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“I want to deliver a presentation and then ask: did we go too far?”

Too Far - Clipart

I was sitting across from the hiring manager when she told me: “I’m looking for creativity.  I want to push boundaries.  I want to deliver a training session and then sit back and ask: is it possible we went too far?”

It was like she was writing a blank check.  During this interview, she was opening up a world of possibilities whose only limit was my imagination.  I have never remembered an instance during an interview more clearly than that particular statement.  The statement was simple, it was quite unexpected, it was concrete, she was credible, it struck an emotional cord for me and I could only imagine the stories I’d be able to tell.

What if every training or orientation program or conference workshop was as “sticky” as that one sentence during that one interview?  What if, years later, participants from your training session or the elearning that you designed could remember (almost) verbatim the message you delivered?  Authors Chip and Dan Heath wrote the book Made to Stick, which is used by many professionals in the advertising and marketing fields, but it has many practical applications for folks in the training field.

The Heath brothers use the acronym SUCCESs in order to outline their keys to stickiness:

  • Simple

I’ve designed a few presentations that have gone too far.  Not because I used inappropriate or offensive material, but rather because I got “too cute” and made an activity too complex… and therefore too confusing.  My father, a science teacher for over 30 years, continues to remind me that you don’t need to bring an elephant to teach the color gray.

  • Unexpected

I like to give groups of train-the-trainer participants the following five post-it notes and ask them to force rank them in order of importance when it comes to determining whether skills learned in training will be transferred to the job.

Too Far - Trnr bfr Trng   Too Far - Trnr dur Trng   Too Far - Learner

Too Far - Sup bf Trng     Too Far - Sup aftr Trng

Participants are always surprised to find that the learner ranks #5.  Years later, I still hear former attendees talk about this fact.

  • Concrete

Sometimes I get too caught up in abstract theory.  This is why I often have a colleague (or supervisor) look over my lesson plan in advance.  They often remind me that I need to include activities that make the content real for the learners – how will this subject or theory actually be used in their day-to-day jobs?

  • Credible

“Statistics show…” is much less credible than: “According to a 2010 McKinsey study…”

  • Emotional

Training icon Bob Pike urges presenters to make sure they tune into radio station WII-FM (what’s in it for me).  It’s really the only radio station that learners tune in to.  The more visceral the connection, the better.

  • Stories

When you hear the name Jared, who comes to mind?  I’m willing to bet you’re thinking of the guy from Subway who lost a ton of weight.  This is one of the classic, sticky stories the Heath brothers point to in their book.  Most people wouldn’t care if Subway claimed that eating their food could help them lose weight, even if they used studies and hard numbers.  The Jared story shows people that Subway can help you lose weight.  Using stories in a training session provide context; stories make facts, figures and data memorable.  Much more so than graphs and charts and PowerPoint.

Come back on Friday and I’ll share an experience about a training session that probably did go too far…

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