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A few L&D lessons inspired by a heroic grandfather

"Readiness" isn't just a key guiding principle for the military.


A young woman named Charlotte clutched her infant daughter (also named Charlotte) as her boat began it’s journey from Hawaii to the mainland.

There was nothing normal about this particular crossing. It was December 7, 1941 and Charlotte could see bombs dropping on the other side of the island. She knew her husband, a young naval officer, was somewhere in that mess, but she didn’t know anything else about his whereabouts or his safety.  

Last week during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, my wife told me that her grandfather (the young naval officer in this story) had a Wikipedia page. When I clicked on that page, I learned that young Goldsborough Serpell Patrick’s “directive that moored ships store live ammunition in their gun mounts would help the U.S. resistance against the Imperial Japanese Navy.”

He insisted that his men were ready, even if their ship was moored. This readiness saved lives.

How in the world could I have the audacity to suggest that there are parallels between the need for readiness at Pearl Harbor and the need for readiness in a training room? After all, training and development isn’t really a life or death venture, is it?

I suppose that’s true. Unless your training is some sort of compliance training around safety and the operation of heavy equipment. Or perhaps you’re developing a train the trainer program to help pharmacists in Africa identify infectious disease and make quick decisions on how to recognize Ebola. Or perhaps you’re developing a sales training program for passenger truck tires to ensure sales reps give their customers the best information possible to ensure they can stay safe the next time they get behind the wheel.

Now that I think about it, most training programs can have a profound impact on people’s lives. First impressions matter, and readiness is essential.

Following are what I believe are the four most important ways that anyone delivering a presentation should demonstrate readiness for their presentation:

  1. Avoid spraying your audience with bullets. Just because you have a slide deck (or someone else gave you a slide deck) doesn’t mean you’re “ready”. A while ago I wrote this post about a 3-hour session in which a trainer clicked through 152 slides and 537 bullet points. Yes, she had content. No, she wasn’t actually prepared. If you’re unsure of how to develop a slide deck without bullet points, take a few minutes to peruse this Slideshare presentation (it’s 61 slides… and doesn’t have a single bullet point!) or take 3 minutes to watch Melissa Marshall’s TED Talk in which she offers some advice for smart, highly technical presenters.
  2. Know your content. If people like Nancy Duarte, who make gazillions of dollars in presentation design and delivery suggest that preparation and practice is essential, then we shouldn’t feel like we’re too good for spending an hour or two rehearsing our own presentations. To underscore that point, Penn Jilette (of Penn and Teller fame) told the audience at DevLearn this year: “The only talent I have is that I am willing to put more hours in on a trick than you would”. And like I said in my first point, just because you have a slide deck doesn’t mean you’re “ready”. I think it’s ok for a speaker to have notes in their hand when they’re speaking. I’ve never been moved to action (let alone moved to continue paying attention), however, by a speaker who reads verbatim from their notes or their slides.
  3. Room set-up matters. Your audience will begin to judge you as soon as they walk into the room. What does your room set-up say about you? Are people walking in as you’re still wrestling with A/V equipment or finishing up flipcharts? Here’s a brief article about the surprising difference it can make when you take care of such simple things as being intentional about setting out post-its or markers at tables.
  4. Have a Plan B. And C. I love using technology like PollEverywhere or even some cool features in PowerPoint, but sometimes the technology gods just aren’t pleased with me. It’ll happen to you, too. Make sure you have a Plan B in your back pocket. I asked some others what they’d do in the event of a technological emergency, and here is what they had to say.

In case you were wondering, Goldsborough Serpell Patrick survived the attack on Pearl Harbor (as well as other fierce fighting in places like Iwo Jima) and retired from the U.S. Navy as an admiral. I never met him, but I heard that he also enjoyed two scoops of strawberry ice cream every night.

As presenters, we may not be facing a surprise attack from enemy fighter jets, but it doesn’t mean we should be any less prepared. Many of the presentations we give have the potential to make a significant impact on our audience, and yes, some of our presentations actually can save lives. That potential will never be fully realized if we don’t prepare with the full weight of the situation in mind.

Beyond these four ideas, what are some ways you make sure your “readiness level” is maxed out prior to your presentations?

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