Guide on the Side – Simple Techniques to Perk Up Training

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries‘ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities.

Training can be jazzed up and improved greatly with a few simple techniques. Something as familiar as a metaphor can add an important dimension. Here are twelve techniques to select from when you want to energize your training or transform mundane “telling” (the dreaded one-way info-dump) into a memorable learning experience. Use them all in longer training sessions. Pick and chose for shorter sessions.

1. Overview:

Use an overview to announce the training event and entice people to attend. Use the big picture again at the first session to establish focus. The overview orients the learners to the learning context and lets them grasp the relationship between the organization, the training and themselves. It answers questions like: Where are we going with this training? How does it relate to work? Who else is getting trained? What’s in it for me? It is the map that shows the territory and indicates “you are here.”

2. Objectives:

Objectives are the specific skills, knowledge or attitudes to be acquired. They need to be identified (and if possible demonstrated) at the beginning of the training. Along with the Overview, Objectives can be broadcast via the organization’s Intranet in advance. Be specific. “Learn to cite check” is too vague. Identify each of the skills involved with a complex operation like cite checking–everything from reading citations to using Lexis and Westlaw. (Guides #33 and 4) Be aware that soft skills training like leadership or team building are often difficult to measure but they can be described.

3. Metaphors:

The title of this column, Guide on the Side, is a metaphor for training. Metaphors and analogies often can be used in conjunction with props. Essentially, they provide a link between the know and the unknown. To illustrate, training for a multi-tasking job might benefit from an orchestra metaphor. A baton could be the prop. In training, there is both factual and conceptual information to impart to the trainees. Metaphors illuminate both types of information.

4. Props:

Props are a way of thinking metaphorically. They can be toys, gizmos, costumes or tools that are generally recognized. (See Guide # 19) Children’s toys, such as Tinker Toys, are great because they suggest construction, show how parts relate to the whole, and indicate shape. They are light, portable, and familiar.

5. Stories:

People remember stories and anecdotes. Stories express cultural values. They are an excellent way to reinforce and explain the Overview. Stories can be combined with metaphors and props so that the training begins to be coordinated like a “theme” park. Use personal experiences or variations movies and TV shows for your stories. “Let me tell you a personal story because it illustrates what today’s training is about… and how I arrived at the white water metaphor.”

6. Handouts:

Training requires handouts (Guide#27) to help learners reinforce and apply the newly acquired skills and knowledge. Training handouts can take the form of job aids, reference tools, charts, diagrams, manuals, or directories and can be posted on a Web site or on the organization’s intranet. Include a list of the trainees in the handouts so they can contact one another to form a learning community. If the training is for cite checking, one of the handouts might be the Harvard Blue Book.

Some people use printouts of the screens they used to explain a skill for the handout but presentation visuals and handouts serve entirely two different purposes. Visuals help to communicate a narrative message quickly. Handouts, by contrast, are like a reference tool–places to verify and expand information. The brain processes procedural knowledge (how to do something) differently from the way it processes declarative or telling knowledge. The format of the handout should provide users easy access by several different routes depending on what they need to know. My own experience with handouts consisting of screen printouts is that they are cumbersome to use as reference tools and the graphics are poor. The information is not organized so I can go back and find partially remembered things plus it is like seeing the movie a second time–only this time without the sound track. A really useful handout anticipates what learners will need to know when they get into a “whoops, I didn’t mean to do that” situation.

7. Color:

Color has impact on reading, comprehension, learning and promoting ideas. Include it in your training design. For instance, handouts are improved if they are color coded. A metaphor can be a color. “The metaphor for this part of the training is red because it suggests danger and if you do not master this skill your boss will see red.” The matching prop could be a red flag or a large swatch of red cloth which you wave to emphasize key points. Use color to liven up drab facilities with large swatches of brightly colored cloth hung on the walls and furniture.

8. Acronyms:

Mnemonic devices like acronyms help people remember key points and sequences. Everyone has used them in school. Some like “radar” and “snafu” have worked themselves into the language as words. I tried to create an acronym for these 12 techniques. As the order of the techniques was not an issue, I was free to play around. I tried for Guide on Side by renaming the techniques to match the letters to no avail. The best I could do was shop at–far from ideal. Acronyms should be short like SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) and easy to remember.

9. Aroma:

Some natural aromas can enhance relaxation, reduce anxiety and reinforce memory. For instance, the Walt Disney World Magic House at Epcot Center in Florida has a room scented with the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. The idea is to promote relaxation and comfort. Many people experience “learning anxiety” about training, especially if there is some kind of performance test. Chamomile helps to relieve anxiety. The smell of freshly popped pop corn will enliven the mood of any group. Aromas, such as a combination of lemon, jasmine and mint, can improve alertness and concentration. Try an alertness smell, if you train late Friday afternoon. Let trainees take a whiff of essential oil from the bottle to give odor sensitive people an option. (Watch for an upcoming Guide on the Side on aroma.)

10. Sound:

Individual sounds, sound motifs, crescendos and rhythms may be from music, nature or something mechanical. Sounds can be used to signal a mood or change of pace, to reinforce an idea or review key ideas. It is great for humor and surprises. If your training involves machinery, demonstrate the important sounds. “If you hear this noise [screeetch, screeetch], hit the off switch fast.” Consider adding some testimonials.

11. Tempo:

Vary the pace of the instructional techniques at least every 20 minutes. This will create a tempo that moves the training forward.

Intersperse, mix and alternate: Passive activities (observation, explanation, demonstration) with interactive activities (Q & A, discussion, practice exercises). Individual practice sessions with group practice exercises. Participatory activities with quiet reflective ones. Leader-directed activities with learner-directed activities. Humor with the serious stuff.

12. Passion:

There is an old saying that if there is no fire (read excitement, enthusiasm, energy) in your presentation throw it in the fire. If you are not excited by your material, how can you expect the audience to light the flame. Sometimes trainers lack passion because they try to cover too much at once. Try using the facts, concepts, principles, processes and procedures model (Guide 4). Consider the handout for the facts and procedures, metaphors for the concepts, and then release your passion on the principles and processes which excite you or you would not be the trainer.

These twelve techniques fall into three sensory categories: visual, aural and kinesthetic. The old see, hear and do trio that is as old as Confucius. The techniques are all low-tech but form a solid foundation for multimedia. Consider using these techniques to spice up your presentations as well as training.

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Training