The easiest tweak you can make to your training and orientation programs…

stocking-up-on-classroom-candy
How many of you put out candy for training attendees? I know we do at the day job…in fact, the photo above is a shot of my cart on a recent stock-up trip at my local Sam’s Club. Even when the cost of doing business continues to soar, this is an expense that we have curbed, yet kept.

Why?

Because people like candy.

Before the workplace health and wellness fans start to worry, we also provide fresh fruit and some considerably less-exciting snacks like granola bars and trail mix.

Until I attended a recent conference, however, I didn’t give much thought to the bowl of candy that graces our training tables. Then, a tiny little tweak transformed a simple snack into a learning tool.

I promise you now, whether you are a long-time phase(two)learning follower or this is the first post you’ve read, this is worth the price of admission. Which, frankly, is free…so what a deal, amiright?

Check this out:

tech-tip-on-candy-wrapper

Whoa! Mind. Blown.

How simple is this? All that is needed is candy or snacks, a package of printable adhesive labels and some tips or ideas to share to your participants.

Granted, I’m sure I’m not the first person to “discover” this little nugget, but in over 20 years of teaching and facilitation, somehow it’s new to me. Regardless, it got me thinking….how else could we use this easy tip in training or Orientation programs? Here are 8 beyond-simple ideas:

  1. Provide the URL for your organization’s intranet, wiki, or other learning sites.
  2. Share the Twitter handles for influential, must-follow people in your organization or industry.
  3. Post can’t-miss dates – like when your benefit paperwork is due.
  4. Distribute your company’s IT Help Desk email or phone number.
  5. Share interesting trivia about your organization’s history. (Bonus: Have participants piece together the trivia into a timeline!)
  6. Introduce your company’s mission or purpose statement. 
  7. Solicit simple, one-sentence quotes from other employees – tips on how to be successful at your organization
  8. Share “Fact or Fiction” statements about your industry, organization, products/services, etc. Have participants stick (literally!) the wrappers under one of two columns on a flip chart (“fact” or “fiction”). As the candy is consumed throughout training, the columns will grow. On the last day of training, see how accurate everyone’s guesses are!

Honestly, I could probably come up with a dozen other ideas…there are so many creative possibilities for this one!

Your turn: Have you used this type of interactive element in your training sessions? What tips have you communicated? And most importantly, what is the must-have candy in YOUR candy bowl?

10 Things You Learned in Kindergarten That Will Make You a Better Facilitator

10-things-you-learned-in-kindergarten-that-will-make-you-a-better-facilitator

Do you remember the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Recently, I came across a copy of Robert Fulghum’s inspirational collection of essays and remembered a high school teacher had a poster with excerpts from this book in her classroom. While I recall looking at the poster, and even reading the simplistic statements…I was a teenager, desperately trying to be seen as a young adult, so any suggestion that I should revert to things I learned as a 5-year old didn’t interest me at the time.

But now, looking back at this idyllic book with a grown-up pair of eyes and perspective, I see how much truth lies in its simplicity. It reminds me of how unnecessarily complicated we tend to make things. Yes, in life. But also in career.

I flipped through the book, first in a general sense, but again as a learning professional. How could we revolutionize our interactions with training participants, with organizational stakeholders, with clients or our own teams if we followed Fulghum’s advice?

Thinking as a facilitator for the purposes of this post, here are 10 lessons we learned in Kindergarten, based on Fulghum’s book, that could make us more effective:

1. Share everything.

Transparency is key. Use your platform as a facilitator to encourage a collaborative environment. Share best practices. Discuss real-world scenarios and struggles. Celebrate wins. Be all in with your participants.

 

2. Play fair.

Maintain a level playing field throughout your sessions. Ensure that your content is relevant. Set learners up for success, not defeat or frustration.

 

3. Clean up your own mess.

Both literally and figuratively. Set house rules that allow for exploration, but also for accountability.

 

4. Take a nap every afternoon.

(I wish.)

Never underestimate the importance of taking a break. Your participants – and YOU – need time to recharge your batteries, get some fresh air, or take care of work issues that may arise. Building breaks into your agenda will also help ensure that your participants stick with you during the content.

 

5. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Okay, this book was first written in 1988, long before things like “lactose intolerance” and “gluten-free” entered our mainstream vocabulary. But the lesson I take from this statement is that little details make a big difference. Go above and beyond to create a positive environment and make your participants feel special. Warm cookies and cold milk are certainly a nice touch…even if you have to provide a healthy alternative.

 

6. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

Provide support opportunities after the session – whether through online resources, discussion forums, social media or other channels that work for your organization. Encourage participants to network and share with one another to continue the learning long after the lights go out in the training room.

 

7. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

As a facilitator, I interpret this as accommodating a variety of methods and learning styles into your session. Balance heavier content with lighter, interactive methods. Don’t rely on stale, wordy PowerPoint. Avoid lecturing for hours on end. Leverage group discussions and other engaging exercises to keep your participants moving throughout the day.

 

8. It doesn’t matter what you say you believe – it only matters what you do.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Less talk, more walk.” That’s really what it’s all about. Live and facilitate with conviction, friends. Be an advocate for learning in your organization not only by what you say in meetings, but how you interact with peers, subordinates, stakeholders and bosses.

 

9. It wasn’t in books. It wasn’t in church. What I needed to know was out there in the world.

Amen to that. The most effective learning takes place through practical means – on the job, in the real world. Recognize that, and design your formal instructional time in a way that sets learners up for real-world application.

 

10. You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.

A self-aware facilitator understands that it truly is all about the participant, not about the facilitator. Yes, even those of us who have a flair for the dramatic and like to dazzle the crowd. But friends, please remember what a privilege it is to bring learning experiences to the workplace. You are in a unique position to add value to your organization – even though sometimes, on days when “everything is a training issue,” it can feel like a thankless, after-thought of a job. And my goodness, how rewarding does it feel to see the proverbial light bulbs switch on during a session, or to see tangible business results after a big learning project was implemented?

So, in a way, it can be **a little bit** about us once in awhile…

 

Your turn: What childhood lessons do you follow, when designing, delivering or managing the learning function in your organization? How have those lessons helped you throughout your career? I’d love to see your insights in the comments!

 

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3 Facilitation Tips from Jimmy Fallon

3-facilitation-tips-from-jimmy-fallon

Confession: I have been a little smitten with Jimmy Fallon for quite some time – since he was  a young SNL player, giggling uncontrollably during sketch after sketch. His easygoing, likeable style has kept me coming back, show after show. I was thrilled when he visited Indy for a week to host the Late Show when our city hosted the Super Bowl a few years back. I was even more excited when it was announced that Jimmy would be Jay Leno’s Tonight Show successor.

So, the Tonight Show. An institution in American television, right? For many years – since 1954, in fact – people have tuned in to watch a similar agenda: The host delivers a monologue, often inspired by current news and pop culture events. This is followed by a celebrity interview or two – sometimes a standup comic. The show often concludes with a musical act.

And millions of people faithfully watch, and are entertained. Myself included. Then a few years back, Jimmy Fallon burst onto the late-night TV scene, and shook up the status quo.

While there is still a monologue, celebrity interviews and many of the other mainstays of a successful late-night talk show formula, he added in a few elements that are more reflective of his personality, and really ushered in a new generation of this television genre.

Because when have we been able to witness an Oscar winner (Diane Keaton) playing beer pong?

jimmy fallon diane keaton 1

jimmy fallon diane keaton 2

 

Or cut up in the now-famous “Ewwww!” sketch with Will Ferrell and the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama?

jimmy fallon will ferrell michelle obama ewww

Or make up games like Faceketball?

jimmy fallon bradley cooper faceketball

Or sing hit songs with kids’ classroom instruments?

jimmy fallon idina menzel the roots band classroom instruments

Or play Antler Ring Toss?

jimmy fallon antler ring toss
I could definitely go on, but my point is this: He is a master at having fun, engaging his guests and audience, and being a little bit (or a lot) silly.

And yes, he manages to make celebrities look a little ridiculous. “Egg Russian Roulette,” anyone?

jimmy fallon tom cruise egg russian roulette

Look at the celebrities’ faces in the photos above. They are having fun. This is clearly not just another interview to promote their newest film or project. Sure, they have the opportunity to promote during the show, but I think it’s obvious that they also have a pretty good time when they hang out with Jimmy Fallon.

And as a facilitator, I want to be like that.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t try to convince a participant to smash an egg on his head, but I would love for that participant to walk out of a session I facilitated confident that he not only learned something, but also enjoyed himself.

How does Jimmy do it? I’ve noticed these techniques that training facilitators can leverage:

  1. Try something different. As the photos in this post indicate, you really never know what you’re going to encounter on the Tonight Show. Have you been using the same icebreakers, energizers or group exercises for a long time? Maybe it’s time to retire the old and bring a new activity into your rotation.
  1. Have fun with your participants. Get involved in discussions, do something silly and unexpected. If something is funny, laugh! Humor can be an effective way to connect with your audience – just keep it appropriate, of course!
  1. Extend the conversation past the classroom. Jimmy Fallon not only engages his guests and the studio audience, but he keeps the viewers engaged as well. A good example is “Hashtags” – Jimmy encourages people to tweet personal experiences or anecdotes to a particular hashtag; he includes some of his favorites on the air:

jimmy fallon hashtags why I'm single

jimmy fallon hashtags my worst birthday

jimmy fallon hashtags my worst birthday 2

 

I may just “steal” the Hashtags idea to use as an icebreaker….I’ll keep you posted, Phase(Two)Nation.

Your turn: Jimmy Fallon has found a niche among the noisy late-night talk show space. He always looks like he’s having the time of his life…which draws people in. So, fellow facilitators, let’s shake up the status quo in the noisy space of training classes and other learning events. What can we do to convey passion for what we do, genuine interest in our audience, and have fun? Share your ideas in the comments below!

 

Know someone who might like this post? Be kind and share it!

 

Just for fun!

Did you happen to catch the special episode of the Tonight Show after the Super Bowl? There was another epic Lip Sync Battle (not a new thing) between Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. Absolutely hilarious – if you’re looking for a hearty laugh, check out the video below!

BYOWS (Bring Your Own Workshop Stuff)

successful-trainers-pack-accordingly

Exactly 566 days ago, I wrote this post about my favorite things to have on hand for a training session. Today, over 1.5 years later, my “favorites” remain the same, although this list has evolved over a number of years. As you’re about to read, I also keep a few other go-to items on hand that didn’t make the list in the earlier post.

The other day, I was reminded why having a well-stocked, well-planned facilitator toolkit is an absolute necessity.

Last Friday, I hit the road to facilitate a day of workshops for a terrific phase(two)learning client. I arrived in the assigned meeting room a little over an hour before my morning session was scheduled to begin so I could get set up. Within moments, I was digging out my toolkit because there were no supplies whatsoever in the room.

I was really, really glad I had these 10 handy tools on hand…

1) Sharpie marker – because I needed to label table groups, because the room was not set up in a logical way and I didn’t have an option to move tables around.

2) My own self-stick flip chart pads – because the room had no easel nor flip charts…really glad I brought my own!

3) Masking tape – because the texture on the walls didn’t allow the self-stick flip chart sheets to stick very well.

4) Mr. Sketch markers – because I never facilitate without Mr. Sketch.

5) “Hello, my name is” labels – because I had an awesome group exercise planned where I needed to stick labels on people’s backs, and I doubted there would be anything to use. Plus, they’re always in my bag because you never know when you’ll need them.

6) Cough drops – because my throat was getting scratchy shortly into the day. (I wrote this off as a full day of facilitating being tough on the vocal cords. By Saturday evening, I knew otherwise…I’ve been battling bronchitis, a sinus infection AND an ear infection ever since. Hooray!)

7) Extra copies of my handouts – because I knew I wouldn’t have an opportunity to make extra copies in the middle of the day.

8) Printed cards with the SlideShare URL for the session slides – because why lug around more paper when you can use a terrific tool like SlideShare?

9) Moleskine notebook – because there were several little nuggets throughout the day that I wanted to jot down and remember. And I always have it with me, anyway.

10) Business cards – because I just had some new ones made and they look ah-mazing! And yes, of course…to connect with people.

 

The point here, friends, is this: Whether you are an in-house trainer at your organization, or a road warrior who is constantly setting up shop in different places, it’s important to be prepared. Markers dry out. Flip charts don’t always stick. Having a well-stocked arsenal of supplies not only helps you facilitate with confidence, but you present yourself as a master of your craft (and come on, we all want that reputation, amiright?).

Next week, I’m thrilled to be presenting a session at a conference in Las Vegas. You can bet your casino chips that I’ll have my toolkit ready. By the way…are you a Skillsoft client? Will you be at Perspectives 2014 next week? Look me up, or follow me on Twitter – I’ll be live tweeting throughout the event!

Your turn: Maybe you weren’t following this blog 566 days ago and didn’t see or comment on the earlier post. So I’m going to ask again: What’s in your toolkit? Share your must-have supplies and trainer hacks in the comments below, then share the post with your network so we can learn from one another.

 

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3 Tips to Facilitate With Confidence (even when you’re not an expert)

be-a-confident-facilitator

Have you ever been asked (or instructed) to facilitate a training session, and you’re NOT the expert in the room?

I think we’ve all been there at one time or another. It’s easy to let the nerves or negative self-talk take over – a little too easy, right?

How do you project authority on the topic, even though the audience is likely more knowledgeable than you are?

I was asked this question recently as a contribution to a blog post, but I thought it was worth sharing here as well. As a presenter, you are looked at as an expert. When faced with wading through content that is unfamiliar, I would suggest three things to facilitate with confidence:

1. Stories are more memorable than facts.  Sure, storytelling is a fine art, but it’s one that can be mastered. When you are faced with facilitating a session that is outside your scope of expertise, look for stories that support the facts you are presenting. Find an example. Find a success story. Find an organization that is doing something interesting that you can share with the group. It’s easier for you to remember what ABC Company did than it is for you to learn 1001 things about a subject (that your audience probably already knows).  As you share the story, point out the relevant, key facts that align with the topic.

2. Throw it back to the group.  This can be an effective way to make a presentation interactive, but also a very easy way to take the focus away from the facilitator! After sharing your key points (with or without looking at your notes!), ask a reflective or discussion-based question. Give the audience a few minutes to discuss. Depending on the size of the group, the setup could vary. For a very large group, it could be a discussion with the person sitting next to them. For smaller groups, you could break into small teams or table groups.  After discussing, debrief: ask for volunteers (or everyone, depending on the audience) to share their thoughts.

3. Start and end on a strong note. Kick off the session with a strong introduction. End with a memorable point or tie back to your objective. Reinforce the benefit of what you’ve shared. It’s critical that participants walk away with a solid final thought about the content – and about you.  Most importantly, have confidence as you welcome, present and close!

Remember…

Tweet: A facilitator who exudes confidence will always have more credibility than one who lacks it.

Your turn: Have you ever facilitated a session where the audience was more experienced or knowledgeable than you were? How did you overcome the challenge? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Facilitators: Know Thy Audience

old-vs-young-workers-in-the-workplace

At the risk of sounding buzz-wordy, Twitter, for all intents and purposes, has been a game-changer. Think about it – 10 short years ago, what did you think a “tweet” was?

Ah, 2004. It was a simpler time…

Over the past few years, Twitter has become not only a household name, but it is a major communication and broadcasting tool. Let’s have some fun. If you would, please take a moment to answer this short poll:

A couple of years ago, in my quest to facilitate a progressive learning experience, I developed a content review exercise; an exercise I was certain would be a hit with the audience. I asked a few people for feedback, and they all agreed that it sounded good (in hindsight, my sample group wasn’t exactly diverse). I brazenly forged ahead to facilitate this in a workshop for the first time.

The exercise? I called it “Key Messages in 140 Characters or Less”. The purpose of the exercise was to have small groups (2-3 people) discuss the key messages of the day’s event, and then summarize it onto flip charts…as if they were tweeting it. 140 characters or less. Then we would share the responses and discuss the key messages.

Brilliant, right?

Well, it could have been brilliant, had I taken a moment to poll my audience to know if they understood how Twitter worked, or what I meant by “140 characters or less”. But they didn’t, and the exercise bombed. Blank stares all around.

blank-stare

Don’t assume, people. Even with something that is popular. As you develop your learning content, one of the most important things you can do is to assess your audience during the needs analysis and development process. Here are 6 simple questions to ask yourself or your stakeholders as you develop your content, to ensure that it is relevant for your participants:

1. What is the average age and experience level of the participants?

2. What is their educational or training background?

3. Will the participants be a diverse group?

4. What makes this group unique?

5. What is the culture of the team or organization?

6. What types of technology, tools and job aids would the participants be most comfortable using?

The workplace is changing – we all know that. Our learners are a diverse mix of generations, cultures and learning styles. They have different needs and different interests. By integrating these simple questions into your development routine, you will discover important details about your participants that will lead to relevant content, engaging facilitation and meaningful interactions with learners.

Because…

Your turn: How do you learn about your participants and keep them in mind as you develop training content? How can we get better at this as learning professionals?

3 Tips to Energize a Tired Training Session

wake-up-a-tired-training-session

Happy Holidays, all!

Yes, it’s been a moment since I’ve checked in – here, on Twitter, LinkedIn or even Facebook. The past few weeks have been a blur…wrapping up the year at the day job so I could take some long-awaited time off (!!!), enjoying some holiday time with family and making some exciting plans for 2014!

One project that we were working on at the day job was updating some materials for a training class that is frequently delivered. We needed to add some new content, but we’re also in the process of energizing the existing material.

Let’s be honest, after facilitating a session many, many times, most content could use the equivalent of a vitamin B12 shot (or maybe a Mountain Dew and a Pixy Stick) to perk things up. Don’t you agree?

Based on this project, here are 3 tips we’ve found that can help wake up a tired training session. Add your own tips in the comments below to share with your fellow L&D brethren!

1. Dump lecture-based segments in favor of more interactive methods.

Demonstrations, small-group discussions, brainstorming, mind-mapping, and interviews are just a few options to spice up lecture-heavy content. After all, adults bring their experiences with them to a training session; providing interactive opportunities to collaborate and learn with others is key for engaging your participants.

2.  Expand your toolbox of icebreakers, energizers, brainteasers and review exercises.

Recently, I added a couple of posts about icebreakers (look here and here to check them out). Appropriately level-setting your group with an icebreaker can set the tone for a successful training session, but so can other well-placed exercises throughout the event. There are infinite resources for these – a favorite go-to for me has been the Langevin blog – their instructors have shared a number of fantastic, learner-centered ideas that I have used many times over the years.

3. Take a look in the mirror.

Maybe it’s not the content…maybe it’s you? Are you suffering from burnout? Burnout is all-too-real, even for the most passionate learning professional. Sometimes the repetitive nature of our profession – facilitating the same courses over and over, managing difficult participants or a lack of work/life balance can elevate stress levels and make training that class seem like an overwhelmingly difficult task. Trust me, I’ve been there. Earlier in my career, I led 4-week, all-day training classes – back-to-back – with sometimes no time in between to catch up on email or other projects. In a small training room with no windows, I might add. As much as I enjoyed the job, I’ll be honest, there were days I wondered if this was really the career path I should be taking! Fortunately, I got past it. If you’re a trainer struggling with burnout, drop me an email sometime and we can chat more about it. At the very least, I’m a good listener. Or you can read this helpful post, if you think you might be dealing with burnout.

2014 is just a few days away – can you believe it?  That means, it’s New Year Resolution time. I’ll be adding a post about that in the coming days. In the meantime, let’s vow to energize our tired training content in the new year! Let’s make 2014 a Year of Creativity. Who’s with me?!

Bring phase(two)learning to your organization in 2014! Observation, feedback, course audits and other coaching or advisory services are available, along with workshop facilitation and event planning and speaking. Booking spring and summer dates now!