Coaching SMEs to be Expert Facilitators of Learning

May 13, 2014 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Posts for Buyers, Talent Development, Training

UPDATE: Back By Popular Demand

Greg’s been asked back to deliver this same session two more times at the 2015 Association for Talent Development International Conference & Exposition (ATD ICE).


ASTD ICE 5-13-14I had the pleasure of speaking at the ASTD (renamed ATD mid-conference) International Conference & Exposition in Washington, DC last week. The audience for my session included instructional designers and leaders within the training & development function. The topic was about ways to coach SMEs to be more effective in the training room.

The session, as you can see from the picture, was packed. Over 200 people attended, and more would have joined had the room moderator not closed the door and turned people away. I was reminded (again) how hungry the training industry is for help working with their Subject Matter Experts.

Why Bother with SMEs?
There’s good reason to involve SMEs in the training process. They bring credibility, depth, and enterprise-wide perspective. They can also cause frustration for everyone involved, including the learner. And when learners are frustrated, learning doesn’t happen as fully or as efficiently as it should.[Tweet “when #learners are frustrated, #learning doesn’t happen as fully or as efficiently as it should.”]

The Challenge We See
In our experience, working with SMEs to improve their effectiveness in the training room, my colleagues and I have discovered a few things:

  • Materials, slides, and facilitator guides are rarely created with the SME’s delivery style and experience level in mind.
  • SMEs want to do a good job as trainers, but they don’t fully understand what the job is and what’s expected of them.
  • They usually focus too much on the information rather than the application of the information to their learners’ jobs.
  • They don’t understand how to frame the information to provide proper context to the learners.
  • They often aren’t given proper training.

In short, organizations aren’t setting the SMEs up for success. They’re not getting the resources they need to be effective presenters and facilitators of learning. This, in turn, leads to dull learning events and the loss of learners’ good will.

The Solution
Let’s not beat up on SMEs too much. They mean well, but they need help.

On the instructional design side, they need materials designed to support them and their unique needs. Design elements that work for professional trainers don’t necessarily work for others outside the industry.

In the training room, once the session starts, they need to understand that they wear two hats.

  1. The Expert Hat is the obvious hat that they wear. This is the one they wear when they are talking about data, details, and their area of expertise.
  2. The Trainer Hat is less obvious, but a much more important hat. This is the hat they need to put on to provide context, connect dots, and to facilitate learning and the application of the information to the learners’ jobs.

Once they understand their dual purpose in the training room, SMEs are much better able to facilitate learning.

Contact us at info@turpincommunication.com to learn how we can help your SMEs be more effective in the training room.

Postscript #1: SMEs From the Ground Up
I was glad my session at ATD ICE was on Tuesday because that gave me an opportunity to sit in on Chuck Hodell’s session on Monday. He wrote the recent book SMEs From the Ground Up. If you work with SMEs, I highly recommend it. He has some fresh thinking that’s well worth taking a look at. During his session, Chuck talked about ways to manage SME relationships, set expectations, and celebrate their accomplishments.

Perhaps his most impressive thinking, though, is around redefining who the SMEs are on any given project. He writes, “… SMEs are both content-related and process-related. The programmer, the writer, the teacher/trainer and the manager are all SMEs in ways that matter in our work. Identifying and working with all of these specific types of SMEs provides endless possibilities for improved products and processes.”

Postscript #2: Is that Flat Stanley in the Picture Above?
Yes! Not only did I get to speak with 200 learning & development professionals, I got to do it with my Great Nephew Jayce’s Flat Stanley! It’s a cool project. If you’re not familiar with Flat Stanley, click this link: https://www.flatstanley.com/about

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Rethinking the Visual Component of Your Presentations (Part 2 of 4)

August 27, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

This is the second in a series of four articles about the need to take a fresh look at the visuals you use in your presentations. Here’s the question I posed at the end of the last article.

As you know, we define presentations as Orderly Conversations. We need to ask how the slides you use contribute to the process. Do they bring order to or are they the subject of the conversation?

The visuals you use serve two basic functions. Some of them bring order to the conversation. Let’s call them framing slides. Other visuals are the subject of the conversation. Let’s call them content slides.

Framing Slides
These slides appear in the introduction, conclusion, and as transition slides in the body of the presentation. Slide titles are also used to reinforce the frame. The role of these slides is to make listening easier for your audience. Think of them as a road map. They tell the audience what you want to achieve, how the presentation is organized, and why it’s happening. They provide context and a sense of order.

Too often, presenters underuse these slides because they don’t contain much content. Agenda slides are flashed on the screen with a quick, “And here’s our agenda” and then they’re gone. Similar things happen with transition slides, slide titles, and conclusion slides. While you may struggle to know what to say when these slides are on the screen, just remember their function. They are there to bring order to the conversation and build the audience’s confidence in you as a presenter.

Content Slides
The slides you deliver in the body of the presentation are the subject of the conversation taking place. As such, they receive more attention than framing slides. Sometimes, when you’re delivering a lot of detail and data, the audience focuses on the visual for an extended period of time.

When this happens, the slide is much more than what we think of as “visual aids,” the simple, subordinate type of visual traditionally used by speechmakers. When content slides are delivered you and the audience need to give them the attention they deserve. That might be a lot or a little, depending on how the content fits into the presentation as a whole.

What you say about content slides will also be influenced by your audience, of course. You may need to say more than you intended or less. Just remember that your goal is to keep whatever you say within the context of the presentation’s frame.

In the next article, I’ll write about visuals that have a life outside of the presentation in which they’re being used.

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Youthful Skepticism

June 10, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Introduction, Preparation, Presentation

Last week I spent three hours working with a group of people just starting their careers, all in the non-profit sector. It was a real break from the usual business audience we work with in a couple ways. First, they were very young, many of them fresh out of college. So they had no problem challenging what I had to say.

Second, although their presentations were delivered to community-based organizations, their topics were very much like those we see in for-profit businesses. They focused on serving people better, being more efficient, and improving technology.

Before meeting with me, this group all took our online course. As part of that, they prepared a presentation and sent it to me. This gave me a chance to prepare feedback for them. Before I dove into their presentations last week, I asked if anyone had questions or comments about the online course.

A couple people in the group did, and it wasn’t exactly the kind of feedback I was expecting. They said they found the structure we had asked them to follow, especially the introduction to their presentations, very restrictive and regimented. “I would rather just start talking with my audience when I start. I’d give them an agenda, but that’s it.”[Tweet “Clarity, context, and relevance are necessary for every presentation, regardless of audience.”]

I probed a little and asked if the organizational structure felt like a straightjacket. “Yes,” they said.

We hear that a lot from class participants. People often feel we impose a strict structure for introductions, one that cramps their style.

After working with a few introductions and talking through the nuances of each, the group last week began to see that an introduction is just a framework, a framework listeners need. Further, while the goals of every introduction are the same, presenters are free to reach those goals any way they want. So there really isn’t a straightjacket, just goals to be met.

What struck me about this group of presenters is that they assumed there was a disconnect between our approach (all business) and their needs (all community-based-non-profit). What they wound up seeing was that clarity, context, and relevance are necessary components of every presentation, regardless of audience or purpose.

I’m looking forward to going back to this organization next year. It was good to work with a group of eager yet skeptical young people.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

The 2 Levels of Defining Presentation Success

June 3, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Presentation, Training

Your success as a business presenter always exists on two levels.

  1. On one level it is determined by whether the stated goal of the presentation is reached. Did the buyer agree to buy, for example. Or, did your team see the need for the new procedure you’re asking them to follow? This type of success is fairly easy to measure.
  2. The other level of success is more difficult. It is a measure of how effectively you managed the process of presenting. Or, as we look at it, did you manage the conversation in an appropriately orderly fashion?

The second level of success often determines the first. I’m sure there are times when a poorly managed presentation achieves the goal it was intended to reach. But when you consider how the process felt to the audience—frustrating, inefficient, a waste of time—such a presentation can hardly be considered a complete success.

Presenting is Part of Your Everyday Work

The thing we need to remember is that presentations are part of everyone’s day-to-day work. So when presenters fail to manage the process well, they’re making it difficult for audience members to do their jobs. When that happens, audience members are stuck. After all, they are captive. They don’t have the option of walking out or flipping to a new channel. So what they often do is silently disengage. They might feel a sudden need to check their email or think about dinner, doing whatever they can to cope with a bad situation.

Most of the time this reaction has little to do with the goal of the presentation (level 1) and everything to do with whether the presenter is managing the conversation effectively (level 2).

For example, if you’re delivering market research to a group of sales people, your audience wants to understand the research, but they also want you to make understanding it easy. That level of success goes beyond the information itself. It involves:

  • Emphasizing context and relevance
  • Providing perspective
  • Leaving out information that isn’t useful to your audience (whether you want to or not)
  • Caring about their understanding and buy in
  • Being responsive to the in-the-moment needs of the audience

Business presentations are a collaborative process. Pulling your slides together and having a specific goal is only the first step, and that step alone will never guarantee success. A successful presentation is one in which the audience and the presenter work together in a fruitful, efficient process.

[Tweet “A successful presentation has audience and presenter working together.”]

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Applying Presentation Skills to a Game of Charades

November 27, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation

greg 200x300Last Thursday I spent Thanksgiving Day with family and friends. After the over-the-top dinner (prepared by my good friend Olive) had been devoured and dishes were done, family and friends retired to the living room to play a game similar to Charades. Hilarity ensued, of course. But I wasn’t doing very well when it came to helping my teammates accumulate points.

Each time I got up in front of the group, I became nervous and self-conscious. At one point I was trying to act out “cannon.” My head was foggy, I couldn’t think and I was getting nowhere. All I could think to do was light a match and cover my ears. No surprise they couldn’t guess correctly. I did very little to help them understand what I was doing.

After that round, I sat there thinking about not being a very good player. What was I doing wrong? I used to be an actor for Pete’s sake! I should be able to nail this.

Then it occurred to me. I had been internally focused. I dove in without a plan and didn’t give my teammates any context. I did not invite them into my world or try to make it easy for them to understand what I was doing. I’m not even sure I looked at them. I certainly don’t remember seeing their faces.

And THIS is exactly what happens to nervous presenters. A-Ha! I needed to follow Turpin’s advice.

So, leading up to my next turn I reminded myself to breathe and think and look my teammates in the eye. My first responsibility was to provide context, then tell the story. I know this stuff. I teach it all the time in our presentation skills workshops.

“Here goes,” I thought as I chose the card containing the word I’d soon have to act out. And the word was … “stripper.” Yup. Stripper. Oh dear.

I took a deep breath and thought about how to provide context. With my plan in place, I looked at my teammates. I put on a seductive grin, and lifted an eye brow. Then I started swaying to the music in my head. Next I unbuttoned a button on my shirt. Then another. I mimed taking it off and swinging it around my head before tossing it into the room.

“Stripper!” Dan yelled.

(Thank you, Dan. I owe you. My next move would not have been pretty.)

So … lesson learned. Think. Breathe. Look people in the eye. Provide context.

And what do you know? Presentation skills CAN apply to situations other than the board room. I’ve been saying this for years. It’s good to know it’s actually true.

My team won, by the way.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Focus on Context

October 23, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

If you’re a business presenter, you know that one of the challenges you face is context. Not only do you need to think about how your recommendations fit into the context of your listeners’ lives, but you also have to consider how each of your slides fits into the context of the presentation as a whole.

One way to do this is by talking about the preparation decisions you made during delivery. This might sound strange, but it makes sense. When you prepare your presentation, after all, what you’re doing is anticipating the moment of delivery. You create slides to make understanding easier. You think about what your audience will need or want to reach the decision you want them to reach.

During delivery, then, it’s useful to talk about how a particular slide found its way into the presentation. Why has this information been included? Where did it come from? What’s important about it? This information will not only make the presentation easier to follow, but it will also help you adapt to whatever digression may have taken place during the conversation.

Here are some examples.

What’s the purpose of the slide?

  • “This slide will give us some perspective on where we are with this project. As you can see, six months ago …”
  • “The information on this slide expands on the pricing information I mentioned earlier.”

When was the slide made?

  • “When I put this slide together, I didn’t have access to all the current data, but …”
  • “This slide is from last quarter. Let’s look at it in comparison to where we are today.”

Who created the slide?

  • “This slide came from our marketing department. It’s typically used to compare trends over time with various customers. For our purposes today we’re going to look at just this small slice of data …”
  • “I got this slide from our friends in finance, it shows us …”

What does the slide mean to the audience?

  • “I included this slide because I knew William and Patrice were unfamiliar with the decisions we reached last month. So here’s an overview of that.”
  • “For the marketing people in the room, I know some of this will be confusing. Don’t worry. This is information for the folks in Customer Care.”

What does the slide mean to you?

One way to help listeners understand data is to talk about what it means to you, especially when your function or perspective is different than theirs.

  • “From my marketing perspective, this is a trend we need to watch because …”
  • “From a financial point of view, these numbers are great, but I can’t speak about what the long-term effect of the price increase is on consumer behavior.”

The next time you’re delivering a presentation think about the process you went through when preparing it. Doing so will create context and make understanding much easier for your listeners.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

I have a hard time making recommendations to the highest level people in my company. It seems presumptuous.

July 16, 2012 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Introduction, Organizing Your Content, Preparation, Presentation, Sarah Stocker

I understand what you mean. It can feel really awkward making recommendations to your executives. But keep a few things in mind.

First, you’ve been asked to give a presentation to these executives for a reason. You are saving them a significant amount of time by collecting and analyzing the necessary information, and then presenting the most critical pieces of it. You are helping them.

Second, your bosses probably want you to be specific. Not only does it demonstrate that you’re good at your job, it also makes the process of listening to your presentation much easier. Your recommendation helps establish the framework of your presentation, putting everything that follows in the body in context (see Dale’s post, Provide Structure through your Presentation’s Introduction). Without that framework, your presentation will be harder to follow. The last thing you want is for an executive audience to feel confused or lost at the end of your presentation.

Third, be sure to state your recommendation in an appropriate way. You don’t have to say that your audience must take a certain action. You could, for example, frame your recommendation as something that will help them make the decision they have to make.

So think of your recommendation as a necessary part of your presentation and an opportunity to show your expertise. Hopefully this will make it feel less awkward when you present to your executives.

By Sarah Stocker, Trainer and Workshop Coordinator at Turpin Communication

I need to warm up my audience. What sort of icebreaker should I use?

July 3, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Facilitation, FAQs, Introduction, Presentation, Video

In this video blog, Dale discusses icebreakers and the best way to use them to benefit your audience.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Work and Fun, In That Order

May 21, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, FAQs, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Training

This is a follow up to a post I wrote earlier this year entitled “Do you really expect me to respond to that?” In that entry I wrote about how the opening of your presentation or training session should not rely on really obvious rhetorical questions or shallow attempts to get the audience excited about your topic. My point was that your job at the front of the room is to set the right tone and communicate context for what’s to come. And that requires respecting the effort you expect the audience to make. Too often, though, people assume that they need to disguise the work to be done as something that is fun.

Presenters—and especially trainers—should never assume that the audience expects the presentation or the training session to be fun. It is, after all, work. It is work to pay attention, to process information and to learn new things. All of that can happen while people are having a good time, but it will not happen just because the person at the front of the room has decided that it’s time for an energizer, an exercise of dubious quality, or, worst of all, a joke or a cartoon.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against fun. But it needs to happen as the work is being done. That means it should have one of these two qualities. First, it can be an unplanned, unforced response to what’s happening in the room. Second, it can be an exercise that is absolutely relevant and necessary that also happens to be fun. In other words, the fun should be a reaction to what’s happening, not an agenda point.

So the next time you’re presenting to or facilitating a group of people remember that the best way to make them happy is to make the process—the work they’re doing for you—as relevant and easy as possible. If the time they spend with you is well spent, they will walk away happy that they were there.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication