September 2007

Whether you need to jump-start staff meetings, establish a more creative organizational environment or just mobilize your own creative juices, do become acquainted with Chic Thompson’s What A Great Idea! 2.0 book and website.

At the website, be sure to watch Chic TV to find “creative strategies that will keep your brain alive.” Chic provides four great short videos (Mind Stretching, Shower Ideas, Guide Lines and Brain Exercise) you will enjoy and even download to use in your presentations.

I have used his brain plasticity idea to help participants realize that their brains stretch to capture new concepts much the same same way a stretched balloon never returns to its original smaller size.


For those of you who already use Post-it® Notes to help you be more creative, you will love David Straker’s book, Rapid Problem Solving with Post-it® Notes.

I hope that those of you who read this blog will add comments to this entry with details about your favorite sources.


I spent all of yesterday on the “aorta” level of the Seattle Public Library, those crimson hallways being the site of our local ASTD chapter’s Future of Training event. It was a fun and lively exchange of knowledge and experience with a cohort of mostly corporate trainers. The format followed the organic barcamp model, with sessions suggested and posted (somewhat) on the fly and locations shifting according to the level of interest expressed.

As a frequent online presenter and facilitator, I was interested in a session on Web conferencing with live video. I have imagined that seeing the instructor’s expressions and gestures would fill in the missing link that keeps online training from being the full equivalent of in-person training. The live motion would counterbalance the static nature of the information on the slides. Now I know it’s not that easy or automatic.

The presenter showed us a recording of bad video—what not to do—before showing us the “good” video. I was hard-pressed to tell the difference. This is what I saw:

  • the lighting was terrible, casting deep shadows on the speaker’s face
  • the camera angle was singular, static, and poorly chosen
  • the speaker was not animated and not engaged with the camera (aka the audience)
  • the colors of clothing and background were drab

With all this visual turnoff, you’d think I’d be looking at the slide content instead. But no—I couldn’t take my eyes off the speaker’s face, unless she swiveled her chair or crossed her legs, which drew my eyes there. Motion in an otherwise inert environment is totally seductive, even if it is deadly dull motion.

I realized that, in order to add video effectively, you have to acquire the skills of a TV producer. Set up professional lighting and manipulate multiple cameras with pre-programmed zooms (an approach pioneered by Desi Arnaz for early television). Stage the background and the apparel (and makeup?) and find a SME who’s also trained to work in front of the camera. Then you might have something worthy of taxing the bandwidth of your audience.

I have enough challenges working in the present Web conference setting that I think I’ll wait for this piece of the future of training to evolve a bit more. But hey, feel free to disagree with me! I just stumbled on Oovoo, which makes me think that maybe video communication does have a future. Anybody oovooing?

Since PowerPoint was first released, there has been a slight backlash to it. It reminds me of a couple of things. I remember in the late 1990’s, people discovered they could put dancing chipmunks all over their webpages and put twinkly lights as their backgrounds. Perhaps worse was when the site would have background music you could not turn off.

Here is the World’s Worst Website. Don’t look at it too long though – it might hurt your ears or your eyes. My how times have changed.

Skip to today and MySpace profiles look much like the early webpages of yore. Ok so I had it wrong – they were hamsters. Whoops. Anyway – if you are missing those hamsters, you can get a little taste here – though for the love of your co-workers, turn down the sound! Oh my. I just looked again at the page and started to drool.

Then we have PowerPoint. PowerPoint turned 20 this year! There are plenty of bad PPT designs out there, and I’m sure we’ve all had our experiences with them.

Some best practices for using PPT:

  1. PowerPoint is not a teleprompter. Don’t include every word you plan on saying on every slide
  2. It is meant to be a compliment to a presentation
  3. Use sans-serif fonts like Arial or Helvetica (easier to see) – I like Verdana because it is similar to Arial but a bit more spread out
  4. General guidelines:
    • Titles 44 pt
    • Subtitles 28 pt – 34 pt
    • Bullet points 24 pt
  5. Don’t include too much text
  6. 6X6 rule – no more than 6 bullet points and no more than 6 words per bullet point
  7. Check your spelling – people will notice errors and start looking for others
  8. Don’t go crazy with colors – test your presentation on a projector before you go live
    • Colors can have cultural connotations and even increase or decrease respiration and mental stimulation
  9. keep your background and graphics simple
  10. Use sounds, animations or transitions sparsely (an example was a presentation I saw in Phoenix once for PLA where there was a blooming cactus on each slide – very distracting! I don’t even remember what the presentation was about…)

You can upload your presentations to SlideShare and then share them – also people can comment on your show or subscribe to your shows.

Zoho has had a presentation component for a while now. It’s called Zoho Show. Here is what I found about it:

  • You can have presenter notes
  • You can add shapes
  • There are more choices of fonts in Zoho than in Google Presentation
  • You can use “Public Gadget” to make it available as a side panel listing on your blog or website
  • There are more choices of slide layouts (including one with title and bulleted list which Google does not currently have)
  • You can add tags to your show
  • You can add symbols and shapes to it as well like arrows or boxes etc.
  • You can customize the background colors
  • The themes available: Plain, Dark Cloud, Simple, Professional, Casual, Fusion, Brushed Metal, Midnight, Royal Blue
  • Can set timing
  • Can export to HTML
  • This is my example

Google Documents and Spreadsheets now have a sibling. They just added (drumroll please) Google Presentation to the brood. These are my findings from testing it out:

  • There are numerous themes available: Blank, Gradient White, Gradient Black, Graph Paper, Grass, City, Bubbles, Pink n Pretty, Liquid, Shelley, Sparkling, Rustic, Plain Jane, Texturized, and Chalkboard
  • Four slide layouts: Title, Text, Two-Columns, Caption, Blank
  • You can move slides up and down
  • You can add new slides but you can’t change the layout of an existing slide
  • You can duplicate slides
  • You can insert new text boxes and images
  • You can share and publish your presentation and see revisions
  • You can subscribe to your presentation or others presentations via RSS
  • When you start your presentation, there is a collapsible box on the right that lists people in your presentation at the same time – Very nifty!
  • It can be saved as a Zip file but I don’t see how you can export it as a PPT.
  • Here is a link to one I played around with: Good Food
  • though it seems currently you have to create a Google Docs login to view it

Check ’em out!

It’s an exciting, albeit somewhat nerve-wracking time in this staff development manager’s professional life.  I just finished leading the first two of three weeks of new hire training here at Gwinnett County Public Library.  I am still new at my position, so this marks the first time that coordinating, overseeing, and teaching new hire training has been my sole responsibility, even though I have previous training experience.  While I had the help of some excellent in-house subject matter experts as co-trainers, this new endeavor of leading a couple weeks of classroom training was still larger than life.  In fact stepping in front of my class of new employees for the first time evoked the same heady rush I was hammered with when I made my first live tackle in football a lifetime ago.  Does anyone else recall their first “real,” live teaching experience?

Since football season began in earnest this past weekend, going with a gridiron influenced conceit may be appropriate.  Let me share a few of my most valuable practices with those new to teaching in the classroom:

  • It’s always first and goal: The class you are teaching should have a stated goal(s). Each play you run from scrimmage – every piece of knowledge you share, every learning aid, and all the exercises your class performs during training – should directly support the goal. If the situation permits, share goals and objectives with trainees and supervisors days before class. Now everyone is on the same page.
  • Know your playbook: Even though a trainer is not necessarily on center stage during class (we are the guide on the side, after all), it is still vital that you know your game plan for the day. Have you tested all the practice scenarios to ensure that the directions are clear, or more importantly, that the exercises work? Do you have all the resources you’ll need for the day? Have you preempted questions that may arise? If not, then it’s probably time to go back to the Xs and Os.
  • It’s drill time: Do at least one condensed run through of your material in the actual classroom before game time. This should increase your comfort level with your material and build your confidence. More importantly, this should give you an idea of how a room feels to your trainees. Environmental noise can be distracting, but it is the only noise that the trainer can control. Does the room need more light? How’s the temperature? Are tables set up in such a way that trainees can move around? We have little to no control over physical and psychological noise, but we can make sure our trainees are comfortable.
  • Some of the best quarterbacks are running quarterbacks: Maybe I’m cursed, but something unexpected happens during every training class in which I’ve been involved. Don’t panic if the unexpected happens. Improvise. Usually when anything goes wrong in training, it provides a learning opportunity. I’ve even found that intentional mistakes can open up dialog in the classroom.
  • Make halftime adjustments: You’ve taken a break halfway through your four hour training session and you’re an hour behind schedule. What do you do, hot shot, what do you do? Go to your playbook (class outline and trainer’s notes) and see if there’s anything you can skim over, or eliminate from the remainder of class. I personally recommend trying to cut out lecture-type components and keep the hands-on practice stuff when feasible.
  • Study your game tape: When it’s all over, really read your class evaluations. I’m sure that plenty has gone well, but is there any consistent criticism? Don’t worry about the outliers so much – focus your attention on the recurring themes. I’d be a little worried if everything grades out perfectly. You’re probably not getting honest feedback here.

If you are looking for some different types of tricks and tips to liven up your training sessions, take a look at what Lenn Millbower offers. I first found out about him when I was looking for ways to use music at key times during training sessions. I found his book, Training With a Beat: The Teaching Power of Music to be very helpful.

Lenn also has a website, Offbeat Training and blog, Offbeat Online.


You can sign up for his free monthly newsletter “dedicated to furthering Learnertainment® techniques.”

The newsletter articles focus on his eight Learnertainment® principles and their associated action steps.

The eight are:
• Emotion creates memory – Evoke Emotion
• Laughter produces positive energy – Harness Humor
• Visuals aid retention – Present with Props
• Suggestions guide outcomes – Make it Magical
• Auditory signals trump visuals – Mix in Music
• Multiple perspectives deepen meaning – Layer Learning
• The performance sends a message – Stage the Surroundings
• The performer sends a message – Perfect the Performance

Connective Knowledge tag cloud from ManyEyes

I finally read David Wienberger’s latest book, Everything Is Miscellaneous –the one everyone was buzzing about awhile back. While I admit to a catalogically geeky fascination with the evolution of knowledge organization, the aha! that I took away from the book relates to how we learn, how we ingest real meaning from bits of knowledge, and how randomness feeds that meaning. The key to learning is connectivity.

Our society’s traditional notion of knowledge acquisition is that it’s a solo affair, as Weinberger posits in the chapter on Social Knowing. Most of our educational system is built on that assumption—just consider the weighty standardized tests imposed on high schoolers, where each student sits in a cone of mental isolation and searches for the relevant bits of information swimming around in her solitary brain. One of the great challenges of online learning is how to socialize self-paced learning, which by nature fits with the solitary model.

Steven Downes’s essay on E-Learning 2.0 (Oct 2005) suggests the potential for online learning to break out of the isolation ward and into the rich sphere of socially networked learning.

“What happens when online learning software ceases to be a type of content-consumption tool, where learning is ‘delivered,’ and becomes more like a content-authoring tool, where learning is created? The model of e-learning as being a type of content, produced by publishers, organized and structured into courses, and consumed by students, is turned on its head. Insofar as there is content, it is used rather than read … And insofar as there is structure, it is more likely to resemble a language or a conversation rather than a book or a manual.”

The success of Learning 2.0 had as much to do with the social interaction among the participants as it did with the exploration of the cool tools. As we design instruction for staff development, let’s focus on the connectivity between people, whether electronic or f2f.

btw, if you don’t have time to read Weinberger’s book, you can spend 57 minutes watching the video –the YouTube generation’s version of Cliff Notes.