Effective Training Presentations – A Few Tips From Jim’s 35+ Years Of Experience.

Bull by the HornsFor many, it is nightmare scenario.  Your department manager just came by and asked you to prepare and present a short training program for a client.   It doesn’t matter if it is about Electrical Safety, Arc Flash, the latest National Electrical Code or any one of an infinite number of topics, your reaction could range anywhere from feeling faint to watching your life pass before your eyes or any number of other responses.  Today, training has become more important than ever and there is an increasing likelihood that someday you may be called upon to put on the show – if you haven’t already.

I conducted my first training program “under duress” back in the very early 1980’s.  It was exactly the scenario above – the department manage said I was to teach a full day workshop about short circuit analysis.  As a shy and quiet (hard to believe today) early twenty something, it was total panic time.  But after a few shaky and terrifying moments, I quickly gained my footing and found I really enjoyed training and have been doing it ever since.  So, here are a few key tips from my more than 35 years of training experience.

Knowing your material is one of the most important parts to reducing the terror factor and proverbial “butterflies” Prepare, rehearse and learn the material well.  There is no such thing as too much practice. Remember the old joke about how do you get to Carnegie hall?   Practice-Practice-Practice. Turn you fear into excitement and presentation energy.  If you can harness the butterflies, use it to your advantage and project loudly with enthusiasm.  Your audience will appreciate it.

No matter what you do, don’t talk to the screen!  Your audience many not hear everything you are saying and the sound will be more muffled.  Also, it is not fun watching a presenter’s back. If you want to point to something on the screen, pause, turn toward the screen and touch or point, then turn back to the audience and finish the statement.  As an example, “At the center of the graph” [STOP – Turn towards the screen, TOUCH what you want to emphasize, TURN back towards the audience and TALK] “is the main data point.”

Don’t Be a Slide Reader
If you want to quickly loose an audience, have very wordy slides and just stand there and read them. The audience can read too and by the second or third slide, they will quickly ignore you and just read it themselves. The text should be minimal and more of a bullet list or talking points format.  One of the only times to have a lot of text is if you are reviewing the specific text of a document for discussion.  Same rules apply for graphics and spreadsheets.  Use large fonts and KEEP IT SIMPLE.

On the Screen
Power Point makes preparing slides much easier than years ago when transparencies, markers and overhead projectors were used.  Let’s take a look at a few more details worth considering.

Make sure the projector is focused, the image is as large as it can be – hopefully filling the screen, and make it straight and square. You don’t want to be the one that has the sloppy show where the slides appear crooked, out of focus and not centered.  Neatness counts!

Be careful of using too much animation and flair.  The temptation is there, slide transitions that twirl, spin and bounce, sound effects, all kinds of special effects are just waiting to be used.  They may seem fun but will quickly become annoying if overused.  Also keep the fonts consistent as well as the colors.  Don’t be tempted to be overly creative – it often backfires. Use animation to bring up one bullet point at a time on a slide.  It adds a bit of interest and is often better than having everything show up on a slide all at once.

Humor and Jokes
Training is not meant to be a standup comic routine but a well-timed dry pun can be an effective way to lighten up a subject.  But it is very important to know your audience to gage if humor will work and be careful not to offend anyone.

My all-time worst case of poorly timed humor was while speaking at a large conference in Barcelona, Spain years ago where they used simultaneous English to Spanish translators.  Without thinking, I made an off the cuff comment: “take the bull by the horns” I immediately realized this might not have been appropriate (thinking of Spain and the running of the bulls, etc.) and stopped talking, looked up at the translator and said “oops, I doubt if that will translate as I intended”.  At that moment, the very large audience burst into very loud laughter.  To this day, I’m not sure if they were laughing at my ill-timed pun, my comment about the translation or simply about me – but I got a laugh. – Know your audience!

Audience Questions
Encourage questions and engage the audience.  When questions are asked, it is a good idea to repeat the question so everyone can hear what it is.  Then answer it as clearly and completely as you can.  If you do not know the answer, say so and offer to follow up.  Do not bluff your way through it – it will catch up with you (and your reputation).

Be Prepared for Murphy

Murphy’s Law tells us that if anything can go wrong, it will.  There is no way to plan for every unexpected situation.  From fire alarms to power outages, projectors failing, it all can happen as I have experienced.  The audience knows that you are human and when the unexpected happens – they can be surprisingly understanding.  Just roll with it and adapt as best you can.

My worst was an extended power outage during the entire afternoon of a training program.  The answer? Fortunately, the conference room had windows for lighting so we could see.  The staff brought in a white board and I discussed each page in the book and drew diagrams throughout the rest of the day.  Although it was not the most elegant presentation, the class was very supportive at my attempt of “the show must go on!” and quite impressed that we made it through the rest of the material.

So, when it is your turn to make a presentation, “take the bull by the horns” and practice-practice-practice.