Real Life Learning

Category: Communication Skills (page 2 of 2)

Learning Technologies – Using Photographs to Enhance Learning

One of the requests I hate to get from events is “can you type up the flipcharts?” This request means that I have to carry lots of paper with me and then balance it on my desk as I try to type it into some kind of coherent order.  With the aid of Google’s excellent free on line photo album, Picasa (www.picasa.google.co.uk) I no longer need to do this.

 As I facilitate a group I take photographs as we go along of any “outputs” This could include activities involving sticky notes, it could be group activities where each group has written their own flipchart and it could be flipcharts I have written in response to suggestions from the group.

 When I get back to my office I upload the photographs into Picasa on my computer and I can crop the photographs to eliminate bits of door, window which are unlikely to enhance the learning. I then upload the photographs to the web albums and create a private album for that group. I can put captions and messages with the pictures so that they give more explanation if needed. I can put the photographs in an order which helps make sense of the learning.

 I can then send a link to the album in a follow up email to the participants. If individuals want to use the outputs in a report they can either insert the photographs or they can use the photographs to make their own transcript of the event. Only the recipients of the link can view the photographs and I do stressed this when checking at the beginning if they are ok if I take photographs.

 One of the additional benefits to keeping on line albums for each group is for my own professional development. I was reviewing some of my albums last week and I could see themes emerging in the way I was working with groups, over the last 2 years my outputs have become more visually orientated.

 I presented a conference last year and it was sponsored by 3M. This introduced me to the world of the Large Post It note, some of the ones I was given were A6 size. http://solutions.3m.co.uk/wps/portal/3M/en_GB/Post-Its/Post-It/Products/LargePostIt/

They are in amazing vibrant colours and really do stick to the walls. I think having these in my tool kit has opened up some different approaches to team facilitation than the old style “brain dump” onto Post It Notes.

 I have also been using image cards from St.Lukes Resources http://www.innovativeresources.org/ which are beautiful and enable groups to explore visual metaphors. It is fascinating to see this change in my portfolio so I recognise that the Picasa albums are part of my Continuing Professional Development log as well as being a great way of helping groups to keep a visual record and from enabling me to politely say “no I don’t type up flipcharts but I do provide a visual record”.

  www.bellthompson.co.uk to see some of my albums

Learning Technology – Google Groups and Learning Groups

In the past if I was working with a group and they wanted to stay in touch after the programme we would exchange email addresses but beyond this is was  little random. It was the same with longer programmes where there was often no real contact between participants in between the sessions. I have found Google Groups to be an easy way to help create a community of learners.

With Google Groups you can set the group up so that it is a private group and invite the participants to join. Your role is of a moderator for the group which often means encouraging contributions. Individuals will often want to stay in touch or communicate between sessions but forget to do so, reminders from the moderator can help with this.

 The Group format enables participants to share files and to post updates on their progress. This works really well for action learning groups. As a moderator you can watch the progress of the group and see what materials they engage with after the programme. You can also post up new material to share with the group.

 If the group has been set up to support a longer running programme it is a way of checking on progress before the session and it prompts individuals to prepare for the session.

 To set up a Google Group you will need to have a Google “sign in”. This doesn’t mean that you have to sign up to Google mail, you can just use a normal email address and a password. You can opt to be emailed every time someone adds to the group which is helpful if you are moderating a group so that you can respond quickly if there is a problem.

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Learning Technologist: All about Webinars

Today I have been learning about Webinars with the team at Reach Further (http://reachfurther.com). The demonstration was set up on DimDim (http://www.dimdim.com/ )which provides a free webinar facility. The limitations are that only 1 person (the speaker) can be seen by video and only 4 people can speak, so the microphone has to be passed around different people and this felt a bit awkward. The session was really useful because the only content was about the technology which meant we could explore different aspects of the software to see how it could be applied.

 I can easily see how I could use the technology to support learning; it would be particularly useful for a briefing before a programme so that I could easily give participants some information about the programme, answer their questions and agree expectations in advance. It would save on travel for these types of very short events. It would also be good for collaborative project work. An example was also given about how it was used to deliver a pitch when snow prevented the team attending the actual venue.

 The benefit over the traditional telephone conference is the whiteboard element which means you can explore a document together or add comments. You can also upload presentations and handouts to the site so that everyone can see them together and can comment either via the voice chat or the typed chat board.

 One of the challenges of the webinar over face to face will always be the perception of the format as something inferior. People are comfortable with the idea that you travel to a venue and attend a meeting with a group of people in a room. The value of this type of meeting is often in the informal news exchange and discussions which take place before or after the meeting. In comparison the webinar type meeting can feel much more restricted with a pure business focus. The unfamiliarity of the webinar and the emergent nature of the technology means that it can feel awkward and some of the topic learning will be lost as participants get used to the technology interface and are therefore distracted by the different elements of the technology. It made me realise that before offering this type of facility for content delivery I need to offer a short overview of the technology so that participants could have a go and play with the technology before the distraction of the actual content.

 There are free webinars advertised all over the internet, so one of my learning activities will be to sign up to various free events to see how others are using the technology. It would be great to hear about examples of good practice. It would be also good to get experiences of people who have participated in webinars. At the weekend I mentioned it to some friends and it got a massive “groan” reaction. They worked for public sector organisations in the UK where the webinar was being used in a way that sounded like a “Boreinar”. I guess that comes back to a common problem with standard presentations, just changing to a web based method doesn’t make the average presentation anymore exciting or interactive.

 With the credit crunch and the growing green agenda there is a pressing need to reduce the amount of business travel and Webinars might help towards this if they are used in a strategic and well thought out manner. If we simply try and reproduce the current “training” sessions and business meetings into a webinar format then it is not going to be something that people will willingly engage with and this is the learning technologist’s challenge.

I would really welcome any of your thoughts and experiences about using webinars in your industry.

Christine Bellthompson

Learning Technologist – Finding TED

I discovered TED about 2 years ago and it is an amazing source for people who want to learn about leadership. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and is an invite only event where some of the world’s most influential people give talks on a variety of themes.

The first level I use TED for is to recommend particular topics to individuals who are exploring different leadership skills. A current example is the talk by John Wooden talking about coaching. He is reflecting on a life time of coaching in the sports environment and there are some great insights which could be relevant to a manager wanting to be a more effective coach.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/498

The second level is to look at a variety of speakers on TED and identify what they do to make their presentations effective and how they influence the audience. What techniques do they use? How do they seek to influence their peers to their viewpoint at the conference. An example is the talk by Captain Charles Moore about the impact of waste on the oceans. He is not the most entertaining of speakers but he has some great examples of how he has influenced people to think about the impact of waste on oceans.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/470

The talks on TED are about 20 minutes so it is realistic for individuals to make the time to watch one, reflect on it and then report back in the next learning session about their insights.

The third way to use the TED site is to browse through the site and see the themes which are emerging as core issues for our times, this can be a helpful way of identifying current and maybe future trends. I use this when working with leadership teams on innovation and creativity, just asking them to click and browse and report back findings can be the basis of a really interesting session.

Being a Learning Technologist

As increasing amounts of content are available on line the role of the traditional chalk and talk trainer needs to be questioned. Is the new role more about facilitating learning through the use of technology?
I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of the traditional trainer who stands with a set of prepared materials and “trains” people. During my career I have had to do this type of work and often I was conscious that I knew only a tiny bit more about the topic than the slides and handouts contained but could be safe in the knowledge at the participants in the group would know little more than me. I heard a story yesterday about a trainer who was given some materials to deliver the night before the training session and was about 3 slides ahead of the group. This seems to reduce the role of the trainer to someone who can read slides in an animated way and ask a few open ended questions to stimulate debate. In hotels and training centres around the country this type of training is still going on.

When I am working with a group of people I like to focus on using the time to discuss and debate the issues. This may be around some core content materials but I think we can do more than just provide a package of set reading materials. I am starting to establish a new role for myself as a learning technologist. I facilitate people to find the information that they need by introducing them to useful sites, exploring podcasts, setting up groups and using forum boards to explore challenges that they are facing. The group of people I am working with suddenly expands to incorporate input not just from me and the people in the group but from people all over the world.

I am going to focus over the next few weeks on sharing some of these sites which I think offer valuable content for learning about a variety of topics and would welcome suggestions from others about sites which I could feature in the future.

 

 

Ditch the Pitch

 

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here has been a growth in requirements to formally tender for work, particularly in the public sector. This is usually through the format of a written document, followed by a request for a select few to attend a presentation. The presentation requirement can be set out as a “20 minutes presentation on your proposals followed by 15 minutes of questions from the panel”.  The presentation will often be refer to as a pitch and can be regarded as an opportunity to sell to the client. Unless the tender is about presentation skills it is unlikely that the client wants to assess the suppliers’ abilities at PowerPoint and therefore the word “presentation” can be a trap for the unwary. 
Purchasers don’t want to listen to glory stories or watch amazing slide transitions, they want to assess if the suppliers are the right people to work with their organisation and there is a short period of time to make this assessment.  

 

 Each organisation is unique and although it is very tempting to assess a situation and make links to similar projects with others clients, this route can lead into the dangerous territory of assumption making. Reading their website, talking to people who know the organisation and searching for articles which reference the organisation will all help to build up an understanding of the organisation and their culture. An observation made by a purchaser from a global sports retailing organisation focused on the critical importance of service providers assessing the culture of the organisation and ensuring that it is actually a good fit with their own business objectives and style.

If there is a perceived mismatch between the cultures then it is better to acknowledge this than pursue a pitch which, if won, will cause a problem for the supplier organisation in the long term.

 One of the potentially fatal errors that suppliers can make is to just talk at the purchaser. One procurement panel member gave an example of two organisations who were invited to attend a pitch. The first organisation did exactly what was expected: they pitched at the panel, giving them examples of their work, talking about their abilities and reiterating all the points they made in the written documentation. The second organisation took a different approach; they started by asking the panel what they wanted to know more about from the written documentation. They entered into a dialogue with the panel and gave the panel the opportunity to pick out the issues which really concerned them. It was this more flexible approach which helped to secure the organisation the contract. Tony Barr, VP for Marketing and Business Development with BEUMER Corporation and founder of BrandReasonality (a brand innovation and growth strategy consultancy), makes a similar point when he comments that “when I feel I am being pitched to I tune out pretty quickly”. The supplier needs to demonstrate that they have an ability to listen to the concerns of the client and to respond appropriately. Tony Barr  also observes that when an organisation wants to engage a supplier it is for their specialist skills and insights and these insights can only come

“through careful, deliberate discovery driven by purposeful questioning and determined listening”.

However this approach also requires that purchasers are flexible too. During the research examples were provided of situations where the supplier wanted to have a dialogue approach but the purchaser insisted that they just made a formal presentation to them, with no opportunity for discussion.

The majority of the time allocated for the pitch should be given over to finding out more about the issues the organisation are facing and providing relevant responses to the concerns which they seem to have. The pitch is an opportunity for both organisations to reach a mutual understanding of each other so that both can assess if a good working relationship will result from the project. Developing a dialogue changes the power dynamic into a more equal relationship between an organisation with a problem and a supplier who might be able to provide a solution, both parties can each reach a mutual agreement about their suitability.

 The procurement process has a desire for equality at its heart and therefore will seek to ensure that each organisation has an equal chance in the process. This means that timescales can be very strictly adhered too. An example of the application of this process in practice was provided by Steve Goodwill, Director of Goodwill Training, from an early experience of a formal tender process. Steve’s colleague presented first and was picking up very positive reaction and became enthused and as a consequence slightly overran on the time, when she handed over the presentation continued to go well with a good reaction from the panel. “However suddenly one of them asked me to stop, announced our allocated time was up and we were virtually thrown out of the room”. The feedback given was that the tender had not been won by the team because they had not managed their time. As Steve comments “it could be argued that they were pedantic and inflexible, but it is a lesson to be remembered!”

 Often clients have some flexibility with their timing but they will appreciate awareness from the supplier of the constraints on time. A recommended strategy was to set a discreet alarm to go off 5 minutes before the allocated time is over so that there is enough time to summarise and answer any final concerns before leaving.

 One of the most consistent comments from both providers and purchasers was the importance of honesty. “Being accurate in your detail, transparent and honest will secure credibility of your proposals” observes Andrew Hobman from Capstone HR.

Clients don’t want snake oil salespeople who try to manipulate and persuade by their clever use of smoke and mirrors. They want to find the organisation that will be able to do a good job for them for the right price.

As a purchaser from the regeneration sector commented “we want to know what we can expect to get for our money”. So the pitch is the time to be honest about what can be done do instead of an opportunity to for the supplier to hype their abilities and imply that they are able to do anything that the purchaser wants them to do. Eric Edie from e.Edies elaborates on this further, “way too many consultants go in overselling, adding too much or saying that they are an expert in areas that they are not, just to get the work. Most companies find it refreshing to hear plain old honesty. This will make you stick out in the crowd”

 The importance of honesty was also stressed by a number of respondents when handling questions. The temptation for a supplier to make up an immediate response to a question is very high. However the purchasers are adept at spotting an answer that is not coherent and it would be far better for the supplier to be honest and to say that they don’t know and then to promise to find out the answer and get back to them. This builds a good relationship of trust and integrity.

 Serious questions need to be asked about the appropriateness of Powerpoint Presentation to a dialogue based presentation. The problem with Powerpoint, Gabriella Hauser from Validus Engineering observes, is that you can “become a slave to a well rehearsed sales pitch”  and to follow the familiar route through the slides instead of responding in a flexible manner to the questions and comments that the client is giving.

Having a Powerpoint presentation pushes you into a position of being a monologue situation instead of dialogue and makes it much more difficult to change tack to meet the emerging concerns.

 Another trap for the unwary is when the supplier already knows some of the panel, perhaps when they are re-tendering for work. Observations from clients indicate that sometimes the supplier adopts a more informal approach and this can come across as unprofessional and inappropriate.

Suppliers can sometimes be fooled by an informal company culture, just because the panel are wearing jeans and trainers doesn’t mean that they adopt a casual approach to figures and margins. They still expect their suppliers to treat their issues with serious intent.

 Pitching is an expensive business and in these challenging times for business strategic choices need to be made about whether to invest the considerable time that doing a pitch really well will demand. Rory Sutherland, President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising questions whether some of this effort is worthwhile and whether instead of chasing every pitch it would be more effective to be more selective and to put the rest of your time into “making your existing clients happier and more valuable to you” ([1])

 For both suppliers and purchasers the tendering process could be enhanced by focusing more on a mutual exploration of the issues and the ideas. The construction of a dialogue process instead of a formal presentational format would greatly assist both parties to reach this shared understanding and increase the likelihood of the most appropriate solution being selected.

 

References

 Rory Sutherland Interview,Guardian Media, 16.02.09

 


 

 

ãbellthompson 2009

 

 

 

 

 

Clients buy consultants time to help them to address problems. It is really important that the supplier is clear what the problem is from the client perspective. In some situations this can be easily achieved with a phone call to clarify the brief with the client.  However some procurement processes forbid contact with the direct client and suppliers will have to comb through the procurement documents to ensure that the requirements have been fully understood. One obvious point, which is often neglected, is highlighted by Andre Keyter, Executive Manager at Key Business Solutions, who observes that suppliers need to “make sure that you understand the problem that you intend your product or service to address and that the solution is in fact a solution”.

 The procurement scene is littered with examples of where the client doesn’t know what the problem really is and where the wrong solution has been consequently been purchased. Suppliers have a responsibility to contribute towards a better understanding of the problem, even if this may be at a cost to their own business in the short term, it will avoid a mismatch of needs and the negative impact that this has on the supplier’s reputation.

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