ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - January 2001


Surviving in The New Economy: From virtual workplaces to technology overload, this special feature takes an in-depth look at the changing demands of our workplaces and world.

  In This Issue...

Celebrating the Power of People
Tricks of the Trade—Unique Tranining Ideas
Views For A Change
Pageturners: Flawless Consulting Fieldbook

 One From Column B —
I Will Survive

 Peter Block explains why the new economy is just an economy, and why our relationships and our senses promise survival .

  Surviving In The New   Economy:

Working In A Virtual World
Defining The New Economy
Penny Sanchez-Burruss and Barry Johnson Ph,D

The 24/7 Work Invasion
Info, Info, Everywhere!
Brief Cases
Tips: It's About Time and Finding Time


Return to NFC Index

Tricks of the Trade
Unique Ideas for Encouraging Participation and Effective Learning

 How do you create a presentation that will leave your audience begging for more? How do you engage people and create an environment that encourages their learning by participating? How do you make a workshop creative, effective and even fun?
  Peter Grazier of Teambuiliding Inc. and author and publisher of the best-selling book on employee involvement, "Before It's Too Late," shares his tried and true techniques for effective training. His ideas and work in employee involvement have netted rave reviews, capacity crowds and big results. His methods are unique, creative and risky. However, none of these methods work without the true involvement and participation of the learner. Acknowledging that everyone has something to contribute and identifying ways to encourage those contributions is the beginning.

A man stands and addresses the presenter with a skeptical, confrontational look on his face. "I've seen these sorts of ideas proposed hundreds of times before and they never work," he says. "What makes you so sure they're going to work this time?" Immediately, tension in the room thickens. It falls silent. You could hear a pin drop.

  The presenter pauses mid-sentence. He plods slowly over to his briefcase and rummages through its contents, then walks back to the front of the stage with his arms behind his back. He looks the man in the eye. The audience stirs uneasily, wondering how he will respond to the antagonistic question. Will he be defensive? Will he mumble and try to talk his way around the heckler's inquiry?

  Slowly, deliberately, the presenter pulls a small water pistol from behind his back and shoots the offender repeatedly in the chest. The audience gasps, then begins to laugh. Then, lowering his gun and beginning to smile broadly, the presenter addresses his victim. "Now, let me tell you why I think it's going to be different this time..."

  Sounds just like your last presentation, right? Well, maybe it should. Crazy, innovative techniques and a firm belief in teamwork have netted rave reviews, capacity crowds and big results for Peter Grazier, president of Teambuilding, Inc., Chadds Ford, Pa., and creator of "People learn best when they're enjoying it," he insists. When it comes to giving presentations with character, fun and a bit of pizzazz, he could teach us all a thing or two.

  Grazier's characteristic presentation style stems from his work in employee involvement concepts. In 1983, behind schedule and losing money, the Hope Creek nuclear generating station in New Jersey recruited him to help get the project back on schedule. Grazier asked the front-line craftsmen for their input, reasoning that the people who made the company run at its most essential level might have insights that management did not.
"They were real people just like me, and they had hopes, dreams and ideas, and management never asked them for those ideas," he recalls. The strategy paid off. The plant finished on time and on budget in 1985.

  "It was a tremendous success story," Grazier says, "and one that really changed my life. It made me realize that there's a whole lot of potential in human beings that's virtually untapped in the workplace." In the case of the power plant, Grazier realized that ignoring the opinions of the very people who could make or break the project would have been a huge mistake. To improve any undertaking, the people whom it affects should be included. Period.

"People like to be involved," Grazier insists. "If you have an honest belief that people have something to contribute, then it's a no-brainer to involve them because you know that they're going to add to a class to make it better. I could be very arrogant and egotistical and say, 'I'm the expert, I'm the one at the front of the room,' but I know that somebody in that room, if not a bunch of them, are going to contribute something worthwhile." So, involve the people attending your sessions.

  Now for the tricky part: How do you, as a speaker, create a presentation that will leave your audience begging for more?

Put Yourself in the Learner's Place

  According to Grazier, the secret to enjoyable sessions is to look at them from the audience's point of view. "My quest for more effective training techniques was driven by a passion to enhance the learning experience," he says. "I just started doing what I thought I would like. If I were a participant in the session, how would I like to be treated?"
By shifting your perspective from yourself to your audience, you can convey a message without lecturing. Your purpose becomes less about "telling people something" and more about "communicating something to people."

Encourage Involvement

  You want to get the audience's input, because you know that they are as important to the presentation as you are. But how?

  Simply asking for input is not always the best way to get it. "[Getting no response from the audience] happens almost every time you say, 'Are there any questions?' People may have questions, but sometimes they're just going to sit there. A strategy would be [saying], 'Turn to the person sitting next to you and spend a minute talking about what we've spent the last 20 minutes discussing, and see whether the two of you understand it all and, in fact, if you can generate a question.'

  "What happens is the whole room engages and they all start talking. It gets very lively and animated, and sure enough, some of the pairs are going to come up with questions. It's a much more creative way of asking, 'Are there any questions?'"

  Once the ball gets rolling, energy builds as the people in the room move from listening to actively participating. The job of presenter becomes much easier because the session is moving under the direction of the audience, in a direction the audience is excited about. This leads to more retention and a better chance that people will actually apply the concepts at hand. In other words, involvement makes training work.

Take a Chance

  "I think the key to moving your life along is being willing to take some try something different," Grazier says.

  These "different" strategies have helped make his presentations much more effective and memorable, but it took him some time to build up the courage to try them. "Many of the techniques I use today I would never have considered when I began. I just felt they were too outlandish for a professional trainer and consultant. I was wrong. I have since learned that the more I stretch the limits, the more effective and highly-rated my presentations and training sessions are."

Creativity, Creativity, Creativity

  By employing a bit of innovation and being willing to take some risks, you can make your presentations something that your audience will never forget. And since the whole point of conducting a session in the first place is to teach something, creating an enduring impression is essential.

  Grazier's use of squirt guns to break tension and keep the audience on its toes is one such memorable creative risk. Giving people prizes for participation is another; the prizes Grazier likes to use are, of all things, potatoes.

  Less risky but still creative are stories, anecdotes and allegories, all of which have repeatedly been shown to enhance retention. Showing principles in action is often far more effective than simply listing them.

  One of Grazier's most creative techniques is the use of his "nerd outfit." By dressing in a poorly-coordinated ensemble and allowing audience members to react to his appearance, Grazier is able to "trick" people into revealing their prejudices-a powerful way to convey principles that are difficult to explain from a podium. "If you can catch people in their own beliefs," he says, "if you can get them to feel something-then it's a lesson they'll never forget."

Know What Makes People Tick

  An understanding of psychology can help sessions run more smoothly, too. "When people sit for any length of time, energy levels tend to go down quickly," Grazier writes. In order to combat this mental lethargy, he suggests that presenters perform what are known as "pattern interruptions" to ensure that the audience's brains stay stimulated, keeping them more alert and focused.

  Using water guns and encouraging audience participation are effective pattern interruptions, but something as simple as changing your tone of voice, pausing for a few seconds or moving to a different part of the room will serve the same purpose. Other creative pattern interruptions include the use of props, visual aids, music or even magic. The better you understand the audience, the better you will be able to teach to their strengths. "Why do humans do what they do?" Grazier wonders. "That's probably one of my biggest passions."

  There are a lot of tricks out there, but the real key to creating effective and enjoyable presentations is to always remember that the audience is every bit as important to their success as you are. "If you understand and respect people," Grazier maintains, "if you treat people as though they truly are valuable (which they are) and have something to contribute, then that's going to come across in everything you do in your sessions, which will allow you to get away with little things-like squirt guns."

January 2001Homepage

  • Print this page
  • Save this page

Average Rating


Out of 0 Ratings
Rate this item

View comments
Add comments
Comments FAQ

ASQ News