3 Reasons You Should Take the Time to Fix Your PowerPoint Decks

We’ve all been there: a presentation, a training, a sales pitch, something. The presenter sets up the projector and blasts a bare bones presentation (or worse, crazy fonts and no contrast). It looks like this:


You groan, and wonder if anyone would notice if you checked your email on your phone. The style of your PowerPoint matters as much as your content, and here are three reasons why:

1. Engagement:

How much effort does it look like I put into that slide? Not much, right? It looks like I don’t care about this presentation. Whether you are presenting to investors, your board, new staff, the community, or the local rec center, people won’t care if they don’t think you care. Best case, if I present very enthusiastically, they think I am lazy or don’t know how to use computers. Worse case, they tune out (or leave) because they don’t want to waste their time on a slipshod presentation.

2. LeaRning Enhancement:

Why even have a PowerPoint? It’s to give your audience a visual representation of your main points, and thereby help you message sink in better. Does the slide I presented at the top of this page help you know what I am saying? No. Is it memorable? No. Does it draw you in? No. So why even have a PowerPoint?

3. Professionalism:

A well designed PowerPoint shows that you take pride in your work. It shows competency, detail-orientation, and knowledge about presenting. Just like a lawyer doesn’t go to court in sweatpants, you shouldn’t present with a presentation that isn’t professional.

So what could that slide have looked like? See it here, along with some of my other slide designs. Good design makes a big difference.


Using Trainings to Address a Program Need

I’ve said that Training belongs with Programming, and I had a lot of good reasons for that. Perhaps the most important is that trainings aren’t supposed to be static. A strong training program is constantly evolving to better meet the needs of its learners.

Many people think of needing new training when they introduce a new service or process (and they are absolutely right). However, fewer people think about training when they are having a problem with their current service provision. Consider this:

The feedback you are collecting from clients and stakeholders suggests that many of your facilitators are not really using a strengths-based approach. You can:

  1. Have a meeting where you yell at everyone, or let them complain about why its hard
  2. Have a smaller meeting with the leadership team where you try and figure out why this is happening and what to do about it
  3. Have your staff come to a training designed to teach them how to do strengths-based work, while also getting them excited about the possibilities of this approach

I am not saying that you won’t have meetings anymore (sorry). You probably do need to get together with your team and talk about why this is so important (building engagement before the training), and you probably should talk to your leadership team about how your processes and procedures could be modified to support strengths-based work better.

But the most important step is making sure your staff have the skills and believe they are the better way. And for that, you need training.

Training Belongs with Programming

We’ve already covered where training doesn’t belong:  Some agencies put training into HR, which has a lot of negative implications for training quality and staff reception. Others put training on its own. This is better, but still not ideal. Training belongs with the program.

Training Org Chart

Think about it – what do you most want your staff to learn? Sure there are some HR requirements and organizational policies that you must cover, but no one is going to pay much attention to that regardless. What is really critical is teaching your new and ongoing staff the theories and skills their work will be based on. You need to teach them in a way that will change the way they work. This is only possible if:

  • Training staff sit by and work with program staff, hearing their challenges and really understanding their work.
  • Training leadership is part of programming leadership, so that those who will do the work with kids or families and those that will teach them have the same goals and mandates.
  • Program staff view trainers as their peers, and so want to hear what they have to say.

When trainers are embedded with the program(s) they are training, it just works better. Going to staff meetings, getting to know the staff, even doing a little process work are all things that make trainers better at their jobs and better received by their colleagues. In a perfect world, the trainers would all carry a case or two until they really understood what was going on. The best trainers have actual experience doing the thing they are training.

This is more effort, but the payoffs are great:

  • Staff are more engaged with trainings and trust the trainer more, creating better training transfer
  • Trainings are more targeted to the needs of the program, saving time and money
  • Job satisfaction increases across the board

Bottom Line for the Learning Culture: trainings are seen as an important way to improve practice, and staff feel like they have real input into what trainings are offered, what they cover, and how they like to learn. Professional development becomes a real possibility instead of a buzz word. In short, the promises of good training become possible.

Training Coordinators and Instructional Designers are Different

Over the course of my career, I have met a lot of frustrated training coordinators. They love training. They like coordinating for guest trainers. They enjoy getting the best information out to their staff or volunteers, and seeing their programs improve as a result.

So why are they frustrated? Somewhere along the line, some people started to think that a training coordinator and an instructional designer were the same thing.

People who went into training to run trainings and facilitate learning are being asked to create those trainings first. This is a totally separate skill set. It requires, among other things:

instructional design skills

This is frustrating at several levels. First, they struggle through a sea of information to create a training, usually with little to no help (or help with the subject matter, but no help with creating the training itself). Creating a new training takes a lot of work, and it takes ten times longer if you don’t know what you are doing.

Second, the training they created is difficult to run, because they don’t have the background they need to create real information flow with activities at the appropriate intervals. This makes the training less engaging for learners, and less fulfilling for the trainer.

Finally, the training doesn’t create any real change in the way services are provided (because it wasn’t designed to take advantage of the learning cycle and maximize transfer). This last point is the worst, because it means that all of that struggling was for nothing. Worse still, every time this cycle happens, it reinforces the idea that training is a waste of time in the minds of your staff or volunteers.

In the end, these trainings rarely do what they are supposed to do. This process repeats itself every time a new training coordinator is hired and asked to remake the same courses. A significant amount of time, money, and effort is wasted, and very little is gained.

So what can an agency do? The most obvious solution is to hire a training coordinator to coordinate and/or give trainings, and an instructional designer to create trainings. However, instructional designers are expensive to have on staff, and most agencies don’t need a full or even part time instructional designer. They just need a few new trainings a year.

If you only need a few new trainings a year, but you want them to make a real difference in the outcomes your program produces, you can contract someone to make those trainings for you as you need them. I am an instructional design expert who has year of experience working with non-profits and social service agencies. I would love to talk to you about what I could do for your program.

Successful Trainings Start with Engagement

Staff and volunteers who aren’t engaged with new processes and procedures will do exactly as much of the new stuff as they have to in order to avoid trouble. I’ve seen it again and again:

We created beautiful, adult learning principle informed trainings – but they aren’t working! Our staff members aren’t changing the way they think.

Of course they aren’t. Imagine that you have been successfully doing something a certain way for a long time. One day, someone comes along and tells you to do it completely differently. They show you the new way, and then leave. Do you struggle with the new way, or use your tried and true method that is easy and comfortable?

The only reason you might answer “the new way” is if you see some advantage to it. Your staff and volunteers feel the same way. Why should they change if the new way isn’t demonstrably better?

Last week, we covered how and why to do informal learner engagement before training even starts. However, the engagement building that happens during training is more immediate and all of your learners are present. This is a critical step that too many people miss.

What does engagement building at the beginning of a training mean? Simply put, it means showing staff why it is in everyone’s best interests to make the switch, and doing this in a way that gets them excited to try.

What does that look like? It changes from context to context, but there are some basic steps:

  1. Establish your (positive) feelings on the matter
  2. Explain the advantages
  3. Share success stories
  4. Share how this will improve outcomes
  5. Answer questions

First, tell the class that you are personally very excited for this change, and tell them why. Be specific and realistic. What makes you think the new way will be better? What problems does it solve.

Second, go in depth about how the new way will make things easier/better at various levels:


Third, give them examples of research or anecdotes from other agencies who have made the change and been more successful because of it. Show them that someone, somewhere has made this work.

Fourth, stress how much of an impact this can have on outcomes for your clients. Our staff and volunteers get into this work because they want to help people. Often, their reluctance to change is partially rooted in their uncertainty that the new way will work (or will work for them). Address this head on.

Fifth, give the class a chance to ask questions before you move on to the skills building portion of the class.  A learner preoccupied with concerns is not really paying attention to you. However, do be careful not to let this spiral into an airing of grievances – this is not the place.

I start every training I do with some form of engagement building. Engaged staff learn and make real changes in their practice. Disengaged staff don’t. It’s that simple.

Creating Engagement Before Training Starts

Creating trainings that create training transfer is always challenging. If your learners are working against you, it’s impossible. I hear you saying “my learners would never work against me -they love me!”  I’m sure they do, but have you ever heard any of your staff or volunteers say anything like the following:

I can’t wait until this training is over so I can go back to my unit and learn what we really have to do.

This is a waste of time – I am already really good at my job.

This trainer/supervisor/coach/administrator doesn’t understand how we really do our work.

That would never work with a real family/child.

My time is already full – I don’t have time to do this, too.

That is what I mean by working against you. Adult learners are almost incapable of learning things in which they don’t see value or utility.  One common (but sub-optimal) approach to overcoming this problem is to make your new process supervisor-able. This is fine if you are introducing a new filing system or something similar.

Learn how to use this new Electronic Records System because you are now required to and your supervisor will be checking compliance regularly.

However, it often comes across as a burden, and creates extra work for everyone. This can create resistance at all levels. Moreover, this approach doesn’t work at all with less tangible goals.

You must be strengths-based at all times with families, and your supervisor will ask you if you are during check ins.

See the problem? Supervision and coaching should be part of the mechanism to institute changes, but not the motivation.

Think how much better the whole experience would be if your learners were excited about what you could teach them. They would listen closer, ask better questions, make stronger connections, and be much more likely to actually make changes in their behavior going forward. Clearly, strong trainings that create training transfer have to start with engaging the learners.

You have to create excitement about the new way or tool your training will cover before you can seriously train your staff or volunteers.

Part of this work should happen before the training itself. Supervisors, senior staff, leadership, everyone who was involved in choosing to make the change should share why. What does the new way offer that the old way didn’t? Does it:

  • Improve outcomes for families?
  • Create less work for staff?
  • Create stronger plans?
  • Open up new funding opportunities?
  • Make some existing problem or gap go away?

Articulate those reasons widely and often. Have formal and informal conversations about the benefits of the change you are making. Use a mix of reasons: good for the clients you serve, good for the agency, and good for the individual staff member. This mix appeals to staff at a variety of levels.

Make sure to highlight how this will help them be better at their jobs, and any personal benefits for them. These things are the most powerful when work has run late and you just want to go home, but you have to finish something up first. In that moment, only true engagement will keep them on the new path.

Properly preparing your learners before class ever starts can dramatically improve your learners’ ability to learn what you are teaching. However, that only sets the stage for how your training begins. If you don’t capitalize on their enthusiasm at the beginning, it won’t carry over into the training itself.

Moreover – despite your best efforts – some people will be missed by these pre-training engagement efforts. Other groups are hard to reach before training starts in general (like new staff or volunteers). The inevitable missing of some learners makes your beginning of training engagement pitch even more critical. My next post will cover how you create this pitch.

How Does Prior Knowledge Impact Training Transfer?

Training transfer would be relatively straight forward if all of your employees started as blank slates. You don’t hire for lack of experience, so this almost never happens. Actually, given the variety of human experiences possible, even a staff of totally inexperienced and uneducated people would still have the same problem (plus a lot of other problems). So how do you implement a specific program with staff of widely varying backgrounds?

Let’s say you are starting a new strengths-based, family preservation program, and you have three new employees:

Anne is brand new to the workforce. She has a lot of theoretical work fresh in her mind from school, but she has no experience to fall back on when things don’t work the way she thinks they will. She believes passionately in people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and sees addiction and failure as moral issues.

Susan has been doing traditional case management for a decade. She knows about all the resources available, and what kinds of families do well with each. She is used to planning for families, and has the personality to make most of them fall in line. She sees disagreements as non-compliance, and writes off non-compliant families quickly.

Adam was a youth pastor until last year. He has a compassionate heart and wants to give endless second chances. He sees Jesus as the only true way for families to heal and grow. He shares his faith freely and at every opportunity.

All three staff member have strengths and weaknesses, and all three have their own styles. However, you aren’t running any of the programs they are prepared for – you are trying to implement a specific evidence based practice that you know will help the families in your community.

How do you get them all to do the work according to the principles and values of your program? They have to make the change all of the time – not just when you are there watching them, but when they are on their own, the work is getting tough, and they feel pressed for time. Under those circumstances, it is human nature to fall back on what we know best. But that actively undermines your program goals and outcomes.

In addition to the basics of the process you want all three staff members to follow, you need to teach Anne how to work with real families, and to do so without writing them off for being different than her. You need to teach Susan how to plan with families instead of for them, and to understand that her goals are not necessarily theirs. Finally, you need to teach Adam how to separate his personal beliefs from his work.

The answer is training. But not just any training. We are only interested in the kinds of training that produce training transfer. Training transfer happens when the new things taught in training actually change the way people do their work.

You need a training program that builds on what they already know, while making it clear that they are learning something new. What you are teaching them might share a lot in common with case management, but it isn’t that. It might require a lot of faith, but it isn’t a missionary role.

You also need to get them so excited about the differences this new thing they are learning can make in the lives of the families that they work with that they stick to it even when it gets tough.

And you need to do all of this in classes with 10, 20, or even more other staff members, all who have their own strengths and weaknesses. How do you create a program that takes such a varied group of people to the same conclusions?

This is a tall order, but it is well within the scope of a carefully crafted, skills based training program. The first step is to engage your staff or volunteers with the process they will be learning. I’ll start there next time.