Transforming real to virtual

The zoomchange

When we set about changing our classroom training courses into on-line versions, we assumed it would be relatively straightforward – that it would be simply a matter of re-packaging the material to be presented on-line.

However, our experience over recent months suggests that it is much more of a transformation, but one which does draw upon very similar design and delivery principles.

A recent experience

We (working with Amanda MacAuley of Influence and Persuade) recently ran some on-line (Zoom based) training on the subject of “Presentations” for a group of MA students from a London university. They were “young”, bright, and diverse. The participants were from 9 different countries and 8 different mother tongues.

Our approach is to avoid limiting our training to “how to present well”. The art of good presentation, oratory, speeches, lies in meticulous design. It is about understanding how to design and structure what you are going to say to have the impact that you intend.

Surprisingly, the theory of communication and the tools available do not change. The three styles of rhetoric drawn from the Classics have just as much relevance today – you need to choose the style (or combination) that is appropriate to what you are trying to achieve: detailed understanding, emotional response, or persuasion to future action.

And, given how important the creation of long-term memory is to affect future behaviour, we spent some time on understanding how the brain works in the creation of memory. It does not matter what culture or language we are talking about, the process of the creation of memory to induce action is always the same. – and there are many points of failure. That is why we teach the Kipper® method for the design of presentations, meetings, and workshops. And we use the Kipper® to design virtual training sessions.

Differences

So, where are the differences? You will be aware that virtual environments like Zoom and Microsoft Teams do not provide the same experience as a real meeting or classroom. One of the aspects that I find particularly difficult is the inability to read gestures and expressions. You can scan a real audience very quickly and accurately – and because participants can see when you are looking at them, they immediately react with facial and body language signals. This is not possible in a virtual environment with many participants. As well as interactions being much harder, so also is the setting up of exercises and practical sessions. Individual follow-on tutorials are one of the best ways to ensure consolidation of learning.

Similarities

Let us return to similarities. We have found that all the things you would choose to build into a traditional classroom training course need to be adopted in virtual sessions – it is just that the means of achievement changes. A few examples:

  • To be effective and “click” with your participants, you need to know as much as possible about them so that your examples are relevant to them and your participants can make memory connections.
  • You need to build in frequent breaks – because concentrating on a Zoom session is hard and draining. 3-5 minutes break at the half hour point is a good aim. You should keep the maximum length of a session to 1 hour.
  • Give participants the right to disable video for periods to give them a rest from continuous gaze.
  • Encourage participants to use the chat facility if anything is unclear or an unfamiliar term used.
  • Build in interactive sessions – we find that Mentimeter is a very good tool for enabling interactions and for testing understanding through mini-quizzes and surveys. There are other more sophisticated services which can embrace tools like Mentimeter. CoCreate is an example.
  • Where English is not the first language of participants, you might wish to increase the word content of slides used – but always segue to the new slide by giving the idea beforehand and telling them what they are going to see.
  • Ensure you provide a clear Introduction to the session. Those familiar with the Kipper® tool for designing presentations will recognise this as the “Head” of the Kipper®.
  • Ensure participants understand the objectives and structure of the session – so that at any point, they know where they are and where they are going.

Conclusion

You need to put a lot of time and effort into preparing and designing a virtual session and then in technical and “dress” rehearsals. We have reckoned that for every hour of virtual training some 25-30 hours will be required in prep and design even if the core material was already available from previous classroom-based courses. It really is not as simple as taking PowerPoint supported training sessions and running them through Zoom. And please do not ditch things you would naturally do in a real environment just because they are hard – find ways to replicate or substitute for them.

Golden Circle

Why?

It is not uncommon for insights drawn from one domain to be startlingly relevant to another. Indeed human creativity can be seen to be geared to making connections between otherwise independent and unconnected ideas. It is what we do in our working memory. So I thought to share with you some connections between Simon Sinek’s insights and the subject of this blog – presentation design and delivery. They might just affect the way you tackle your next presentation.

The Golden Circle

A participant on one of my training courses commented about having been inspired by Simon Sinek’s TED video on what he calls the Golden Circle. Co-incidentally I had downloaded this video a few weeks previously because it resonated so much with my work in the field of leadership and communication. The result was that there were many parallels drawn and references made throughout the course to the subject of the TED (the “Why” question).

I do recommend a viewing of his talk. It is inspiring and its simplicity speaks to us all. One of his mantras is that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. He argues that companies and people who understand and communicate in this way tend to be the successful ones.

Observation

It does seem that many companies are almost exclusively focused on the “what we do” rather than “why we do it” and having spent many years in the Consultancy and IT Services sector it is clear to me that this has led to the rather dull sameness of many companies in this sector when viewed from the outside. They espouse (or say they do) much the same values, have tag-lines which are almost identical and use methods and approaches which are pretty much indistinguishable. You see the result in company brochures, fliers, credential statements and written proposals.

This is not to say that, within companies, smaller groups with more visionary leaders do not exist. They do. But I would suggest that often their pursuit of the “why” question is not understood or even tolerated by managers who have been groomed in the “what” and “how” world, so may not always survive the corporate mill. I have though also seen some very successful and highly motivated teams inside companies – and the distinguishing feature is their sense of purpose (“why”).

As an aside, the public sector is, I believe, much more in tune with the “why we do it” way of thinking. I would suggest that there can be, as a result, something of a tension when functions and responsibilities are moved from the public to the private sector, and the “why” element becomes obscured and effectively replaced by the “what and how”.

I remember a senior executive in the Rail industry saying to me that you could create a contract for anything and that therefore any service could be delivered under a contract. I disagreed with him then, and I would still. Contracts are great for “what” and “how”. But even the much vaunted “outcome based” contracts cannot really deal with “why”.

Relevance to message design

In relating the Golden Circle thinking to message design and presentations, there are many intersections. I mention a few here.

Why am I giving it?

The first question to ask before designing a presentation is to ask the question “Why am I giving it?” Many people asked this might offer “to share knowledge or information”. But it rarely is just that. In the vast majority of cases, when you really think it through, the purpose of a presentation is to affect the future actions of an audience. Otherwise, what is the point?

That future behaviour or action is where your presentation must lead, so it is the starting point in design of your message. Presentations of this sort are fundamentally about persuasion. People are persuaded (and make decisions) on an emotional rather than rational basis. As Simon Sinek points out, decisions are made in the limbic part of the brain.

Why should they listen?

In a business setting, turn your ideas into the form where your audience is, as far as possible, the subject of discourse, not yourself or your company. People like to be talked about; they like their issues to be discussed. They do not like to have to endure generic descriptions of methodologies or technical specifications, unless they have specifically asked for that. See my previous posting on “Forensic delivery”.

An audience will be encouraged (or not) to listen and be attentive within the first few seconds of your presentation. So make sure you have a good “Eye” – and make it about them!

Why is it true?

Assertions do not convince on their own; evidence and examples in presentations are about answering the “Why?” questions. Indeed those of you acquainted with the “Kipper” structure for design of presentations created by Willie Macnair of the Rhetorical Company will know that the left hand side of the “middle” is concerned with points, propositions and ideas. They create (or should) in the audience’s minds one of two responses: “Why is that then?” or “OK, but now prove it….” And that is what the right hand side does with evidence and examples.

Why should they care?

If you are going to engage emotionally with your audience, make it about them. The only really important people are the audience. The presenter is there only for them. As Simon Sinek says about Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, the crowd turning up were not doing it for him – they were doing it for themselves.

Thank you, Simon.

First Post

Well – I have finally succumbed to the blog! I and my company run coaching and training programmes about communication – especially the spoken word – and many of those attending my courses have suggested to me that I should do a blog.So, here goes.

My purpose is to remind people about how communication operates between human beings. New insights from reading and making connections, reinforcements from training courses, and new challenges to old assumptions will be the stuff of this blog.

I thought I would start with my 3 big bug-bears – common misapprehensions – which come up frequently in the corporate world.

Firstly – good speakers (presenters) are those who entertain. Not true! Particularly in the world of business, the primary purpose of a presentation is to affect the future actions of one’s audience. So, your message needs to be memorable and this is the test of a good speaker. If you believe it is about making people laugh, then become a comedian.

Secondly – often assumed by sales people – the first part of a sales pitch must be about your company – its services or products. No. All my experience (on both sides of the sales pitch) tells me that the most effective way of really turning off your audience is to talk about yourself or your company. “Make it about them” is a much more helpful mantra.

Thirdly – presentations are just about story telling. Not “just”. Although story telling can be a compelling part of a presentation  it is not enough. The purpose and the power of a story is to evidence a specific idea. But the ideas must be landed along with structure and signposting to help the audience create memory. Otherwise all that the audience will take away is the story, not the point in telling it.

Get in touch or reply if you find this blog of interest.