Melt the Icebreakers Already

June 18, 2013 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

greg 200x300I have had the pleasure to present a session called “Engaging Learners in the Orderly Conversation” for several ASTD chapters this year. It’s designed for an audience of trainers and those who coach trainers and SMEs.

A common discussion that comes up during this session is around the use of icebreakers and energizers that our industry has become so fond of. (Just google “ASTD icebreakers” and you’ll see what I mean.)

Some people in our industry love them. Some don’t.

During the session I make the case that if we, as Workplace Learning & Performance Professionals, want to be respected, we need to value learners’ time. One way we can do that is to not waste it with silly and irrelevant icebreakers.

There’s one particularly awful icebreaker that I’ve suffered several times at conferences. People are to pair up and spend 10 seconds looking at each other. They are then told to turn away from each other and change 5 things about them. For example, move a ring to another finger, take off a jacket, and so on. Then they are instructed to turn back to each other and discover what has changed about their partner.

The point? Change is hard. And here’s the thing: we’re adults, we know change is hard. So how might we make that point quicker? I’d say something like “I think we can all agree that change is hard.”

I suppose I could agree that we need to lighten the mood once in a while. I could also agree that we need to energize learners from time to time. But, as a learner, if you ask me to do irrelevant and/or embarrassing things such as laughing yoga, sharing my favorite Christmas gift as a kid, tell you something unusual about myself, do jumping jacks while yelling “ha,” or recite a nursery rhyme multiple times using different voices and inflection, I may do what I’ve seen others do in these very common situations:

  • Sit there with my arms crossed
  • Roll my eyes
  • Check my phone
  • Walk out

I might also:

  • Question your judgment
  • Think twice before attending another session with you

So, what are better ways to lighten the mood, energize learners, and earn their respect?

  • Explain why they’re there, what they’ll learn, and how to apply it to their jobs. Do this first thing.
  • Acknowledge their knowledge and expertise. Remember: they are not blank slates.
  • Ask them to hold you accountable for not wasting their time.
  • Send them on a break.
  • Listen fearlessly to their ideas.
  • Connect dots.
  • Respect their differing points of view.
  • End early.

There’s always at least one person in each session who will defend their use of icebreakers by saying that they only choose ones that are relevant to the training content. OK, I’ll go along with that as long as the activity doesn’t waste time or make people feel awkward in front of their peers. Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve seen don’t meet those criteria.

So, what are your thoughts? Are icebreakers ever OK with you? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.

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

Six Red Flags for Business Presenters

September 10, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation

I was on Linkedin this morning reading updates. While I was there, I saw a link to a blog that made me cringe. It was a post about how to deliver a perfect presentation. I clicked on it and saw, as I suspected, that every tip that was mentioned was only applicable to the speechmaking process—not  business presentations.

Once again, I thought to myself, the presentation skills training industry has a problem defining itself. Speeches and presentations are constantly tossed into the same big bucket and the bucket is labeled Public Speaking. Because of this, lists like the one I read this morning confuse and frustrate business presenters. The tips themselves weren’t bad for speechmakers. But for the business presenters we work with, they were inappropriate.

So, I’ve decided to come up with my own list. Here are six words that should be red flags for any business presenter reading a book, article, or blog about presenting. When you see them, beware. They aren’t for you.

  1. Performance: The presentations you deliver are not and should never be performances. They are conversations that need to take on a life of their own once they begin.
  2. Stage: When writers talk about “taking the stage” what they’re talking about is a performance.
  3. Entertain: While it’s fine for a speech to be entertaining, presentations shouldn’t be. Can we have fun during a presentation? Absolutely. But if you plan to be entertaining, chances are good that you’ll wind up wasting your audience’s time.
  4. Jokes: I don’t need to elaborate on this one, right?
  5. Perfect: Presentations are not perfect. Sure, they can “go very well,” they can “succeed,” but setting out to make them “perfect” won’t work. When presentations succeed, the presenter initiates and manages a lively, productive conversation with the audience.
  6. Practice: You wouldn’t think that practice could possibly be a bad thing, but if presenters practice to be perfect or practice to the point of scripting, they will be in big trouble. What you should do before you present is prepare to be flexible and responsive.

If you’re a business presenter, give yourself permission to ignore some of the recommendations you read, no matter how many times you see them. The work you do as a presenter is uniquely challenging and understanding how it differs from speechmaking is the first step toward improvement.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication