Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

The importance of modeling listening

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 by Adrian Segar

Recently I was sitting in a plane about to take off and noticed something interesting during the usual safety instructions video.

Did the flight attendants travel up and down the aisles checking that I’d fastened my seat belt and my personal item was fully under the seat in front of me? No, they didn’t.

Did they retire to their little jump seats, while the locations of the exits were described in a comforting baritone narrative they’d heard a thousand times before. Nope.

Instead, the crew stood, unmoving in the aisles, facing the passengers for the whole three minutes. The conscientious ones stared at the nearest monitor, even though they couldn’t see what’s on it because they were looking at the back!

Why did they do this?

My flight attendants were modeling listening.

Why? Well, if they appeared to be ignoring the safety video (which they could probably repeat backwards perfectly in their sleep), here’s the message that I would receive:

You don’t need to listen to this.

And my interpretation would be:

Not only is this stuff they’re telling me not important, the flight attendants also think it’s a waste of time too.

Let’s face it; listening well is something that’s extremely hard to do for any length of time. During the facilitation of a large peer conference roundtable that lasts a couple of hours, I find it impossible to do perfectly. But even though, at times, I revert from listening to hearing, I always try to model listening. As the facilitator, if I appear disengaged from what participants are saying I send a message, not only to the person who is speaking but also to everyone present, that what is being said is unimportant. Such behavior, dis-empowering in so many ways, can seriously weaken the building of connections and intimacy amongst conference participants.

I hope I never need to urgently know the positions of the six emergency exits on an Airbus A320, but if that day comes and I do, it will be due to the consistent and persistent modeled listening of the flight attendants on all the airplanes I’ve traveled on over the years. Thanks guys!

What we can learn from the man who had no problems

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 by Adrian Segar


During a conference session I was facilitating recently, I met a man—I’ll call him Paul—who had no problems. Since the session was described as an opportunity to get answers from a small group of your peers to problems you were having in your professional life, I found Paul’s attendance surprising. “If you have no problems, why are you here?” was my first question. “I just came to help.” was Paul’s reply.

The group of peers at his table questioned Paul further. Paul apparently had no problems at work at all. His boss loved his performance. Paul felt happy and fulfilled at his job. Even one of my favorite questions in circumstances like these—So Paul, if you had a problem, what would it be? (It’s surprising how often this works!)—elicited a short silence followed by a further protestation of problemnessless. Just to see how far we could go, I asked Paul if he had a problem with any aspect of his life. “Well,” Paul admitted, “I’m no longer married.” I allowed that this problem was outside the scope of our session, and we moved on to the next participant.

Of course, as my mentor Jerry Weinberg wrote long agoThere’s always a problem. I don’t know for sure, but perhaps Paul’s biggest problem was that he was in denial about his problems.

Whatever the reason, Paul missed a great chance to work on some important aspect of his professional life. It’s rare to be offered such an opportunity, but, as we can see from Paul’s example, it’s still possible to turn it down.

Don’t.

Photo credit: Flick user themaxsons

A story about the power of experiential learning

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 by Adrian Segar

What approach should we use to teach participation techniques for meeting sessions?

With the rise of social learning and the decline in importance of formal learning, perhaps we should use experiential learning. On the other hand, in the same time needed to experience a limited set of participation techniques we can comprehensively describe many more. There again, perhaps experiencing a participation technique directly is a more effective way to cement both learning it and truly understanding its relevance. So, if we are teaching participation techniques, which of these two approaches is a better path for learning?

J’s light-bulb moment
Earlier this week I led a workshop at Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress (WEC). The 150-minute session covered a variety of techniques that foster and support meaningful participation during meetings. Participants spent most of their time using these techniques to learn about and connect with each other and explore questions about their experience at WEC and in the session itself.

As the workshop progressed, and I heard from the forty-six participants, it became clear that one of them, whom I’ll call J, had considerable prior experience with the techniques I was facilitating.

Near the end of the workshop I ran Plus/Delta (described in Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love): a method that provides a fast, public evaluation of a session or entire meeting. As an advocate for transparency and feedback, I chose the subject of our Plus/Delta to be a group evaluation of the workshop itself. During the evaluation, J commented that he had hoped that I would cover more techniques by talking about them rather than having attendees experience them directly. He then contributed a simple and ingenious way to extend Plus/Delta that was new to me.

My heart sank, just a little. Here was J, an experienced facilitator of participation techniques, proposing that I should spend the workshop talking about techniques rather than facilitating experiences of them. Could I be going about this wrong?

I moved immediately into the last technique of the workshop, running fishbowl: a simple way to facilitate focused discussion with a large group. All participants sit in a large circle of chairs, but only people in the “fishbowl”, a small circle of chairs at the center, can speak. After a few minutes of comments, J entered the fishbowl.

J said that he had read about fishbowls many times before and he understood how they worked, but he had never tried one.

And then, to my surprise and delight, he told us that experiencing the fishbowl had been a revelation to him, because he had directly experienced the power of the technique in a way that significantly enhanced his understanding of it, which he had previously believed to be sufficient. It was poignant for me to hear J express a new point of view that contradicted what he had said only a few minutes earlier, and I admired his courage in sharing his learning with us all.

I too have struggled over the years to define the best balance between understanding techniques through description and understanding them through direct experience. J’s light-bulb moment fits for me; these days I am content to let attendees learn participation techniques, first through direct experience and then, if necessary, via reflection and discussion.

Postscript
At the end of the workshop, J hung around and we talked while I was packing up my equipment for a flight home.

He told me that his fishbowl sharing had unexpectedly reminded him of a session he had once attended, entitled “One hundred icebreakers in one hundred minutes”, consisting of rapid descriptions of a hundred ways to introduce attendees to each other.

His rueful comment?

“I don’t remember any of them.”

Why presenters need to incorporate audience engagement

Saturday, June 25th, 2011 by Adrian Segar

Small groups meeting at edACCESS 2011

“…it isn’t our schools that are failing: it is our theory of learning that is failing.”
— Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, authors of A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change.

An inconvenient truth
Think back on all the conference presentations you’ve attended. How much of what happened there do you remember?

Be honest now. I’m not going to check.

Nearly all the people to whom I’ve asked this question reply, in effect, “not much”. This is depressing news for speakers in general, and me in particular as, since the publication of Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love, I have been receiving an increasing number of requests to speak at conferences.

When I ask about the most memorable presentations, people (after adjusting for the reality that memories fade as time passes) tend to mention sessions where there was a lot of interaction with the presenter and/or amidst the audience: in other words, sessions where they weren’t passive attendees but actively participated.

Take a moment to see whether that’s your experience too.

Social learning
Conference sessions that are designed to facilitate engagement between rather than broadcast content provide wonderful opportunities for social learning: the learning that occurs through connection, engagement, and conversations with our peers.

Social learning is important, and here’s why, courtesy of Harold Jarche:

There are additional reasons why supporting social learning during conference sessions makes a lot of sense:

  • Active participants almost always learn and retain learning better than passive attendees.
  • Participants meet and learn about each other, rather than sitting next to strangers who remain strangers during a session.
  • Participants influence the content and structure of the session towards what it is they want to learn, which is often different from what a presenter expects.
  • Being active during a session increases engagement, creating better learning outcomes.
  • Actively participating during a session is generally a lot more fun!

A mission for conference presenters
Conferences provide an ideal venue for social learning; they are potentially the purest form of social learning network because we are brought together face-to-face with our peers. And yet most conference sessions, invariably promoted as the heart of every conference, squander this opportunity by clinging to the old presenter-as-broadcaster-of-wisdom model.

Of course, there are conference sessions that routinely include significant participation. Amusingly, they have a special name so they won’t be confused with “regular” conference sessions: workshops!

In my opinion, every conference session longer than a few minutes should include significant participation that supports and encourages engagement. If you’re a conference presenter, make this part of your mission—to improve your effectiveness by incorporating participation techniques into your presentations. Your audiences will thank you!

An opportunity to learn how to add participation techniques into your presentations
I’ll be leading a three hour workshop on how to add participative techniques into your presentations at the Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress, July 23-26, Orlando, Florida. Transform your sessions with these participation techniques is limited to eighty participants. Check out the introductory video. I’d love to see you there!

Are you a conference presenter? How much do you incorporate participation techniques into your presentations? Please share your ideas here!

 

Tip for sharing new ideas at conferences

Sunday, April 24th, 2011 by Adrian Segar

New solutions form 2

Here’s a simple way to turn insights from individual conference attendees into a shared resource that can be used by everyone.  Create a form like the one illustrated above, and make multiple copies easily available at all sessions (place them on tables, have a stack by the room entrances etc.) At the start of the event, encourage attendees to use the forms to write down best practices, tips, and ideas sparked during sessions, explaining that all contributions will be compiled and shared with everyone after the conference. Provide boxes for attendees to post completed forms. Once the conference is over, promptly summarize the ideas shared and post the resulting document on the conference website or other conference community.

Thanks to the organizers of the MGMA PEER conference, where I first saw this idea in action.

Why requiring learning objectives for great conference presentations sucks

Monday, December 20th, 2010 by Adrian Segar
Photo by Flickr user orange_squash_123
Photo by Flickr user orange_squash_123

I have been filling out quite a few conference presentation proposals recently, and began to notice a pattern in my behavior. My mood changed when I had to fill out the session’s learning objectives (which are statements of what attendees will be able to do by the end of the session.)

Specifically, every time I had to fill out the learning objectives for a proposal I got really, really annoyed.

Over the years I’ve found that paying attention to patterns like this is nearly always a learning experience for me. And I had just watched Chris Flink‘s TEDx talk on the gift of suckiness, where he makes a great case for exploring things that suck for you…

…so I reluctantly delved into why I started to feel mad when required to write things like “attendees will be able to list five barriers to implementing participant-driven events“.

At first I wondered whether my annoyance at having to come up with learning objectives (with active verbs, please, like these…)

Learning objectives action words

From http://apha.confex.com/apha/learningobjectives.htm

was because I was a sloppy presenter who hadn’t really thought about what my attendees wanted or needed to learn. I imagined the conference program committee wagging their finger at me (or sighing because they’d seen this so many times before). Listing learning objectives was forcing me to face what I should have thought about before I even suggested the session, and I didn’t like being confronted with my lack of planning.

And then I thought, NO. I DO have goals for my sessions. But they’re much more ambitious goals than having participants being able to regurgitate lists, define terms, explain concepts, or discuss issues.

I want to blow attendees’ minds. And I want to change their lives.

OK, I admit that would be the supreme goal, one that I’m unlikely to achieve most of the time. But it’s a worthy goal. If I can make some attendees see or understand something important in a way that they’ve never seen or understood before, so that they will never see or understand it in the same way again—now that’s worth striving for.

Here’s an imaginary example (not taken from my fields of expertise). Suppose you are evaluating two proposed sessions on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace. The first includes learning objectives like “define and understand the term sexual harassment”, “identify types of sexual harassment”, and “learn techniques to better deal with sexual harassment”. The second simply says, “People who actively participate in this session are very unlikely to sexually harass others or put up with sexual harassment ever again.”

Assuming the second presenter is credible, which proposal would you choose?

Learning objectives restrict outcomes to safe, measured changes to knowledge or competencies. They leave no place for passion, for changing worldviews, or for evoking action.

That’s why requiring learning objectives for great conference presentations sucks.

What’s your perspective on learning objectives?

How 1984 turned out like 1884

Monday, October 11th, 2010 by Adrian Segar

Class Room - Fifth Grade, Butte, Montana 4686494376_05169eaff3_o

Modern classroom 74907741_c2d59deb64_o

While going about my day, I sometimes engage in a mental exercise I call the Laura Ingalls Test. What would Laura Ingalls, prairie girl, make of this freeway interchange? This Target? This cell phone? Some modern institutions would probably be unrecognizable at first glance to a visitor from the 19th century: a hospital, an Apple store, a yoga studio. But take Laura Ingalls to the nearest fifth-grade classroom, and she wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Oh! A school!”

Very little about the American classroom has changed since Laura Ingalls sat in one more than a century ago.
The 21st-Century Classroom, by Linda Perlstein

In her recent Slate article, excerpted above, Linda Perlstein, an education writer, muses about the effects that school classroom layout and design affect the learning that takes place. She even asks her readers to submit their “best ideas for transforming the American school” which she conflates with “asking you to describe or even design the classroom for today, a fifth-grade classroom that takes advantage of all that we have learned since Laura Ingalls’ day about teaching, learning, and technology–and what you think we have yet to learn”.

I think that Linda’s emphasis on transforming the physical learning workspace as the answer to our educational system’s woes focuses on the wrong issue.

Certainly, most modern school classroom layouts have changed very little from Laura Ingalls’ day. But this is a symptom of the lack of change in educational circles, not a cause. In fact it’s often easy to alter the physical layout of a learning space simply by changing the furniture (get rid of those chairs with individual writing areas shown above!) or rearranging it (see Paul Radde’s Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating Arrangements for a comprehensive introduction to this topic).

The reason why schools don’t redesign their learning spaces is because the traditional all-chairs-face the-front approach mirrors the teaching style perpetuated by our culture for the last 1,500 years. We get classroom layouts that optimize our teaching paradigm. Changing the classroom physical design and hoping that our learning environment will somehow improve is a great example of wishing that the tail would wag the dog.

When we change how we teach and how we expect to learn, the need to change our physical educational environment will become pretty obvious. Laura, please use your considerable journalist skills to explore how we do and don’t learn effectively and publicize what you find—we’ll all be the beneficiaries! And then perhaps 2084 won’t look like 1984.

Do you think that changing our physical learning environments is the way to improve how well we learn? Or do you think that changing the ways we learn will lead to fundamentally different learning environment designs?

Image attribution: Flickr users buttepubliclibrary and dcjohn

When will we wake up about the need to change our conference designs?

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 by Adrian Segar

Edward's Arm in the Hands of his Medical Advisors

Medicine in medieval times consisted of blood-letting, exorcism of devils, spells, incantations, and a proscription of bathing. It didn’t work. In fact, like traditional management, it made things worse. Doctors who had been taught to do it believed in it. The establishment defended it. The universities kept teaching it. So people went on doing it, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It took hundreds of years before these counter-productive practices were set aside in favor of modern medicine. Eventually, people awoke from their collective delusion.
More or less innovation? Duh? by Steve Denning

In the above quote, Steve Denning describes the persistence of the fledgling medical establishment in inflicting medical treatments that didn’t work. He draws an analogy with how managers still cling to traditional management practices, despite a century of calls for change, and mounting evidence of the social and economic damages they are inflicting.

Let’s hope it isn’t much longer before we face the stultifying effects of traditional conference designs on hapless attendees, and take the necessary steps to change our designs, based on what we are learning about how adults best learn and connect.

The most powerful tool for improving your personal work environment

Sunday, August 8th, 2010 by Adrian Segar

messy desk - harryharris - 300782460_bafaba2776_o

Your web browser has eight windows open, and each window sports at least half a dozen tabs. Your monitor is festooned with Post-it® notes. Hundreds of handwritten reminders, business cards, file folders, magazines with slips of paper peaking out, and unread articles litter your office desk.

Are you, perhaps, feeling a little overwhelmed by your personal work environment? If so, and this is a habitual state rather than an occasional, acceptable occurrence, read on!

Here is what I have found to be the most powerful tool that will help to restore your sanity when workspace chaos has expanded beyond your comfort zone. (You do have a comfort zone, I hope?)

Losing control
Let’s start with a key question. Why is your personal working environment habitually and unacceptably out of control?

Answer: Because it’s reflecting a way of working that isn’t working for you.

So making changes in your physical environment, by buying twenty plastic filing trays, dumping sixteen piles of paper into file cabinets, switching to an iPad, or even setting fire to your office is not going to solve your long term problem.

What you need to do is change the way you work. And change, as we all know, is hard.

Luckily, a lot of smart people have spent a lot of time thinking (and written a lot of books) about how to make changes in how you work. I’ve worked for myself for the last 27 years, read many of these books and tried their techniques, usually with limited success.

Getting Things Done
Five years ago I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done (known as GTD by devotees). Published in 2001, it’s still Amazon’s best selling book in the categories of Time Management, Health & Stress, and Self-Esteem. This doesn’t surprise me, as the book is brilliant. Unlike other productivity methodologies, it doesn’t prescribe a complete system for organizing your life. Instead, David explains clearly:

  • The essential workflow processes you need to follow to clear and organize your work-life; and
  • What you need to understand in order to choose tools and procedures that work for you.

Implementing GTD does not involve throwing out or changing all the ways you work now. Rather, Allen’s approach gives you both a powerful lens to see what is functional in your work-life, and a comprehensive framework for making improvements.

Each person’s implementation of GTD is unique. One person may use file trays and 3 x 5 cards to capture “stuff”, another, GTD software running on a personal computer or mobile device. If email messages are piling up in your inbox, there are GTD approaches to keeping your head above water. Ultimately, you’re responsible for doing the work you need to do. GTD just provides a practical way to create the system that works best for you.

I’m not going to delve more into GTD here. There are plenty of resources on the web, including David Allen’s website and this introductory article from 43folders. But I suggest that, to start, you simply buy the book.

Am I 100% successful at implementing GTD in my work-life? No. Sometimes I find it difficult to maintain the necessary discipline. I also have some reservations about David Allen’s approach to reviews. But I have integrated GTD’s key features into how I work, and have obtained a significant increase in productivity. More importantly, I understand why my work environment can deteriorate and what to do if it does. Possessing this understanding is empowering for me.

I hope it is for you, too.

Do you use Getting Things Done? What’s been your experience? Or do you prefer another methodology to organize your personal work environment?

Image attribution: Flickr user harryharris

How you can learn from personal stories

Monday, August 2nd, 2010 by Adrian Segar

storyteller -maxpower- 4513002300_81ba70ab6f_bAfter I met Glenn Thayer on a warm Colorado evening a couple of months ago, I kept remembering a story that he told me about a celebrity charity event he was emceeing. This puzzled me, because the story had no obvious connection to my life or work.

Recently, I began to understand why his yarn kept popping into my head. I’ll post about Glenn’s story another time, but today I’ll write about how to learn from stories like Glenn’s.

Every day, the people in your life tell you personal stories. They might be a family anecdote, a play-by-play reenactment of last night’s game, a tale of frustration at work, or a child’s outpouring about an incident on the school playground: a unique stream of the tragic, the lighthearted, the passionate, and the mundane. Most of these stories pour through your consciousness, hover there for moments, and are gone. A few resonate in some mysterious way and stay with you for years. All of them influence you. And some of them can teach you valuable lessons—if you pay attention to them.

How can you learn from personal stories? Some, of course, have straightforward learning implications. For example, a relative’s harrowing tale of a ruined vacation due to last minute illness may encourage us to take out travel insurance, or a friend’s clear description of diagnosing a car problem may illuminate what a timing belt is and does. And here are some more, often poignant examples of learning from stories.

But what about stories that teach us important lessons in subtler ways? Sometimes we hear stories that touch us, but we don’t really know why. What can we learn when this happens?

If you are interested in exploring what you can learn from such stories, here are the three steps you must take. They may seem strange suggestions, but I vouch for their effectiveness if you are prepared to do the work.

Notice the important story
Unfortunately, there’s no universal metric that can tell us whether a particular story can teach us something that matters, because every story is contextually unique and each of us has unique lessons to learn. So, if you hear so many stories, how do you know which ones are important?

There isn’t a rational way to notice important stories. Instead, you need to cultivate your emotional intelligence, or, if you prefer the term, your intuition.

Important stories affect you at an emotional level. You live in a world that pays lip service to the rational, but, unless you’re a sociopath, you have emotional responses to your life experiences. The trick to noticing that a story is important to you is to detect that you have responded emotionally in a surprising way. An important story evokes an emotional response, and if that response does not make sense to you, there is gold you can mine from it. Glenn’s Colorado story brought up an emotional response that I didn’t understand. Noticing was all I needed to proceed to the next step.

Capture the story
Perhaps it’s my age, but I find that if I don’t capture the essence of the story so I can recall the details, the tale I’ve heard disappears, like smoke, from my memory within a day, never to reappear. So I carry around 3 x 5 cards to jot down stories and ideas I have. (I’ve also started using Simplenote on my iPad for the same purpose.) When I heard Glenn’s story, I wrote “Do you have a handler?” on a card, which was enough for me to remember his story until I got home and added the phrase plus a few notes to a file I keep of potential topics for blog posts. Now the heart of his story was captured in a place where I would see it weekly whenever I was thinking about a blogging topic.

Tease out the meaning
Teasing out the meaning of an important story is a creative exercise. When I came across Glenn’s story in my blog post pile last week, I decided to spend some time musing about it. I’ve found that the two best ways for me to go into a creative place involve either:

  • Performing mindless physical activity, like stacking wood, going for a walk, washing dishes, or taking a shower.
  • Listening to loud music that I like.

while daydreaming about the topic in question.

Your methods for stimulating your creative juices are probably different. When you’re ready, find a time and place when you won’t be interrupted and apply them. Here are some tips for making the most of your creative exploration of the story:

  • Relax, don’t have any preconceptions about what might happen—watch and listen to whatever drifts through your mind.
  • Don’t censor thoughts and images that come up, just make note of them. I like to have a pen and paper available to record what comes up.
  • Concentrate on the non-rational; you can unleash your analytical powers once your daydreaming phase is over.
  • Don’t expect to unlock all the secrets of the important story in one session. You may want to return to it in a few days to see what’s jelled, what seems important, and what now feels superficial.

I’ve learned some important things about myself and my life by examining stories that have power for me. I hope the techniques I’ve described are useful for you too.

How do you make sense of important personal stories you’ve heard? Do you have examples you’d like to share?

Image attribution: Flickr user maxpower

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