Using PowerPoint in Training

powerpoint  As a business trainer, I spend a lot of time working in Microsoft PowerPoint.  It is the go-to tool for presentations, training, and general briefing platform, for many different reasons.  It is easy to use, has many useful features, and is generally accepted as one of the best presentation tools for many different venues.  The slide-based presentation method is great for showing step-by-step processes, breakdowns of structures or reports, and providing overviews of topics from the simple to the complex.  Using these features can make the difference between a clumsy slide show and a great presentation.

Microsoft provides their own tips for making effective presentations.  In my own experience, when using PowerPoint for a presentation (or “slide deck” as some call it), simple is better.  But there is a clear difference between simplicity and lack of function or form.  You want to make sure that:

  • Your information on the slide show is clear, concise, and pointed, but not so vague that it becomes useless.
  • Screen shots or images must be sharp and easily visible to a room of viewers that might be sitting 40 feet away.
  • Use colors that are starkly contrasting and can be read on a projector or large screen.
  • Avoid leaving a ton of white (negative) space on slides, as it not only looks bad, but it shows that you might be missing important information (even if you are not).
  • Feel free to use slide transitions and animations for interest, but in moderation.  “Shiny” doesn’t necessarily equate to “good”.
  • Keep the number of slides to a minimum to shorten the time needed for the presentation.

Here are some bullets about using bullets in slide shows:

  • Avoid using full sentences.  Summarize points using quick phrases and speak to the points in full sentences. (Appeal to both auditory and visual learners)
  • Your bullet point should be no more than two to three lines, depending on the width.  Audiences need to be able to read it quickly and then pay attention to you while you’re speaking for elaboration on what they just read.
  • Some people are against this, but use basic animations to bring in your bullets one at a time, on command, in the final presentation.  If you have a slide of 5 or 6 bullets, you don’t want the audience reading bullet 4 while you’re still talking about bullet 1.

Even though we’ve talked about Delivering training, when it comes to presenting PowerPoint materials, I’ve got some more bullets:

  • Use a remote clicker or presenter, rather than standing in front of the computer keyboard.  I know, I know… you feel comfortable being able to see the material as it goes by.  Use a printout of the slides or note cards to help you, rather than hiding behind the computer.
  • Don’t spend more than 20-30 seconds on a single bullet (unless a follow-up conversation or tangent question is warranted and relevant).  You’re not there to ramble.
  • If you’re using screenshots in a presentation, make sure you point out what is the necessary focus of this picture, either with a laser pointer or your own hand.
  • Finally… PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not read directly from the PowerPoint slides!!!  You do not want to insult your trainees by assuming they can’t read on their own.  You will also lose precious credibility and motivation on the part of the students.  If you’re going to do that, you might as well just email them the presentation and not waste your time.

Keeping to these simple rules can make a huge difference in your presentation skills.  A great PowerPoint presentation can be used as an effective teaching tool, but it can also show your knowledge of the subject and give you the platform to get through to your trainees.  For more information, I find the University of South Carolina’s tips to be a useful guide.

Photo credit: PowerPoint Templates Design Tips

Asking All the Right Questions

Questions In a business setting, it’s all about the numbers.  From process times to budgets, cost analyses and quality metrics, business professionals make their careers around numbers and figures.  We thrive in an environment where everything is measured, for that is how we can prove our worth, and how a company can measure success.  The world of business training is no different.  We need to be able to prove that the time we put in is worth the company investment, and worth taking the trainees’ time to learn what we are teaching.  We measure these result by taking assessments.  We talked about more subjective assessments in our last post, but measurements ultimately come from hard numbers – more objective assessments.

In order for our assessments to be as accurate as possible, we need to make sure we’re asking the right questions, and those questions should be easy to understand.  You might have heard recently about the changes to the SAT exams by the College Board, in which they are eliminating language and questions that contain difficult or obscure words.  This is a similar effort that we need to make sure we incorporate.  In addition, what styles of questions could we include to improve assessment accuracy?

The most common styles of questions are multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, or short answer.  Let’s look at the basic pros and cons of each style, plus some things to remember:

Multiple choice
Pros: Easy to answer and easy to write, can be worded to increase or decrease difficulty
Cons: Can be giveaways for trainee, allows for “guessing”
Pointers: If you’re not a trick-question trainer, be sure that your answers are clear and to the point.  Don’t make any single answer the obvious choice – we want our trainees to think about the correct answer.  Avoid “select all that apply”, especially for complex concepts.

True/False
Pros: Perhaps the simplest to write, gives trainee good test of accuracy in exact definitions or concept details
Cons: 50/50 choice for trainee, if not written well can lead to disputes over correct answer
Pointers: Be VERY specific with your question, and be sure to point out any negative words; use italics or bold to highlight key words.  These can lead to second guessing on the part of the trainee, so specific language and jargon should be used only if it’s part of the lesson.

Fill-in-the-blank
Pros: Great for testing terms and definitions, process steps, or formulas.
Cons: Requires trainees to write legibly (if writing by hand), and can be difficult to grade quickly.
Pointers: Make sure your question is specific of which answers to enter here; don’t leave any gray area.  Keep your answer blanks to a 2-3 minimum – i.e.: Don’t ask “What are the 47 different Project Management processes?” You don’t want to grade a test like that.

Short answer
Pros: The best way to ensure a trainee’s understanding of complex or large concepts, allows for some creativity or expression.
Cons: Definitely time-consuming to grade, and allows for subjectivity, unless it’s a simple definition question.
Pointers: Short answers can lead to long exams.  Try to keep your answers to a one-paragraph minimum, that way they’re easier to grade, but still gives the trainee ample space to explain themselves.

Keeping these simple guidelines in mind can give you the tools necessary to write good quality assessments.  What are some of the most interesting examples you’ve seen?  What are some of the worst questions you’ve seen on an exam?

Photo credit: The Telegraph

Measuring with Assessments in Training

Tie your shoes  In our last post, we discussed the idea of giving assessments in business training.  We’ve established their necessity, that they measure how effective the training has been and how ready the trainees are to proceed with their re-defined processes.  We know that assessments are crucial, and the identification of what to measure is equally as important, otherwise the whole assessment process is simply a formality.  We are going to give an assessment, but what do we want that to measure?  And how can we format the assessment to measure it?

Let’s take an example of a new process.  I’ll take a page from my old manager and set up the example that we’re teaching a group of colleagues how to tie their shoes.  We need to test them on how well they’ve learned the task so that they can repeat it in the future, and to what quality score they can repeat the process.  How do we measure that?  Well, when it comes to tying a shoe, it ultimately needs to be secure, it needs to be comfortable, and it needs to look clean.  These would be our measurement objectives: security, comfortability, and neatness.

I realize that these categories are a little subjective… everyone ties shoes a little differently (myself included).  But in the end, all business processes have an element of subjectivity.  If you don’t have the correct technique (or process) you won’t end up with a quality result.  We can measure this process by having a trainee demonstrate their understanding of the process in a live environment.  Let’s say we have the trainee tie a shoe on the foot of the instructor (that way they can measure the security and comfortability of the shoe) If we want them to succeed, it may be beneficial to give them real-time advice as they are demonstrating their new shoe-tying skills.  The instructor should watch their demonstration and give them a score on each of the three defined categories.  If they feel that the trainee is competent in the process based on those scores, then they can say the training was successful.

What if we wanted to go deeper, and measure the process underlying the three categories?  We need to measure the process itself and how well the trainees learned it.  We could construct a written quiz to test their knowledge prior to the demonstration.  But we need to make sure the questions are written in a way that are easy to understand, but not too complicated and an easy give-away.  As a teaser, take a look at these tips to writing quiz questions, and we’ll discuss this in our next post.

Photo credit: My Shoes

Assessments and Business Training

assessment Although my education is in music, I have spent the last 3-4 years in the business world doing training and education in a business process organization.  Obviously there are a lot of differences between classroom education and business training, but much of the techniques and tools that are used by educators are also used by trainers.  It’s very important to maintain credibility, have good public speaking skills, be able to motivate your trainees, and cater to the three major learning styles.  But one thing remains, and that is the need to know how effective your training has been, and whether your trainees are ready to participate in the new materials as part of their everyday jobs.

We touched on this subject earlier, but the best way to determine whether your students understand the training is to give them an assessment.  Obviously, with public education, the need for assessments and standardized tests as a form of measurement is highly controversial.  But in a business setting, where we are driven by numbers and results, assessments are the best way to determine effectiveness of training.  We want to quiz the trainees on their retention of the materials, because ultimately, their jobs depend on how well they can execute afterwards.  If they can’t remember how a new process goes, or maybe how a process is changed, it will have a significant effect on quality, performance, and security in their operational work.

A common line in my work is “we have to fill a 90-minute training into a 60-minute slot”, and therefore don’t have any time for an assessment.  As trainers, we cannot stress the need for assessments too much.  This simple measurement tool can tell us whether we need to have additional training sessions, maybe a repeat session, or it would also indicate whether a particular individual needs additional resources to complete their job.  If an assessment is not given at the end of a training, then there is no way for the trainer and business to know whether a new process is ready for implementation.  There is no justification for the training class to even happen in the first place.

One option in the above scenario may be to send the assessment out after the training in email form.  A pre-completed form with simple questions to answer and then sent back to the trainer is a good way to let them take the assessment on their own time.  There are pros and cons to this method, though… you might lose some accuracy due to some trainees working together on it, which wouldn’t reflect a true measurement of understanding.   One benefit is that you have less paperwork and an easier time collating the results through electronic means.  This would also allow you to not have to sacrifice training time for giving an assessment.

We’ll talk about some assessment techniques in the next post.  How can we create questions that avoid confusion?  Are trick questions necessary?  How valuable s an assessment with a variety of question formats?  Stay tuned for more!

Photo credit: Magical Maths

Music Education in America

Music brain  I was thinking about this post and was reminded about how much I value my education and whether it would have been the same without the musical elements.  What would I have been doing if it hadn’t been that?  Personally, I’d rather not think about that, since I am who I am because of my musical training.  My wife pointed out to me earlier this evening that if you asked anyone whether music education is important in schools, they would all unanimously say yes  (Including national media companies such as Fox News).  But when it comes to enacting those opinions in policy and reality, the methods vary widely.

In our last post, Kris Engstrom from Billinghurst Middle School pointed out that music education and arts don’t get recognition in local media outlets.  In national media circles, you definitely hear more about student athletic competitions more than musical festivals, competitions, seminars, and conferences.  How can a Heritage Festival in California possibly compete with a multi-million dollar March Madness tournament?  Local schools get awards like crazy at these competitions, but it takes a miracle (or a really high-profile event) to get any kind of media coverage.  How can we change this?

Until our culture and political climate changes, advocacy is key.  Pressing for more media coverage on social media is a great way to expose the gap in recognition.  Musical conferences (such as those from the American Choral Directors’ Association and the National Association for Music Education) are a great way to draw new audiences and grow programs around the country.  Education programs such as Music in our Schools Month help to raise awareness of music education in schools and grow programs.  We need to get the names of our students, directors, and musical teachers out there as much as possible.  Even if it means that we have to inundate local media outlets with letters, press releases, emails, and social media plugs, we can eventually grow the awareness of the need for more coverage.

There is no disputing the need for performing arts in our society.  People’s lives are enriched by public speaking, concerts, plays, musicals, and dance. (I found an interesting TED talk from Ben Cameron on performing arts in society today)  As music educators, we need to continue to advocate for our programs.  Fight the good fight, and keep music education alive in our schools.  Perhaps someday, the recent emergence of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs will be revised to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math).

Photo credit: NAfME – Broader Minded

Guest Post – Media and Arts Education

Women's Choir  As part of my series on music education in schools, I have a guest post, written by one of our local music educators.  Kris Engstrom is the choral director at Billinghurst Middle School here in Reno, and supports many of the areas’ music programs.  She also advocates for music education in schools, and recently wrote an op-ed for the Reno Gazette-Journal.  The piece centers around the idea of media coverage for arts and musical events, in an effort to increase the exposure and publicity for schools and their arts programs.

I have a question for the local media that has been on my mind for the past few years. It was brought to the forefront once again recently, when the local newspapers and TV stations failed to offer any coverage or PR to Reed High School for their outstanding musical production of “Aida.” The show information was submitted on time to the newspapers, but ignored. After seeing no coverage for the first weekend of the show’s run, contact was made to “educational writers” for several papers, with no results, or in one case even a response. When TV media outlets were asked to promote the show, the response was that it couldn’t be done unless it was a fundraiser. (The only media outlet that helped promote “Aida” was our local public radio station.) Are there any public school events that are not fundraising for the existence of the program to continue? All of the high school sporting events charge money for fans to attend, and yet, they are promoted.

What does a producer of a school musical or director of a musical ensemble need to do in order to get a bit of attention for his students? How is it that some schools get an occasional bit of coverage, and most others get ignored? The bigger question is, why is it that high school sports teams and events get automatically covered on a daily basis, and not the Performing Arts? A response from one staff member at a local paper was to contact a certain person (which changes from year to year, production to production) and be persistent in asking for a story. The “squeaky wheel” philosophy is not the solution to this problem.

One might argue that sporting events serve more people’s interests in the community, but I would challenge that the number of students, families, and audience members involved in a musical production is far more than a baseball or softball game or wrestling match. I am not anti-sports, as my daughters were all athletes in school (two played softball at the high school and tournament levels and one was a Nevada state championship swimmer and swam on scholarship at Northwestern University.) I am in no way trying to lessen any attention or enthusiasm for sports coverage in the media. Kudos to all of the outstanding high school athletes who are chosen to receive the full-page photos and stories in the local paper and other media outlets. There is a problem, however, in the extreme inequity of media coverage of sports vs. the performing arts and many other student events and success in local media. It is clearly a flaw in our community, and perhaps our society.

Why is it that sports are given complete attention, while the good work of students who work together as teams to produce a musical production that features singers, actors, dancers, and technical crews do not get the same? There is a Sports section in all newspapers, and it covers national, state, community and schools sports. Yet, the Arts-Entertainment sections of newspapers only feature entertainment news of movies and star-studded actors and entertainers, local rock or punk bands and concerts at bars, stories of professional musicians working shows at local venues, and occasional stories about local community theater. Why is it not just as important to cover the performing arts in the schools, both at the district and university levels? Entertainment value? Community interest? Quality of performance? Ask any patron who did go see “Aida” at Reed High School, or the Madrigal Dinner at McQueen High School, or the orchestra concert or opera at UNR, or any of the many plays, concerts or programs at any of the schools. They will wholeheartedly agree that these events are worthy of media attention.

Wouldn’t it be logical to have a place for local school performing arts events to be featured? Could we see stories about those students who excel in their art, or the marching band winning a contest, or the Jazz band being selected to play as a feature band at a festival? Can the media do more than an occasional story about those one or two chosen high schools that are putting on a musical? Why not have a listing of the productions, concerts and festivals that are happening on a weekly basis, just as the schedule of high school competitions are listed five to six times a week? Why not have a featured musician or actor every week like we do athletes? Who are the WCSD students in the arts that are getting accepted to and awarded scholarships from colleges? Why not a story of those bands and choirs and dramatic teams who compete in festivals all over the country?

Our country is a society that focuses on sports. It seems that many of us have accepted this fact as “the way it is and always will be.” But is the community interest in sports that much more than interest in the arts, or does the media make it a bigger story so that it becomes a bigger story? I would venture to guess that there are actually more students in WCSD involved in the Performing Arts than there are in the athletic teams. There is no need to lessen any attention to athletics, but let’s see some equality in the media coverage.

We will explore Kris’ points in our next blog post.  What do you think?  Any opinions or thoughts on this?  How can media coverage (for better or worse) affect your program?

Photo credit: Hawaii Women’s Conference

Music and the Value it Brings to Education

The-Importance-Of-Music-Education  As some of you may know, and if you’ve read my About Me page, you’ll know that I was originally trained as a music educator.  I’ve always loved singing in choir, but when I was in college, I decided that I wanted to embark on the other side of the music stand.  I changed my major to Music Education and started to take classes in Conducting, Secondary Education, and Vocal Pedagogy.  During my time in these classes, I started to get exposed to the educational side of music and all of the challenges that it comes with.

Ask any music educator, and they will tell you that music is essential to the development of children.  Many studies have been performed around the need for music, the benefits of incorporating them into a curriculum, and how music affects a child’s develop mentally and socially.  There are also a number of different schools of thought on how music benefits (or hinders) our education system.  Here you can read an interesting article on music education and the its benefits.  I, personally, believe (and yes I’m biased) that music education should be considered an essential part of a child’s education and their development.

If you have ever studied music in any form (been in a school band, sang in choir, studied piano or an instrument, music theory, etc.), you can say that music plays an integral part in our culture.  The study of music touches on many subjects outside of simple music theory – historical perspectives on pieces and works, scientific properties of sound and instrument design, mathematical structures of scales and harmonics… not to mention creative elements in expression and composition.  Any music educator can use the context of musical performance, music theory, composition, or musical research to delve into other subjects and stimulate their students’ learning.

As music educators build their programs and fight for budgets, instruments, programs, and students, they need certain things in order to grow their programs, like any other business.  Think of them as their own non-profit organizations.  They need recognition in order to succeed, and the community must support them in turn.  Music programs can help to make a school better, and local news outlets, media programs, and social media groups need to support these music programs.  Advertising, publicity, and fundraising can make or break a music program, and as we’ve discussed here, that program plays a pivotal role in child development, not to mention provides creative outlets for students to express themselves.

Coming up: a guest post from a local music educator on exposure in the media and the need for public support.  Stay tuned!

Photo credit: Recreation x Leisure