watched him very closely as he would go into 10 or 15 minutes of lecture, move into an interactive video or activity and constantly checked in with the audience for feedback, comments and questions. When he ended we all yearned for another session with this energetic presenter. He shared two videos with the group about seeing the gorilla in the room.  Here is a link to the videos if you have not seen them. Monkey business illusion: http://www.livescience.com/6727-invisible-gorilla-test-shows-notice.html

At another all day training on the topic of Crisis Communications and Management, hosted by Fleishman Hillard's DC office, the training was simply amazing.  Attending an all day training is usually a clear signal to me that your head may hit the table before the first morning break.  But this time I was dead wrong. Every presenter was entertaining, funny and full of information.  Each one was ready to answer any question and listen to comments from the audience. My favorite speaker of the day was Andy Card.  Mr. Card was the Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush. Initially I thought he would be dry and stuffy. To my excitement and surprise, Mr. Card was outstanding and great professional speaker that spoke for one hour without receiving a yawn from anyone in the room. He gave us factual information about disasters and crises, how to plan strategically, made his presentation interactive by including the audience in his discussion and he managed to keep us laughing while discussing a serious topic.  Truly a professional.

Here are a few tips that can make you a hit at your next training:
  • Know your audience well
    • It's helpful to obtain as much information as possible about your audience which will help you to tailor your presentation
    • Information can be received through online surveys, phone calls or a brief survey card when your audience enters the room
    • It also helps to mingle and welcome the audience when they arrive to get a true feel of their attitude, etc.
  • Talk to and not at your audience
    • No one likes to be lectured to, even when sitting in a college classroom
    • Include your audience in the discussion or presentation
    • Try to give capsule or bite size pieces of information
    • The average listener loses interest after 30 to 45 minutes unless they are included in the conversation and also able to contribute. Remember your audience are smart people.
  • Keep the audience engaged
    • When possible, move around the room, wearing a wireless microphone
    • If you are stuck on stage, try to move around or be as animated as you can be, you should be truly interested in the topic you are sharing
    • If you have a good sense of humor, this is a time to use it
  • Reasons that make you want to remove a presenter from the microphone:
    • Boring speaker
    • Someone who likes to hear themselves talk.
    • Someone who always runs over the allotted time and ignores all the warning signs being waved by staff in the back of the room trying to give them the cut it off signal.
    • Someone who reads the PowerPoint presentation or their notes to the audience. Almost like a bedtime story. I think that we are all able to read the slides for ourselves.
    • Someone who never looks at the audience.
    • Someone who lectures with their back to the audience so they can read the slides.
    • Someone who keeps switching glasses in order to see the slides or to read their notes.
    • Someone who starts the training by admitting that they are not a very good speaker and may be dry.
As you can see, this list could continue on until the cows come home, but I will allow you to add to the list and share your list with me. Death by Lecture -- simply not worth the pain.  Remember to have fun when you are presenting, your audience wants to love your presentation and are ready to have a great time with you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Facilitator Behaviors and Strategies

Starting out as a facilitator was brutal for me because I was flying by the seat of my pants, learning every step of the way. My days of being a facilitator started early when I chose the path of becoming an elementary & middle school teacher. Talk about cutting your teeth on a piece of reality -- my eyes were wide open.  I was fortunate to meet a couple of fantastic trainers and facilitators who took me under their wings and mentored me to become a strong, confident presenter that I am today.

Many presenters or facilitators study their materials or presentation over and over again. That never worked for me. It's more important to learn your materials enough so that you feel comfortable presenting them to anyone.  The key is connecting with your audience. In every training, I make a point to getting a better understanding of why participants are attending the training and what information they want to gather.  As I am listing to their responses, I am mentally redesigning my presentation in my mind to meet their needs. No presentation should be exactly the same. The way you present the information to each audience is significant to your success.

Here are some of the BEST things a facilitator can do:

  • Carefully assess the needs of your audience
  • Help people understand why they are there
  • Ascertain the knowledge level of your audience
  • Inquire why they chose this training or workshop
  • Probe sensitively into people's feelings
  • Create an open and trusting atmosphere
  • Stay flexible and ready to change directions at a moment's notice
  • See yourself as servant of group needs, providing information
  • Speak in simple, and direct language
  • Display energy and appropriate levels of assertiveness
  • Be a good listener and paraphrase what has been discussed
  • End every session with clear steps or an accurate summary
  • Treat everyone as equals without showing favoritism to anyone
Here are some of the WORSE things a facilitator can do:
  • Be oblivious to what the group thinks or needs
  • Never check the concerns of your group members
  • Not hearing or listening to what is being said by participants
  • Not watching the faces or body language of your audience
  • Take poor flip chart notes or change the meaning
  • Lose track of key ideas
  • Try to be the center of attention
  • Get defensive or argumentative
  • Get into personality battles
  • Put down people
  • Allow the discussion to get badly sidetracked or ramble without proper closure
  • Not knowing when to stop or talking too much about yourself
  • Insensitivity to cultural diversity issues
  • Use  inappropriate humor
These are just a few of the tips that I have picked up over the years. The most important part of being a trainer or a facilitator is to have FUN, and remember to smile often. It makes a big difference. One of my mentors taught me that, " Amateurs practice until they get it right; Professionals practice until it can't go wrong".