Have you been asked to design a training programs or teach a workshop on your area of expertise? Do you care about your participants learning? If so, I want to share an experience I’ve had about what NOT to do.
A few years ago a local company asked me to do some teambuilding for their managers as part of a new leadership development program. They had never offered leadership training before and were working with another company to help design it. They asked me to facilitate a teambuilding session in the third week. They also invited me to sit in on the opening kick-off session to get a feel for the group and the program. I thought it was a great idea – until I had to sit through the session. It was so painful.
My heart sunk when I walked in the room. It was a spacious room with chairs neatly arranged in rows for 30 people. The neat rows signaled that we would be listening to a lecture. The session was two hours. Ugh. Sure enough, after a brief introduction from the organizer the speaker began to talk at us. To his credit his slides were well designed, he was articulate, and his speech was organized. He had a nice balance of stories and stats, but the problem was that it was a speech. Were participants learning anything? Probably not.
Nothing is wrong with a speech, per se. There is a time and place for it. TED Talks are a great use of the speech, college graduations, inaugural addresses from the president. You get the idea. In this case, the speaker went on for 90 minutes. 90 MINUTES! And he even finished early (thank goodness!) – as he had been allotted the full two hours. After 60 minutes I was in pain. Real, physical pain. My body was hurting from the stiff chair and even though I was sitting in the front row I got up and stood in the back because I just couldn’t take it anymore. Was I learning anything? Not really. I was also the only one in the room taking notes, which were really just an excuse to doodle and keep myself awake.
There was one time in his 90-minute ramble when he asked the group a question and actually solicited an answer. That was a hint that we might even have a dialogue and I perked up, but after a one sentence response from a man in the middle of the room the speaker continued pontificating.
This kick-off speech was a problem for a few reasons. First, it was boring and most likely no one retained anything. Most adults cannot digest more than about 10 minutes of information at a time before they need to process it. Of the 90 minutes, maybe some of them will remember 1/9 of the material, but I’d guess it was even lower.
Second, the message to the group about the entire program is that you can just show up and sit here and you don’t have to do much. After a first day like that it would be hard to get the group to talk because they have already been trained to just sit quietly and let the presenter do all the work.
Third, the company flew this guy in from out of state and paid him a nice fee. For what, nice slides?
I think the biggest problem is that we often don’t see other models for how to design and deliver trainings. They don’t have to be boring. They can be engaging, entertaining, even fun, and most importantly lead to lots of learning. There are approaches other than the traditional lecture. These might include: discussion in pairs, small group discussions, an interactive activity related to the topic, silent writing, or using tools such as Climer Cards to spark conversations or ideas.
If you are designing a training and want help let me know. I offer individual coaching to help you lead better workshops. I have worked with people in all professions ranging from college professors to farmers.
In the meantime, pay attention during the workshops and trainings you attend. What did the facilitator/presenter do? How did they engage the participants? What might you apply in your own work?
What is one change you can make in your next workshop to make it more interactive and engaging?