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“Mr. Lecturer, tear down this wall!”

The Berlin Wall didn't come tumbling down just because people wanted it to come down. L&D professionals eager to get people to change their lecture-heavy style would be wise to keep this lesson in mind.

Berlin Wall

When Communism ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall (yes, I know that the Soviet Union didn’t break up until 1991 and technically China still considers itself “Communist”, but really, everything seemed to end when the Wall fell), it seemed like the last great struggle left in the world was going to be the battle against bad, boring, wasteful learning experiences.

Of course, the Berlin Wall didn’t just come tumbling down one fall day in 1989. People may have wanted it to just go away, but it was a long process that included a series of events – some big, some small, and some so subtle they barely registered.

In our struggle against bad, boring, wasteful learning experiences, we’d do well to keep this in mind. Decision-makers and training clients aren’t going to just wake up tomorrow and decide that they’re going to scrap the way things have always been done if we haven’t done a very good job laying the foundation for the change we want.

A participant from one of my recent workshops dropped me a line last week to ask for a Jeopardy-style PowerPoint template I had demonstrated during the session. I asked if she’d been able to try out any of the strategies I’d talked about when she returned to her office. She wrote: “Sadly not yet.  There’s been some resistance to training not in lecture format but I think that’s about to change (or at least keeping my fingers crossed).”

Here are three strategies I’ve found to be helpful in getting people to convert from the comfort of a lecture-style format to something more participant-centric:

  1. Find a champion. About two years ago I wrote a post called “93% of Learners are Just Saying No to L&D” which cited a study that said only 7% of learners felt the L&D department had much influence over them. The best way I’ve found to gain momentum in having people within an organization try out a new way to present information is by finding an influential person outside of L&D/HR who is intrigued by the idea of higher engagement and better outcomes for learners. Of course L&D and HR people will say: “You should do it this way,” but when someone’s supervisor or a trusted colleague says it, there’s a 3285467034% higher liklihood that a new way of doing things will be adopted.
  2. Show them what’s possible (Part 1). As trite as it may sound, sometimes people need to see something in order to believe it. You can talk about an idea until you’re blue in the face, but showing how well something can work is a whole different way to argue a point. One of the sessions that my colleagues cite most often in changing their way of thinking about presentations is my full-day presentation skills session that doesn’t use a single PowerPoint slide at any point during the day… yet people still learn a ton!
  3. Show them what’s possible (Part 2). Earlier, I referred to an email exchange I had with someone who attended a session recently, and how she hadn’t yet been able to move the needle in her organization. She went on to write: ” I have some great ideas of how to incorporate Kahoot.” Using technology like Kahoot or PollEverywhere in a session, dazzling your audience by asking them to respond to questions using their smartphone (Kahoot is more like a quiz-style game, PollEverywhere is more like a real-time polling application) is such a simple, non-threatening way to engage your audience and pique their curiosity. I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me following a session to ask for the URL to Kahoot or PollEverywhere because they want to use it in their next session. I can also share a few stories about presenters following my sessions by saying something like: “I’m sorry that my session won’t include fancy polling technology like that previous presenter, but hopefully you’ll like my session, too.”

When it comes to changing how people present, slow and steady – though frustrating at times – is really the name of the game.

What are some of the strategies you’ve found successful in moving people toward more participant-centered approaches to presentations?

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