How to Make Your Presentations Pop

Classroom settings create training challenges and opportunities.  Reminding ourselves about the experiential dynamics of the classroom can increase content retention while positively impacting participant perception about and satisfaction with your organizational culture of learning. After reading this blog, soon your trainings will be able to POP . . .

A primary experiential classroom dynamic is that of distractions, interruptions in the planned flow and rhythm of a presentation that detract from learning.  Interruptions always will be present to one degree or another—a participant coughs several times while another adjusts her/his chair; such interruptions are momentary by nature. Still interruptions can monopolize attention—a noise is heard; a coffee fell…did it splash…who’s reacting…should I help? Interruptions, however, can lead some to disengage or even become cynical—a computer is not working; restarting doesn’t help…a murmur envelopes the room…some check e-mail…“this always happens”…“it’s a stupid training”… et cetera.

With thoughtful preparation, a skillful trainer can prevent many of these interruptions from becoming distractions or to avoid them from even happening. The dynamics of distractions can be termed POP: Personal, Operational, and Professional.  This week’s blog will deal with personal distractions.

Personal Distractions

In theory, personal dynamics of distraction can be discounted: we are adults who can focus; we are professionals getting paid to work. While being adult and professional, participants are also human.  That is, while everybody has universal needs, everybody is unique with lives outside of work. Likewise, while nobody per se is exempt from training, nobody is taking the training is perfect. With this realization, trainers can appreciate several personal elements.

A. Trainer Identity. The tone set at the beginning of a session frequently conditions how participants will receive the information delivered. The trainer needs to be professional, positive, and welcoming. Also, trainers are “experts,” who need to be sensitive to the natural vulnerability of students in the learning environment. All of this is key, because initial opinions about the trainer directly impact whether and how the participants engage during the session.

  1. Clothing: If the trainer is from outside the organization, then one could simply wear traditional business attire, or even call the organizer to obtain a sense of the style of the audience. Alternatively, if the trainer is from the organization, he or she should wear clothing consistent with the organizational culture. For example, if ALL staff members wear casual clothing, then wearing a suit and tie could to alienate participants. Clothing may seem to be superficial—and, in many ways it is—but something as simple as clothing should not create a distraction that prevents participants from focusing or taking the trainer seriously.
  2. Approachable: While ostensibly an “expert,” the trainer truly needs to be approachable.  Smiling, as is often quipped, uses fewer muscles than a grimace.  If he or she is not positive, then participants are apt to feel a sense anxiety or to be negatively disposed, which ultimately distracts from the learning process. Also, when interacting, be sure to affirm questions and be non-judgmental; an audience can turn away from a trainer if the session is imbued with her or his sense superiority as opposed to excitement and personal warmth.
  3. Preparation: Organizations use trainers for their talent in presentation and ability to convey chosen information. The trainer needs to be prepared and, regardless of familiarity, still organize and prepare. Something may have changed meriting a revision in your presentation. If participants point out the error, then one’s authority can be diminished. Yet even this can be a positive learning experience: instead of being defensive, one should thank the speaker for the information while affirming that others should feel comfortable in sharing. Training is not simply a transmission of dry facts but a reciprocal learning environment. This helps participants to engage mentally and increases trust for in-class exercises.

B. Courtesies. Remember to go over the basics surrounding the classroom site at the onset. Unless this is an in-house training, most will not be familiar with the location of various things: exits, elevators, restrooms, building cafeteria, food establishments in the area, et cetera; much less a courtesy, many jurisdictions require trainers at remote sites to provide disaster/safety information.  A good trainer will outline the training, define its goals, and share the anticipated break and completion times. All of this provides participants with focus regarding training value as well as a means to envision how the session fits into the rest of their day while eliminating associated distractions.

C. Physiological Matters. Especially for sessions lasting several hours if not the entire day, trainers must be cognizant of a certain type of interruptions.

  1. Sleep: In the context of morning or longer sessions, participants may present as sleepy and/or distracted.  This distraction frequently is created physiologically (and, ideally, not from the trainer).  In the morning, participants may not have gotten enough sleep and/or are exhausted; if possible, having refreshments always is a winning strategy—especially coffee. Alternatively, after returning from lunch, many experience the “postprandial dip,” that is, the diversion of energy from cognitive attention toward digestion. Hosts and trainers frequently provide an array of bite-sized, wrapped candies, which serve to “jolt” takers into a grateful attention. Other trainers ask the class to stand up, take a group stretch, and shake out their hands; another trainer, buttressed by studies, lowers room temperature a few degrees arguing it makes people less drowsy and more attentive.
  2. Hunger/Thirst: Having small snacks and a variety of drinks can be useful to create focus. Especially for morning sessions, participants may not have had time to eat that morning; having snacks and juices demonstrates consideration on the part of the host, while assuring the trainer that the audience will not be restless due to hunger.  Similarly, having bottled water available eliminates the need for participants to exit the room for the water fountain. Some budgets (and conditions) may afford for the provision of lunch—especially important when the session is located at a site not close to any food establishment.

D. Emotional Matters.  The dynamic of emotional matters is at once the easiest to identify while being the most difficult to resolve. When participants are anxious, depressed, or annoyed, then their attention span and ability to engage and learn is dramatically reduced. Emotions can be read through body language and expressions, but it is challenging to divine its origin. What are the results of their last performance evaluation?  Will the bank refinance their mortgage?   Can they afford to send a daughter to her college of choice? Unless the source is somehow clearly related to session and/or the trainer, not much can or should be done to address such matters.  

The trainer should effectively teach the subject matter, not serve as a therapist.  Still, trainers should be intuitively sensitive to and understanding about participant needs while creating a welcoming, non-threatening atmosphere that also is interesting. Engaging sessions mentally transport participants, granting them license to explore ideas unrelated to personal challenges and problems. You not only serve as an expert but as an entertainer providing a respite—all toward the end of helping members of the audience to learn.

E. Competing Technology.  Yes, welcome to the twenty-first century! Participants vary in technological competence: some multi-task several projects on different technologies while others get locked out of their organizational portal. Yet virtually everyone has an organizational or personal cell phone, tablet, and/or laptop; indeed, many use them while arriving at the session: checking texts, emailing, or making a quick on-line purchase (here, time is less money!).  Consumer technology is omnipresent, distracting the user and irritating others. If not careful, competing technology can steal the focus. Different strategies can be used to minimize distractions generated from competing technology.

  1. Participant Courtesy: At the onset, cheerfully, respectfully, though clearly remind everyone how competing technology creates serious distractions.  Ask participants to turn their technology off or to the vibrate setting. Also, provide a protocol for those who expect to receive urgent communication during the session; encourage them to sit at the rear of the classroom, ideally close to the door to momentarily leaving the room to afford them privacy and avoid distracting others. When interrupted by an errant cell phone ring—and it will happen—avoid irritation and simply ignore the interruption unless the receiver actually is orally responding to the caller. In such scenarios, trainers should politely request the cell phone user to finish the call in the hallway. (Most are embarrassed and will hastily comply.)
  2. Session Agreement: Again, discuss how competing technology creates serious distractions. Now, and this is a bit bold, ask everyone to hold up their cell phone, and after they do, then warmly and softly implore them to turn off their cell phone at that moment or—at the very least—to switch the setting to vibrate. Relay a humorous anecdote to ease any tension. This can create a humorous aside and a bonding moment of levity should a cell phone ring.

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Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist

6 Tips for Using Visuals to Connect with your Learners in Online Courses

 

Human eye.

Learners sometimes remember what they see better than what they hear. Some learners tend to prefer reading, writing, and art to listening to lectures or music. Fortunately, eLearning is by its nature a highly visual medium. The key is maximizing your tools to create a truly effective and engaging eLearning experience.

 

  • Use Metaphoric Visuals– Using graphics may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to use “filler” images, rather than meaningful ones that augment the material. Think about visually representing concepts. For instance, you might show the parts of an essay as the various cars of a train, having the learner click on each train car for additional information. Metaphoric images like this can stick in the learners’ mind, making it easier for them to recall the concepts later.

 

  • Use Concrete Visuals– Or you might use images that directly depict the subject matter, such as showing a form and highlighting the key points as you move through it. If you can use images to forge an emotional connection with your learners, it is even better. Images that make learners laugh, feel sympathy, or stimulate their curiosity will make your course more engaging and memorable.

Using Visuals to Connect with Learners

 

  • Break Up the Text– You can also use pictures to break up text-heavy pages, which can strain the eye. Inserting images throughout can give the eyes a rest, and allow the brain to connect the images with the text. Isolate the key information on the page and use images to direct the learners’ attention to that information.

 

  • Quality is Key– Don’t use generic photos, unimaginative graphics, or poor quality images. Use images that show real people, places, or things, and that connect the learners’ prior knowledge to the new information. Make sure the images are appropriately sized and laid out in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

 

  • Think Visually– It’s easy to fall prey to the dreaded bulleted list for page after page, especially if you’re a linear thinker. Instead, try to imagine the information visually. Can you make those bullet points a chart, mind map, timeline, flow chart, or graph?

 

  • Use Videos– Videos can be a great tool, especially for showing “how-to.” Many people enjoy watching others to learn a new skill. YouTube has plenty of tutorials where you can learn everything from knitting to bricklaying, attesting to the popularity of visual learning. If your budget allows, creating your own videos can be a great way to take your course to the next level.

 

  • 508 Requirements-Just keep in mind that as with all visual elements for courses that require access for people with disabilities that there are special steps required to make sure that images and videos can be properly accessed by the various screen reading technologies. More on this topic in a later blog.

 

Do you have any tips for using visuals to connect with your learners?

Tips for Using Animation in eLearning Courses

Life Science Demo Animation

Adding animation to your eLearning courses is an excellent way to emotionally connect with learners, break down difficult concepts, and enhance the learning experience. In this post I’ll review the benefits of using animation and offer tips for creating effective animations.

 

 

Why Use Animations?

Movement and Mood– Animations give your course personality and movement. Our eyes are naturally drawn to motion, and animation offers more visual interest than a static screen. You can also use animation to set the course’s mood. Do you want learners to feel relaxed or alert? Is this course going to be light-hearted or serious? The animation you use in your introductions can impact your learners’ mindset as they approach the material.

 

Information Accessibility– Animation is also a great tool for breaking down difficult concepts or multistep processes. For example, some courses use whiteboard animation, which is a popular and engaging method of depicting complex information as hand drawings on a whiteboard in sync with audio. Showing difficult concepts as bite-sized animated chunks makes them more accessible to learners and easier to retain. You can also animate static graphics like charts and graphs, making them more engaging. Further, animation gives learners the ability to learn at their own pace. They can replay the animations as many times as they need or even slow the animation down, making the information incredibly accessible.

 

Social Context– Lastly, animation can create social context for solo learners. Most learners are accustomed to instructor-led classroom or seminar settings, which include social interactions with peers and instructors. Including a social aspect in your eLearning course can boost learner motivation and interest. You can create animated characters that act as expert instructors, peer instructors, or co-learners, simulating a classroom experience.

Dos and Don’ts

While animation can be a great tool, when used incorrectly it can demotivate or even annoy learners. Here are a few tips to keep in mind so learners get the greatest benefit from your animations.

  • DO offer a mute or skip button: Give learners the opportunity to mute animations or skip introductions, especially if every section begins with the same animation sequence. Respect your learners and give them control over their eLearning experience.
  • DO use a well-written script and high quality audio recordings: Poor quality dialogue or audio that is too loud, busy, or poorly recorded will not engage learners.
  • DON’T use animation that’s inappropriate for the audience: Remember your learners are adults. Animation, while it can be funny, cute, or entertaining, should always suit the audience, subject matter, and mood of the course. Avoid anything juvenile or inappropriate.
  • DON’T use “filler” animation: Animation should always connect with and/or augment the material. Don’t use animation to fill space or add it just for entertainment’s sake. When in doubt ask yourself, “Is this relevant to the content?”

In a later blog, I’ll discuss how to ensure that learners with disabilities have an equivalent experience (section 508 compliance) when animated elements are presented in a course.

Check out our Life Sciences animated Demo by clicking this link.

How have you used animation in your learning development?

 

 

What You Need to Know About Using Avatars in eLearning

Sandy Avatar

 

 

 

 

This is an avatar that I have created, named Sandy. She is here to tell you some important information about using avatars in eLearning. Avatars are great for making a dense, content-heavy course more interactive and engaging for learners.

 

 

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Use Avatars as Guides: An avatar usually speaks directly to learner, and can act as a helpful guide or instructor throughout the course. You can use an avatar to introduce a topic, offer tips throughout the course, ask quiz questions, and provide feedback.

 

  • Use Avatar Actors: Don’t think you’re stuck with one avatar. You can create multiple avatars for a course and use them to illustrate various scenarios. Also consider using avatars to reinforce key ideas with speech bubbles that reflect the audio. By visually reinforcing the content, you increase the likelihood the learner will retain the information.

 

  • Consider Your Audience: In order to appeal and engage your learners, your avatar should reflect your target audience. For example, an avatar for a corporate training course should look and sound different from an avatar for a 1st grade reading course. In both cases, you want your avatar to be appealing and credible.

 

Keep the avatar’s dialogue conversational to engage the learner. However, because your avatar is a virtual instructor, make sure you avoid slang or inappropriate humor that would undermine your avatar’s credibility.

 

  • Don’t Distract: There’s a line between engaging and distracting. Avoid having your avatar move around the screen excessively, or pop up at inopportune moments. An avatar shouldn’t be distracting or annoying to the learner. Above all, don’t make your avatar the star at the expense of content. The main focus of the course should be the material; the avatar is merely a tool to convey the information.

How do you use avatars in your eLearning?