‘Why business people speak like idiots’

Another book recommended bythe presentationzen.com. There are a lot of good tips about how to get your message across effectively. On top of presentation, the book is actually more about business communication in general – more specifically about how ineffective business communication has become. Though mistakes mentioned in the book (e.g. use of complicated rather than simple words) are more often committed by native English speakers, the book still issues some relevant warning to non-native speakers. Beyond the book, the authors do continue their effort to ‘fight the bull’ via their website – fightthebull.com!!

Back to the topic of presentation- I am most impressed by an example mentioned in the book about the consequence of mis-use of Powerpoint – causing the failure of space shuttle Columbia.!! Judging from the Powerpoint slide itself (see the slide on the side) which was shown in a meeting the week before the disaster, the slide writer seemed to consider that the SOFI issue can cause serious damage. Yet, this message was unfortunately ‘buried’ somehow in the ‘word slide’. (You can find the full report here.)

In the organisation which I am working in, ‘word slide’ is just so common, to the extent that the Powerpoint slide is supposed to contain bullet points. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case. One reason is that ‘word slide’ is easy to prepare – just type, or even cut and paste. It requires no imagination or creativity. And you can readily use the ‘word slide’ as the handout.

In short, slide is not properly used a visual aid….. and in fact, it is not the aid. It is the opposite – making communication less effective. It is sad. I personally have sit through countless presentations / product briefings, progress meetings…. where key messages failed to reach a reasonable proportion of the audience. It is a waste of time – enormous amount of time e.g. a simple briefing can easily have some 20 people for an hour. A wastage of half of the duration can be translated into 600 minutes or 10 hours equivalent. Just think of how much work can be accomplished in 10 hours!!! Not only quantity, but also quality – think of the deadly consequence in the Columbia shuttle case because of ineffective communication.

Well, I believe it all depends on whether you want to simply get the job (presentation) done, or really get the message across!!

‘Hello’ + Name + Smile

I initiated and ran a short facilitation workshop today.   There was a topic ‘What do the participants expect from an outstanding trainer?’   One of my colleagues raised a very interesting point – something not only the outstanding trainer, but also all trainers should have.  It is like a must.   So, according to him, participants will expect the trainer:


1.       To greet them upon arrival

2.       To remember their names

3.       To smile


Simple but important!!  Yet we miss to do it in a lot of occasions, when you are so occupied by the last-minute preparation.   I will definitely remember it as the 3 major golden rules.

Another lesson for ….preparation

I delivered today a 30-min session of a 2-day course.   The session was designed by me and was about Business Etiquette.   It is consisted of mostly activities rather than lectures, which is quite unconventional as compared to other sessions delivered by other speakers in this same course.   I knew that I need to re-arrange the room in order to make space for the activities, and I thus arrive 30 mins earlier.

Always always… unexpected things happened – there are fewer flipcharts than I asked.   And when the hotel waiters helped me to move the table, a few glasses broke into pieces!!    The room setting was just in place right before the participants came back from lunch.  Overall, the session was OK (in fact, I believe my session is one of those leaving them stickest memory)

The learning for me is AGAIN…. Always leave more time for preparation if you want to appear

Difference between Great and Good facilitators

‘Both deliver excellent learning experience, but a great facilitator will know exactly what he / she does well.’ This quote is from an experienced facilitator in our organisation.

It is so true. Knowing exactly what you do well help you repeat your success. Ideally, you can do it by having someone observing your facilitation and giving you detailed feedback in form of time log. You will have such luxury sometimes when you are under a TTT process and watched by a master trainer. But such chance is rare. The alternative is to observe your own delivery, whilst you are doing it. What I am doing now is always to have a notebook on a dedicated space which I can easily reach though I am facilitating. I will scribble quickly when I notice something I have done well. It could be a quote, example, link, analogy or the way I explained an activity. Not easy…. but trying…

iPod – a great music-tool at class

I said in my previous post that I personally find music very helpful to enhance learning. I use my iPod nano.

I prefer playing MP3 rather than from CD in class because I can play many different songs with change for another CD. And I prefer iPod rather than other MP3 player or straight from the laptop. I used to play it from my laptop, but the trouble is that I cannot manage the music as I have my slide on!! I can however do so with the iPod. In addition, compared to other MP3 player, I can control my iPod nano very easily, most of time by just one click!! Such feature is absolutely necessary when you are in the class, since there are already so many things for you to attend to.

One additional plus – you can use iPod as a back up (to your laptop) to play your slides. Very simple – just save your slides as JPEG files and transfer to your iPod. Of course, you will need a iPod AV connection kit, which is available in the Apple store. I learnt this from presentationzen.com.

Flipchart… a visual to record group memory

If you asked for my personal choice of an icon to represent Mumbai, I would choose the cab there. Its yellow-black colour is very eye-catching. More than that, I was particularly drawn to the fact that they are all old FIAT!! I believe they were all born a few decades ago!!! Another amazing fact is that their meters are not outside of the car!!

Enough…. back to the topic. Flipchart and marker pens are like icon for facilitators / trainers. One of its uses is to visualise a group’s ideas. With this purpose in mind, I learnt something new from the workshop last week how to do better.

Machine-gun inputs – What if there are lots of ideas coming from different people. You try to think in order to summarise with key bullet points, but there are just too many. A easy solution is to first take down whatever is said. After all inputs are “shot” out, summarise them on another flipchart. (Of course, you need more than one flipchart stand for that.)

Mumbling input – What if you try to record idea from someone who mumble? Lot of ideas (or no main idea), no structure….. in what he / she said. They are the kind of person who is developing his / her only whist he / she is speaking. A rather natural reaction is to put your own words for him / her on the flipchart, hopefully to summarise. A better way is to ask ‘thanks for your input, could you please help by giving 3 words to put on the flipchart?’ Well, if the participant cannot even handle this, just suggest a few words yourself (try your best) and say ‘can I summarise your input by XXX?’

There are some other things to watch out for, which I learnt in the past:

No yellow / orange / green marker pen – They just cannot see it!!

Don’t settle for sub-standard marker pens- I always bring mine, even if I travel to another city.

BIG font – People are used to write for themselves to see, but it is not enough if you are a facilitator – you need to write for the others to see. If you are not sure, do check it by standing at the back of the room before the class starts.

Write it slooooowly – You will easily feel that time passes too slowly when you are writing on the flipchart in front of the participants. You may even find yourself scribble. Practise, practise and practise to write more slowly.

Learning in Mumbai

I am attending a Trainer training in Mumbai these few. I am extremely glad that I can attend this. (I would hate myself to death if I could not go because of the visa issue which arised at last minute.) The training offers me learning which I long want to have, and which I find hardly to get. These include in-depth discussion of basic tools in facilitation e.g. ice-breakers, ground rule. I not only can learn from the others’ experience and thought, but also allow myself to reflect on what I have been doing – good or bad. Most importantly, the 2 master facilitators – Mark and Sarah – are great!! They live what they deliver!! My role model!!

There are so many about my learning from this event which I want to share. And I will do it in the coming few posts. A quick pre-view – No surprise!! one of my major learning is preparation. And in particular, an good analogy of preparation. Like the iceberg, what the participants observe about you is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are a lot of preparation which they do not see i.e. underneath the water. As what the master facilitators shared, you will need over 2 days to prepare for 1-day program!!

More (learning) to come!!

How rigid should the course design be?

Since start, I have facilitated over 10 different courses. Most of the course design were developed by the others. Some course are relatively more rigidly designed e.g. SPIN – all activities are written in details in the facilitation guide, which can specify which slide to show when you go through a certain point. In addition, the TTT process is very thorough. It takes a few days and goes through almost each activity. On the other hand, there are course designs which are very flexible. TTT process is brief and the instructor guide is rather rough indeed e.g. only 1 day for a 3-day program. Time is just enough to walk through the activities, but not available at all to go through the content.

I like the former better. I believe that it is important for the participants to receive consistent messages for one single course despite using different trainers. Of course, it takes more time to develop such a course. In particular, it takes time to write a good instructor guide. It not only has to be easy to understand, but also easy to follow. It would be a challenge for the trainer to refer to the guide, slides and may be his-own note on spot in the class!! And more importantly, such courses have to stay long enough e.g. 3 years in order to be fine-tuned (and there should be course design resources to fine-tune courses). I would say this is probably the reason why SPIN is so thoroughly designed.