Archive for the 'Learning' Category


Speaker coaching: The key to unlocking top-rated conference sessions

J5eu0When’s the last time your organization’s education committee was asked to identify the three to five greatest challenges currently inhibiting its industry speakers from reaching their fullest potential during the annual conference? I recently did this for a client and following were the responses that bubbled to the surface:

  • Attendee engagement within presentations is often minimal or formulaic.
  • Facilitators have difficulty reeling in discussion in the allotted time to cover all topics planned within their presentation outlines.
  • PowerPoint slides are overwhelmed by too much content.
  • Presentations often hit on the “This is what we do at…” but do not identify how the idea may be adapted within other contexts.

Do these sound familiar? What would comprise your organization’s “watch list”? Based upon these areas of focus, we then developed a one-page resource and shared it with all selected speakers, requesting they use this document in designing their conference presentation experiences. Specifically, we:

  • Provided 20 different brain-centric attendee engagement strategies ranging from “Write learning objectives into participant materials” to “Schedule post-session touch points.”
  • Encouraged speakers to limit their content and slide decks, plan appropriately for practice and feedback time, park unrelated topics and leave time at the end of their sessions for questions, feedback and evaluations.
  • Assembled 10 slide tips intended to help speakers overcome death by PowerPoint. Key insights ranged from “Limit bullet points and text” to “Use video or audio.”
  • Asked speakers to share with attendees not only their experiences, but also how their ideas might be adapted to other organizations with differing resources.

28ae5ecBut this is just the first step.

Next year we intend to offer a training webinar (or a series of shorter training webinars) that helps illuminate these and other strategies, and provide individualized coaching that allows for more robust reflection, planning, practice and feedback.

Additional ideas for investing in conference speakers might include one or more of the following:

  • Personal feedback from professional development/learning staff sitting in on conference presentations.
  • Key insights from an outside consultant conducting an education audit during the conference.
  • Aggregate feedback from attendee evaluations focused more on learning outcomes than on attendee reactions.
  • Self-evaluations conducted by speakers and peer-reviewed by staff/volunteers.
  • Online community devoted to questions, answers and other resources intended to support speaker development.

Growth in the delivery of conference presentations is an iterative process. Mastery does not occur overnight. Rather, repeat industry speakers should be provided ongoing learning guidance, opportunities to practice new knowledge and skills, meaningful feedback from seasoned colleagues and staff and job aids that enhance retention and transfer.

What strategies have you found most successful in mentoring your industry speakers in the design and delivery of top-rated conference sessions?


Bonus content – Event Garde e-news – November edition

Tracy King

Tracy King, chief learning strategist, InspirEd LLC

Editor’s Note: This is our Thanksgiving edition of Event Garde-ian of the Month!

Q & A with Tracy King, chief learning strategist, InspirEd LLC

Q: For what are you most thankful?
A: I am so thankful for my four beautiful children, family and friends – sharing love, laughter, good food and shenanigans!

Q: Are you a Black Friday shopper or sleeper?
A: Sleeper! I’m more of a Cyber Monday shopper.

Q: Which Thanksgiving dish do you most crave, and why?
A: Turkey, gravy and garlic smashed cheesy potatoes. I love to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family and incorporate their favorite sides. These are our fundamentals!

Q: Tell us about one of your holiday traditions.
A: Our family likes to put up our Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, pulling out all of our favorite ornaments and the stories they represent. I pick up an ornament whenever we travel someplace special and each year I tuck an individualized picture ornament in my kids’ stockings. Our tree has become a photo album of memories celebrating our family.

Q: Looking ahead, what do you hope for 2016?
A: I hope to complete the first draft of a book I’m working on and take a “real” vacation!


Training truths be told

Can the color of a marker really make a difference in how we learn?

Yes, according to research.

But it’s not necessarily the color. Instead, it’s choosing the color.

“Research shows that giving learners choices – even seemingly trivial ones – can improve performance,” said Stephen Meyer, president and CEO of Rapid Learning Institute. “Bottom line: Embed choices into the learning process, even if they don’t seem meaningful. It’s easy to assume these choices don’t matter, but they engage learners and cost nothing.”

He recently released an e-book, “10 Truths about Workplace Training…that just ain’t so,” which debunks myths surrounding workplace training. Such training, Meyer says, correlates with the ways in which humans learn and the ways in which our brains are wired.

Back to markers (read: choice). Meyer lists four training recommendations regarding choice: Even small choices, like choosing time and location of a training session, will produce results; allow learners to personalize their approach to training; have fun – let trainees choose the kind of candy they get as a reward; and be careful – providing too much choice will backfire.

My other favorite “myth:” Not everything you’ve learned is forever etched in your brain. Case in point: I struggle to help my eighth grader with geometry!

Meyer points to research by neuroscientists about “encoding,” in which the brain decides what’s important enough to retain. And so, when it comes to training, your pupils’ brains will decide what sticks and what doesn’t. According to researchers there are four important cues: social context, activity, connection to existing knowledge and repetition. As such, trainers should integrate these strategies into their methods and curricula.

What does this mean?

Social – Human beings are social creatures, so by creating social situations – rather than just giving lectures and presentations – people are more apt to retain information. So…try role-playing.

Active learning – Rather than expecting your participants to simply memorize and recite lists, put them through a sample exercise.

Existing knowledge – Tie new ideas into familiar concepts and language.

Repetition – While no one wants to beat a dead horse, repetition is important. So, after you teach a lesson, incorporate key messages into following lessons.

training_1The eight other truths:

  • Assessments aren’t just for scoring; they motivate people to learn.
  • Complex concepts can be taught in small bites.
  • Learners who struggle remember more.
  • Sometimes people remember and learn more by watching trainers do things incorrectly.
  • You can train people to perform – and learn – under pressure.
  • People will change their minds if you get them to see the truth. Visuals, such as charts and graphs, work well.
  • Mental rehearsal works just as well as physical performance.
  • Reinforce concepts. Don’t let learners forget.

“When it comes to learning, there are a lot of misconceptions,” Meyer said. “People have different learning styles. Not exactly. Learners are either ‘right brain’ or ‘left brain.’ Nope. We sometimes forget stuff because we only use 10 percent of our brains, right? Wrong. A mix of myth and antiquated science leads us to believe a whole lot about learning that just isn’t accurate.”

At Event Garde, we educate ourselves on how people learn so we can effectively teach. If you’ve got other research to share, please email Kristen at


Selecting and coaching speakers to deliver quality digital presentations


This post was originally written by Aaron Wolowiec for the CommPartners blog.

When it comes to identifying topics for face-to-face and digital presentations, there are generally two schools of thought:

Call for presentations; or
Content curation.

In a traditional call for presentations, a general invitation is released to an organization’s key constituents to submit topic ideas for a program. This call provides detailed instructions for submission of papers for assessment and selection by a review committee. Ultimately, constituent submissions are returned to the committee for review, scoring and selection.

In a content curation process, a committee comprised of a cross-section of the organization’s key constituents first identifies the topics of greatest interest or concern to the industry. In some instances, this committee may rely on a content outline such as the one created for the Certified Association Executive (CAE) exam.

If no outline is available, the committee will consider current trends, future trends (five to 10 years or more into the future) and other hot topics likely keeping the industry up at night. Once content is reviewed, ranked and confirmed, the result is a makeshift content outline the committee can use to disseminate speaker asks.

Ultimately, staff inherent speakers from one of these two methods. Via the call for presentations approach, speakers self-represent their content expertise and speaking prowess and are selected accordingly. Via the content curation approach, speaker asks may be more deliberate (e.g., based on credentials or demonstrated know-how); however, they are limited by the committee’s network.

Regardless of the method used, there really is no guarantee speakers will be successful. Your candidate may be an experienced and skilled face-to-face presenter, a 30-year industry veteran and a world-renowned practitioner, but still may not be ready to present utilizing a digital platform.

SpeakerBefore selecting a speaker for your next digital presentation, consider that individual’s digital presentation experience. Additionally, request evaluation data. Where possible, it’s best if the speaker has previously presented (successfully) using the same digital platform you intend to use. Remember, not all digital platforms are created equal.

And regardless of experience, speakers should be open to furthering their presentation skills. Following are 11 challenges and possible solutions you may use to coach your speakers in delivering quality digital presentations. Of course, practice is still the best strategy for mentoring speakers who have no previous digital presentation experience.

Challenge: Attendees seem disconnected from the speaker/learning experience.
Solution: Utilize a webcam to deliver the presentation; care should be taken to look directly into the camera throughout the program.

Challenge: With no facial expressions/body language to draw from, the speaker is uncertain attendees are “getting” the content.
Solution: Consider pausing the presentation periodically to ask an assessment question via the digital platform’s poll function.

Challenge: When joining remotely, participants are constantly distracted by email and other visual cues.
Solution: Set ground rules for participants early in the program and ask attendees to follow along in a pre-printed participant guide where they can complete assignments and take notes.

Challenge: Reflection activities cause a lot of dead space/air time during the program.
Solution: Convert the reflection activity into a pre- or post-program assignment.

Challenge: Practice activities facilitated during face-to-face programs don’t seem to translate into a digital environment.
Solution: Encourage multiple registrants from the same office or gather attendees at centralized locations to participate in the program together; arm them with a supplies list, directions and plenty of activity time.

Challenge: Four or more hours of content may be required to teach a particular skill.
Solution: Segment and sequence content into smaller modules. No more than 60 minutes is suggested, though even shorter is preferred.

Challenge: Learners want to share their experiences, but this is difficult to facilitate when all of the lines are muted for optimal sound quality.
Solution: Allow attendees to demonstrate their interest in speaking and then open up only their phone lines. Alternatively, gather attendee stories in advance of the program and have the moderator read them aloud.

Challenge: Participants are easily bored by digital presentations.
Solution: Incorporate different instructional strategies into the program beyond lecture (e.g., video, poll, chat).

Challenge: The chat function is difficult to moderate so it often goes unused/is turned off.
Solution: Participants crave interaction with their peers. They also learn a lot from these conversations. Utilize a separate chat moderator who can prompt discussion with attendees, respond to questions and pose trending questions to the speaker.

Challenge: The digital platform makes it difficult for the speaker to provide personalized attendee feedback.
Solution: Allow participants the opportunity within 30 days to follow-up with the speaker directly (e.g., ask a question, gain clarification).

Challenge: It’s challenging to ensure retention and job transfer post-program.
Solution: Encourage action planning to focus learner ideas and next steps; create a job aid to guide future performance; or schedule post-session touch points (e.g., 30, 60 and 90 days).


3 E-learning Myths It’s Time to Put to Bed

Jeff Cobb

Jeff Cobb, co-founder of Tagoras Inc.

This month’s guest blog post is by Jeff Cobb, co-founder of Tagoras and co-host of the annual Leading Learning Symposium, a high impact event for leaders in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education and professional development. It was originally published on the CommPartners blog.

With the global e-learning market now valued at more than $100 billion, we are well past the point where e-learning is simply a trend. It has become a fact of life for learners of all ages, and particularly for those who are coming up through the K-12 and higher education systems – in other words, future association members and lifelong learning customers.

In spite of this shift, there is often still reluctance on the part of organizations to fully embrace e-learning and promote it as a flagship offering. In my experience, there are three key myths at the root of this reluctance and it is past time to dispel each of them once and for all.

Myth No. 1: E-learning is not as effective as classroom-based learning

There is – and has been for decades – a reliable, valid body of research that refutes this claim. As Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer put it in their classic E-learning and the Science of Instruction:

“From the plethora of media comparison research conducted over the past sixty years, we have learned that it’s not the delivery medium, but rather the instructional methods that cause learning. When the instructional methods remain essentially the same, so does the learning, no matter which medium is used to deliver instruction. [13-14]”

In other words, if appropriate methods for achieving the desired learning objectives are used, the medium (e.g., online or classroom) matters relatively little.

Perceptions of e-learning tend to suffer from the fact that it is often designed poorly, but in most cases, dramatic improvements can be made with relatively straightforward changes and without breaking the bank. I recommend Clark and Mayer’s book as the first place to look for actionable suggestions.

Myth No. 2: Creating interactivity in e-learning costs a lot

In my experience, this myth springs from a misunderstanding of what “interactivity” means. The default assumption seems to be that it involves adding animation and game-like elements to courses, but effective interaction can be achieved with much simpler methods.

Whether in live or self-paced e-learning, simply posing reflective questions or scenarios to learners is arguably a form of interaction – one that can be enhanced by having the learners respond via chat or discussion board. And simple quizzing is another. Indeed, low-stakes quizzing throughout a learning experience has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to make learning stick. Another is to have learners download worksheets they can make use of before, during or after a course experience.

Of course, if you do want to add animation or game elements to your e-learning experiences, even the cost of doing that has dropped through the floor. Many self-paced e-learning authoring tools now provide a variety of ways for adding in software-based interactive elements with no programming knowledge at all. Used judiciously in combination with some of the other options suggested above, these tools can empower organizations to create highly interactive e-learning without breaking the bank.

E-learning Concept. Computer KeyboardMyth No. 3: People won’t pay for e-learning

This one has staged something of a comeback with the rise of MOOCs and other free content, but it doesn’t take much more than observation and common sense to dispel it.

People have been paying thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars, for online degrees for decades now. The online training site, recently acquired by LinkedIn for $1.5 billion, was operating profitably on around $150 million dollars a year in revenue at the time of the acquisition. I routinely consult with associations that have e-learning businesses generating hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

I could go on and on, but the point is that it has been clear for ages that people will pay for e-learning that actually delivers value. The rise of “free” content has not and will not change that. What it has changed and will continue to change is the imperative to actually deliver and prove you are delivering value with your e-learning (and all of your other educational offerings, for that matter). If you are having trouble getting people to pay for your e-learning, value is the first issue to investigate.

So there you have it: It is possible to create e-learning that is as effective as classroom-based learning, provide for interactivity at reasonable cost and assuming you do these things and communicate the results effectively, charge appropriately for it.

And that’s no myth.


If companies build (capability), greatness will come

approach-buildingWe all know professional development is important. To thrive, companies need to have highly skilled and knowledgeable employees.

So the WHY is covered. But the HOW….that’s a different story. Although companies’ PD needs have increased, most seem to be pursuing the same traditional methods – and many are getting less bang for their bucks.

According to a recent survey by McKinsey and Co., a global management consulting firm, companies are struggling with the best way to build capabilities. (Institutional capabilities are all skills, processes, tools and systems that an organization uses as a whole to drive meaningful business results. Individual capabilities refer to training, learning or specific skills.)

In the study, companies cited customer demand and strategic importance as the top reasons for building capabilities. McKinsey and Co. says executives most often identify skills in strategy, operations and marketing and sales as most important for business performance, focusing efforts mostly on frontline employees.

Despite recent technological advances and the advent of e-learning, on-the-job training is still the No. 1 vehicle companies use to better their workforces. And while experts have proven that informal or formal coaching is an effective PD tool, only 33 percent of respondents engage in mentorship. And even fewer companies use methods such as experiential learning or digital (mobile exercises or group-based online learning).

“These leading-edge training methods could enable all organizations to replicate or scale up their learning programs quickly and cost-effectively across multiple locations,” the authors wrote. “But currently, companies tend to plan and execute large-scale learning programs with a train-the-trainer approach or with help from external providers to roll out their programs.”

mentorAt the same time, executives reported struggling with how to measure the ROI of capabilities building. At least according to the McKinsey and Co. report, companies lack a clear vision for how to link capability building to the overall business. They also indicate a lack of resources for developing programs and implementing efforts. More than half the survey respondents said they’re not sure if their capability-building programs have met their targets – or whether such targets exist.

And so….what does this all mean?

McKinsey and Co. offers some tips:

  • Diagnose systematically. Companies are best able to build strong capabilities when they systematically identify the capabilities, both institutional and individual, that can have the most positive impact on the business. Objective assessments are an important tool in this process — and few respondents say their companies use such assessments now. These diagnostics not only help companies assess their skill gaps relative to industry peers but also help them quantify the potential financial impact of addressing capability gaps.
  • Design and deliver learning to address individual needs. The core principles of adult learning require that companies tailor their learning programs to employees’ specific strengths and needs, rather than developing a one-size-fits-all program for everyone. The most effective approach to adult learning is blended — that is, complementing in-class learning with real work situations and other interventions, such as coaching.
  • Align with and link to business performance. To be effective and sustainable, capability building can’t happen in a vacuum. Learning objectives must align with strategic business interests, and, ideally, capability building should be a strategic priority in and of itself. Making human resources functions and individual business units co-owners of skill-building responsibilities and then integrating learning results into performance management are effective steps toward achieving this alignment.

What do you think? Have your PD efforts led to better company and/or individual performance?


Advancing association meetings via brain science

DSC_7176Whether you’re a planner, a CEO, a supplier or whether you fill some other role, think back to the very first conference for which you selected/hired a speaker. Maybe it was for an association event, a church event, a community event or some other program altogether. In my role as education director for a state trade association, I remember early in my career my priorities for hiring a speaker: cost, availability and topic (often in that order).

Once a contract was signed, we’d next touch base the day of the event. I’d stand in the back of the room and say a little prayer that in 60 minutes our attendees would be singing my praises. I now know better and am intentionally more involved in the co-creation of a presentation that’s right for my clients and their attendees. But just how high should you set your expectations for speakers? Should you have different standards for professional speakers vs. industry speakers?

In his book Brain Rules, John Medina shares 12 brain-based principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. I’ve adapted four of his rules as the basis for advancing association meetings.

Medina claims that people usually forget 90 percent of what they learn within 30 days – a staggering statistic. Without key insights and takeaways, professional development investments are wasted. However, as more organizations offer continuing education both to support their strategic missions and to deliver business results, the threshold to meet or exceed the increasingly sophisticated expectations of attendees is changing.

Learning is now characterized by not only the acquisition of knowledge or skills, but by the retention and application of knowledge or skills in the work setting. By the way, your association scores extra points when it clearly describes the business measures that will change or improve as a result of an education program or if a specific return on investment can be attributed to its implementation.

If you understand how the brain learns and functions, you can greatly improve the retention and application of new information. Ultimately, this drives attendee value and influences member loyalty.

DSC_71781. We don’t pay attention to boring things. Audiences tend to check out after only 10 minutes of content. To regain their attention, invite speakers to tell personal narratives based on their experiences or to create events rich in emotion. You might also consider writing learning objectives into participant materials; using humor to engage and activate learners; or answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”

2. Move to improve your thinking skills. Develop opportunities throughout the program to get participants out of their seats and moving throughout the room or venue (e.g., breaks, meal functions). Additionally, ask speakers to consider flipcharts, manipulatives, networking and roleplaying as excuses to get people on their feet. Other ideas include a wisdom while you walk format (leveraging pre-function/outdoor spaces); small group assignments and activities; or having participants get up/post responses on a magic wall.

3. The brain is designed to solve problems. Encourage speakers to build and implement practice exercises that challenge learners. It’s recommended that practice time comprise between 35 and 50 percent of education sessions. Practice time includes practice activities, facilitator feedback and both pre- and post-assessments. You might also ask learners to elaborate on what has already been presented; share a case study that illuminates key concepts; or encourage learners to reflect on new information.

4. Vision trumps all other senses. The power of visual tools such as PowerPoint, Prezi, videos, handouts and job aids should not be underestimated. It’s said that if participants hear a piece of information, three days later they’re likely to remember 10 percent of it. Add a picture and they’re likely to remember 65 percent. The key here is fewer words and more pictures. And if you can stimulate more of the senses at the same time, all the better for creating memorable content.

IMG_1180While there’s still a lot we don’t know, implementing these simple techniques when combined with quality meeting management can enhance the intentionality of an association’s professional development offerings.

Additionally, associations must work hand-in-hand with speakers and other subject matter experts well in advance to share with them clear expectations. Determine when and what you’ll introduce to instructors leading up to the learning program, the information to be covered during instructor orientation and how instructors will be supported both individually and as a cohort as they apply these new techniques.

For more, view the keynote and deep dive slides presented April 15 for the Georgia Society of Association Executives (GSAE). You might also check out the Brain Rules book and website.

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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