Lecture is not a four-letter word: 3 ways to succeed when you’re doing the talking

September 9, 2015 in Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Talent Development, Training

I had a conversation over the backyard fence with one of my neighbors a couple days ago. She was home for the weekend after her first two weeks of college. The conversation focused on the campus, her new roommate, and her classes. As far as the classes are concerned, she said that most of them were large lectures, an entirely new experience for her, and one that was going to take some time getting used to.

That got me thinking about my freshman year. I remember sitting through a lot of lectures. Some of them good. Some of them difficult to listen to.

Those of us in learning and development hardly ever use the term “lecture.” It’s a bit of a pariah, equated with boredom and what’s called death by PowerPoint. The assumption by most trainers and learning designers is that lectures are always dull. So, when they do occur (as they must), they have to be enlivened with exercises, activities, energizers—anything to break the monotony of listening to the instructor speak. Too often, this leads to wasted time and learner frustration.

It shouldn’t be this way. Delivering information through lecture is not only efficient, it also allows for nuance. Good lecturers are able to adapt what they say to the group’s perspective, emphasizing relevance and context when they are not immediately obvious. [Tweet “Delivering information through lecture is not only efficient, it also allows for nuance.”]

For example, let’s say that you’re involved in onboarding new employees. One of your jobs is to deliver a class focusing on the industry as a whole. It involves a lot of history, competitor research, differentiators in the market, a lot of information that new employees should know—although it isn’t entirely clear to them why they need to know it now. If you were to have them read this information instead of hearing about it from an instructor, they may not be able to put it in context. A lecture about this information, delivered well, would do that. It would help the audience make sense of and prioritize their learning.

Another example involves the use of Subject Matter Experts in the classroom. SMEs bring depth of knowledge and experience to the lecture format. Done well, their lectures can bring complex information to life. (Which, come to think of it, explains why some well-regarded university professors are terrible teachers: They are SMEs who never learned how to lecture.)

Three keys to lecturing well
So what can we do to make this type of delivery better? How can lecturing be a useful, effective, even an enjoyable part of the training process? Here are three ways to do it.

  1. Understand that lectures are not speeches. They are a type of conversation. You may wonder if it’s possible to have a conversation when you’re doing most of the talking. It is. Just stay focused on your learners and their responses—verbal and nonverbal. If you’re using a script (memorized or not) or relying heavily on your notes, stop it. Speak spontaneously, just as you would if you were delivering the training information to a single individual.
  2. Draw your energy from the group. Trainers often say to us that the information they’re delivering is boring. They assume that bringing any amount of energy or enthusiasm to its delivery is impossible because the content is dull. I don’t buy that. The enthusiasm you bring to the process doesn’t come from what you’re saying. It comes from your desire to explain what the information means to the learners. It’s about your desire to make them feel that it’s relevant and useful. [Tweet “The enthusiasm … comes from your desire to explain what the information means to the learners.”]
  3. Make it easy to listen and remember. The surest way to lose people during a lecture is to ignore purpose, context, and structure.
    • Emphasize what you want learners to take away from the lecture. Be specific. This goal is not the goal of the entire class, just the lecture you’re delivering.
    • Put the information you’re talking about in the context of their work. Why is it important to them? Be specific and practical.
    • Give them an agenda. If your learners were taking notes based on your lecture, the notes should be a clear reflection of your outline. Again, think about how easy it was to take notes in some college courses and how impossible it was in others. Be the lecturer who communicates structure and emphasizes priorities.

Listening to one person deliver information even for just a few minutes can be a major challenge. But avoiding any sort of sustained delivery of information—or interrupting it too often to “energize” the group—isn’t the answer. The key is to stay focused on your listeners’ and their needs.

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

Most of what I know about learning and development, I learned from 10th graders

March 5, 2015 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation, Meetings, Preparation, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

A_TEACHER_TALKS_TO_HIS_STUDENTS_IN_A_CLASSROOM_AT_CATHEDRAL_HIGH_SCHOOL_IN_NEW_ULM,_MINNESOTA._THE_TOWN_IS_A_COUNTY..._-_NARA_-_558210I often make the comment in workshops—especially when the class is for internal trainers or SMEs preparing to lead their own workshops—that the best teacher-training I ever received occurred at my first job, the three years I worked as a high school English teacher. No group of learners of any age or occupation is more brutally honest. No group has been more willing to tell me exactly what I was doing wrong in the moment as a classroom full of 15-year-olds. It was a humbling and great experience.

I know the Learning and Development field makes a clear distinction between child learners and adult learners (pedagogy vs. andragogy), and I won’t go into my concerns about those distinctions here. But I will say that what I learned in the high school classroom about what learners want and need from teachers is absolutely relevant for adults.

Here’s a breakdown.

1. They don’t want to be there.
High school English students don’t care about what you are there to teach, and they have no problem letting you know it. Some might acknowledge the benefit of knowing how to write clearly. Some might like to read. Some of them might even like to write. But from their perspective, those activities aren’t what sitting in class every day is about. Being in class every day was about the drudgery of secondary education.

I learned to respect this attitude as an honest, reasonable response to their circumstance. To do otherwise would be to assume that every student walked into my classroom ready, willing, and excited to learn. Which is absurd.

Business application: Business people are in a similar situation. Sometimes this has to do with questioning the need for what they are about to learn or the manner in which it is going to be delivered. It’s important to remember that they are also being taken away from their regular jobs to participate in training. As learning and development professionals, we must anticipate resistance and do all we can to be as efficient and relevant as possible. Remember: training is not a gift everyone wants. It’s work that takes people away from what they consider their real work.

2. Be very careful when asking for any type of activity or interaction.
I learned very quickly that the variety of teaching methods I had been taught to use—group activities, games, any type of self-directed work, all meant to enhance learning—were land mines. Sometimes this simply meant the students refused to take the exercise seriously. At other times, the class exploded in fits of reckless disregard for whatever I was asking them to do.

I learned that there are two reasons for this.

“Why should I bother?”
It is best to assume that asking students to participate directly in any way—from answering a question to participating in an activity—is an infringement on what they consider their right to sit silently at their desks. Active participation is work. Recognizing this is essential. There must always be a benefit for participation that is relevant for them.

“Is this going to put me at risk in front of my peers?”
For a 15-year-old, the biggest risk they face is embarrassment in front of peers. Think back to when you were that age. Most of your energy was probably channeled toward keeping up whatever appearance you chose to project. So anything you ask students to do in class that will set them apart, embarrass them, or make them look bad to others must be avoided.

Business application: When it comes to the things we ask learners to do in a workshop, are adults any different from the 10th graders? As we age do we somehow become more willing to suck it up and make the effort in the classroom? More willing to face embarrassment? I don’t think so. We’re just better at hiding our frustration and fear. Again, it comes down to relevance and efficiency. Will this activity, from an icebreaker to a table discussion, help me do my job? Will it be an efficient use of my time? If not, throw it out.

3. They expect you to be in charge and do your job.
Needless to say, the relationship between teacher and student is complicated. On one hand, sophomores want to be treated fairly and with respect. At 15, they are the center of each of their universes, so it’s important to keep their perspective in mind. On the other hand, they want you to lead them. They know that you are the one in charge, and they want you to act like it. This doesn’t mean that the teacher should rule with an iron fist, of course. It means that students know that things will go a lot more smoothly for them if you take the reins.

This was one of the most difficult things I had to learn because it involves an unspoken agreement. No student will ever say, “Please take charge. Please be the manager and leader this class needs.” But if they feel you have dropped the ball, you will know it. Every day in every class I learned that the first thing my students wanted me to do was take control—in spite of the fact that they themselves were the ones always struggling for control themselves.

Business application: For learning and development professionals this has to do with communicating that whatever you are about to do in the classroom is going to be managed well–you are not going to waste their time and you are not going to make them work harder than they have to. This is the “process goal” we talk about in our presentation skills workshops. When we apply it to trainers, it means that learners are more likely to buy into the training you’re delivering if they feel they can trust you. When they do, you will create the conditions for learning to take place.

[Tweet “Learners are more likely to buy into the training if they feel they can trust you”]

dale_ludwig_hi-res_colorI didn’t last very long in the high school classroom. Leaving, though, was not about the students or their attitudes. Working with them was the best part of the job, and what they taught me has served me well ever since.

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

Presentation Skills Training: REDEFINED. (Part 1 of 5)

January 28, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Training

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4Part 5

Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin CommunicationI read an interesting post by Josh Bersin on LinkedIn last week about the mismatch between academic education and job skills. What jumped out at me was research showing that “While 42% of employers believe newly educated workers are ready for work, 72% of educational institutions do.”

That’s a pretty big disconnect, but it’s one that I’m used to in my corner of corporate learning and development. Participants in our presentation skills workshop always have to unlearn what they have been taught in school about presenting. In fact, as I have written about here, most training delivered to business presenters misses the mark because it is built on what is essentially an academic methodology.

I think it’s time to revisit this issue.

My goal in the next four blog posts is to talk about the fundamental differences between an academic (think Public Speaking 101) methodology and the skill building approach my colleagues and I have developed over the past 20 years. The question I’ll try to answer is this: How do I know I’m getting presentation skills training that will give me the skills I need to succeed on the job?

Here’s an overview.

  • Presentation skills training must focus on the type of presentations you actually deliver. So my next post will focus on the difference between a speech and presentation. Or, to put it another way, the difference between a performance and a conversation.
  • Next, I’ll talk about why the skills you need for presenting must be built from the inside out. Improvement must focus on how things feel to the presenter as well as how they appear to the audience.
  • If you find yourself in a presentation skills workshop where you are not working on the nitty-gritty challenges of a real-life presentation, pack up your things and leave the class. This is not because training should be as relevant as possible; it’s about nuance. The fundamentals of preparing a presentation are easy to understand (and most people already know them). The challenge is with their application.
  • Finally, the coaching you receive in a presentation skills workshop must focus on your response to the challenges of presenting. You are not, after all, a blank slate. You have experience and preferences that are unique to you. After a presentation skills workshop, you should have more perspective on yourself and a clear sense of not only what you should focus on to improve but also why you should focus on it.

I look forward to going into more detail in the weeks to come.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4Part 5

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication