Authored by Russ Hissom
Course instructors tasked with training utility or public sector employees on complex (read: critical but dry) topics may find themselves at a loss. To run a successful operation, your audience must become versed in accounting standards or business processes or internal controls or policies and procedures or one of a hundred more topics that could easily put the most caffeinated course participant to sleep.
Effective training measures are both in the eye of the participant and in the end result – post-training retention of the course materials and application of the concepts. As a trainer, you strive to provide effective courses the first time, and if you recognize a situation where that hasn’t happened, to never present ineffective training twice. Audience feedback is key to building sustainable, effective training courses and converting poor content and presentation method to great and engaging.
Here are tips for cultivating and deploying effective – and interesting – training techniques to keep your participants engaged and increase their knowledge retention and operational success:
Transform your style
Feedback from training class participants through speaker and class evaluation processes is a building block in developing effective course materials and presentation formats and topics. Positive feedback is always appreciated but so too should trainers welcome less than stellar comments. While constructive or negative evaluation feedback may be uncomfortable to hear, it’s a necessary tool for course instructor growth.
A few key course evaluation questions can be fodder for future course tweaking or additional information. Some effective questions, to be rated on a scale of 5 (best) to 1 (worst), include:
- Were the materials interesting?
- Were the materials effective in meeting the course learning objectives?
- Was the instructor effective and interesting?
- Would you recommend this course to others?
- What was missing from the course to help learn the materials?
- What would you do differently?
Responses to these simple questions can be filled out in mere minutes, giving the presenter honest, open and sometimes humble to hear food for thought.
The days of lengthily PowerPoint decks with bulleted data should be a thing of the past. During product launches, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously paired one-word slides with several minutes of dialog on the word’s meaning and focus with the inclusion of pictures, video and other visuals. In addition to a trainer’s magnetic personality, other tools and methods are available to engage audiences.
Content is the key to any effective presentation. That may seem obvious, but fighting the urge to regurgitate technical material can be difficult. When preparing your materials, put your mind in the seat of the participant of your class, seminar or webinar and enhance highly technical content by making it:
- Relevant and beneficial. Answer the question for the participant. (i.e., How can I use these concepts and materials to further our business, provide service to our customers and enhance my value to the organization?)
- Relatable. Tell a story of their practical application (i.e., How have you used the concepts in the materials to help others in their business? How can your participants do the same?)
- Choppy and chunky. Use fewer words per slide and move from concept to concept more quickly.
- Visually appealing. Add relevant visuals to each slide. Some individuals think in words; for others, imagery conveys the same message.
- Uncluttered. Retain whitespace to afford room for notetaking. Post-training, participants will forget most of what you said. Visuals and notes give presentation materials life beyond the training and someday may furnish the ultimate compliment as reference material that is used.
- Software tools. With software tools, presentations can be more visually appealing and allow participants to focus more closely on both the message and what’s going to happen next. While PowerPoint has ruled the Windows environment and Keynote the Apple platform, a b search for “presentation software alternatives” will yield dozens of platforms.
Many software presentation alternatives have companion apps on which presentations can be viewed and slides/frames advanced from a mobile phone. By facing participants, the trainer increases audience engagement by reading non-verbal cues, better spotting questions and feeling the flow of the presentation.
- Video tools. While video from your organization is best, in the absence of that, you can find almost anything on the internet. Searching on video platforms such as YouTube can yield a combination of short relevant and/or funny videos to intersperse with other presentation content. For the best effect, keep videos to a few minutes.
- Interactive tools. Inviting greater participant engagement can be yours through the use of interactive tools. Query “interactive presentation tools” on your browser and you’ll find tools for participant quizzes, surveys, and posting of questions and comments. These tools are based on class participants downloading free apps to their phones, so the cost of use is limited to your subscription to these services.
Variety and interaction are important in presentations. Most participants will be digitally oriented, so an instructor-focused session will not always be as engaging. Consider breaking the presentation in 15 to 30-minute segments with each consisting of a:
- Concept introduction and detail by the instructor on slides
- Relevant video
- Participant quiz – individually or in teams. Collaboration and friendly competition unite participants from various disciplines and regions to enhance their experience and generate more class interaction. Awarding prizes, such $5 coffee shop gift cards, pens and other small promotional items, can elicit future memories.
- Question and answer period. Allow participants to ask questions at any time, but also devote a few minutes at the end of the segment for questions. In addition, answer questions posted from participant apps to engage those who might be shy to speak up in a larger group.
This format follows the logic of the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method used to enhance productivity and focus. Centered on the average individual having a 25-minute attention space, tasks are broken up into 25-minute segments to allow for greater focus on materials and future retention.
There’s no app to replace the hands-on work of practicing your presentation. For a seamless approach, practice the physical transition between the software presentation tool, the switch to video presentations and then to audience participation tools. Practice will provide you with a stress-free presentation and enhance your participant’s learning experience. Tablets and laptops are great tools to use for smooth transitions.
Find your style
No exclusive magic formula for giving memorable presentations exists. Study the tools used by prominent presenters and take to heart the feedback of your past performances. These activities will help you develop an effective presentation style that’s satisfying and beneficial for you, your class participants and the operational success of their utilities and public sector organizations – regardless of the course topic.
For more information on this topic, or to learn how Baker Tilly energy and utility specialists can help, contact our team.