Push less dirt, Lift more rocks

Two years ago, my family bought land north of the city. Laboring with hand tools quickly proved futile, so we acquired a tractor. The tractor’s job is to push dirt around to flatten the land for a future orchard. The challenge is that the dirt is filled with large rocks, glacial erratic boulders to be precise, so it is hard to push that dirt around. You come at a mound from the side, and it takes repeated back and forth shoving and dragging to make any headway. 

It would be a lot easier if we could grab the boulders from the above and pull them up and out of the dirt.

Lift up ideas to give people perspective

The image of putting the throttle to “rabbit mode” and ramming at mother earth with an iron claw came to mind as I was explaining instructional design. Rather than pushing through information from start to finish, it would be a lot more effective to come down from above and lift the meaningful parts up and into daylight. Give people the chance to see the whole picture from the start. That way they know what they might find as they dig deeper into what you have to offer.

What does this look like?

  1. When starting to plan a presentation or instructional design project, use a large scroll of paper to avoid the arbitrary hierarchy that can develop when writing a list on regular paper. Use the full lateral space to keep track of ideas and categorize them into buckets only after you have completed your research. See an example below.
  2. When presenting, consider language that explains the buckets up front. Here’s an example.
  3. Create graphics that show the buckets very clearly. See examples below.

Pushing dirt is really hard work. Covering vast information is taxing to the presenter and the person trying to make sense of it all. Here’s to working less and being more fruitful in the process.


Example of a collection of ideas related to starting a nonprofit
My information collector for the Starting a Nonprofit Toolkit. Here’s how it turned out: Guide and interactive tool.

Five Years Later: Lessons from FUN

Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits (FUN) launched five years ago this week at the Washington State Nonprofit Conference. We shared the five buckets of basic nonprofit knowledge every board members should know: how to read a Balance sheet and Income statement, the IRS Form 990, Giving, and Oversight. The buckets spell BINGO, and yes—we played.

FUN was the first toolkit created in what became a series: Boards in Gear, Let’s Go Legal, Strategic Planning in Nonprofits, etc. (They are all here.) It set the structure that we continue to follow. The architecture of FUN proved to be successful. In short, we put the content expert onto a short video that can be used in the three places people learn, alone, in peer groups, and in classrooms. We supplemented with downloadable resources. FUN became the curriculum used in a state contract all over Washington.

FUN has become one of my favorite traveling companions as I deliver the training in communities large and small. What have I learned from my loyal friend, FUN?

Erin Welch (Jacobson Jarvis PLLC and Andrew Welch (Improv Mindset). I spend a lot more time with Erin and Andrew than they spend with me!

“Going to scale” forces new solutions. We based FUN on an in-person training delivered in Seattle several times a year. At the time, a leader in our community implored me to address financial concerns plaguing nonprofits: many were losing their IRS status for failing to file, and fraud was nipping away the resources our nonprofits needed to thrive. “Run a training,” I was told. There are more than 50,000 nonprofits in Washington, thus roughly 500,000 board members who need to be trained. Where should I put that training? How will training the 50 or so people who come have any impact? The result was a blended learning solution that puts the CPA on video, thus not necessarily in every training room or living room where someone is learning from FUN. 

Play in the sandbox of emotion in design and delivery. At the time we created FUN, another organization offered a finance workshop with marketing language that referenced dental surgery, something like: “Do you think finance is as fun as getting a root canal? Its painful but important.” I was the only person to sign up. We took the predominant emotion many people feel with finance— fear— and both honored it and flipped it into comfort and joy. An improv actor joined the CPA on film, introducing both laughter and simplified explanations into the story. The BINGO introduced a framework everyone knows. Since storytelling is inate to us humans, we practice income statement reading with my favorite activity ever, a “Once upon a time” storytelling exercise.

Communications is a key part of curriculum design. Early on in the development of FUN, our communications partner drew a clothesline with rectangles hanging off of it. Our job was to take all of the content we generated and sort it into boxes that would hang from a central thread, essentially our thesis. This approach moved us from pushing throughcontent to observing it from above. That bird’s eye view led us to five buckets. It was so successful that “chunking” became a standard part of our instructional design process.

We created FUN to train board members across Washington about finance. Along the way, we learned ourselves what works when teaching courageous volunteers with little free time who want to do right by their organizations. Happy birthday, FUN!

If you want to know more about the instructional design behind FUN, visit my website here: https://chunkflipguidelaugh.com.

Design a Learning-full Conference

A few years ago I attended a three-day conference in a city on the other side of the country. I took a lot of notes. I remember the speakers being interesting. I know that I left with a few ideas to dig into. Yet on the flight home, I misplaced my notebook. I tried to re-create my to-do list, but I drew a complete blank on the specifics of conference. I couldn’t remember what I heard or decided to do. I moved on.

The conference cost at least $1,000 to attend once I accounted for the flight, conference fee, and the pizza dinner I bought to thank my local host. A hotel would have rounded the cost up another $500. 

The conference cost the organizer a lot too! At least one staff member worked on the conference for six months, with the entire staff joining for the full three days. Money was spent on the venue, keynote speakers, and program. I’m sure sponsorships helped to offset some of these costs. The opportunity cost of doing a conference, however, includes all of the projects you would do if you had that time back. 

A lot is on the table when it comes to conferences, so let’s talk about how to design a learning-full conference. That’s a conference where people get the support they need before, during, and after the conference to reflect and act (even if they lose their notebook!). It is a conference that has adult learning principles baked into its design, helping people to process information, remember it, and connect it with action steps. It is a conference that stays with the attendee past the last session, placing the conference into a larger constellation of learning experiences. These are the kind of conferences that are worthy of the time and financial investments we make to move our people forward.

Click on the cover to download a copy.

This winter, Mark Nilles and I launched our new e-book on conference design, “Conferences That Make a Difference.” While there are several excellent resources for conference participants on how to make the most of attending a conference, this e-book looks at the other side of the equation: designing and delivering a conference. It gives ideas across four chapters:

  • Strategy and overall approach to conference design
  • Get Ready: Pre-Conference Activities
  • The Big Day: Deliver a Day that Makes a Difference
  • Make It Stick: Post-Conference Activities

We give you samples and tools to be able to implement what we are talking about right away.

If you design conferences, we hope this e-book gives you ideas. If you attend conferences, please feel free to send this to conference organizers. We might create a movement for better conferences everywhere!

Love in Learning

I drove home from an intense learning event emotionally exhausted. It had been an exhilarating day of deep thought and connection. A few groups had made significant breakthroughs on important issues. When nonprofits make breakthroughs, lives change.

It was a long day, and when signing off from a debrief with my colleague, the words rolled off our tongues: I love you. I love you, too. 

Love is a radical word that is both weak and bold, vague and crisp, all at the same time. It’s a word I lean on when no other seems to fit. What is the right word to describe the feeling in a room when people become so motivated by something they just heard or learned that they form connections that transcend that time and space? The word, I believe, is love.

I was first struck by the word “love” used in a non-typical way when reading Steve Patty’s book on evaluation, Getting to What Matters. Evaluation is hardly the bastion of romance and roses, yet his Heart Triangle describes the transformation I see in the classroom. He starts with the three human capacities– know, feel, and do– and shows how they can deepen into three defining characteristics– what we believe, love, and become.

When knowing, feeling, and doing work their way into the deeper recesses of the heart, when they influence the core elements of someone’s being, and when they seep into the enduring essence of a person, we see true and sustaining human impact in believe, love, and become features.

Getting to what matters, page 29

Knowledge becomes action becomes a transformed person. Feeling something shifts the tectonic plates that make us who we are and brings to our surface a commitment to being different. That is powerful learning.

Perhaps due to the Brené Brown effect, love in leading and living is becoming part of the vernacular. “Love of learning” has long been used to describe the delight a parent has when a child reads late into the night. I’m excited to take delight in the “love in learning” that brings magic to a classroom, a conference, a community.


The 2019 “Train the Trainer Series” runs on February 26 and March 26. Join us!



Lessons from Mary Poppins

We walked out of Mary Poppins Returns singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Five minutes after hearing “Nowhere to go but up,” the flying-through-the-sky song from Returns, we were remembering the elevation song from this movie’s precursor, the original Mary Poppins from 1964.

Why is that? How is it possible that we couldn’t remember a single song from Mary Poppins Returns,even five minutes after the credits rolled?

With this research question in front of us, my daughter and I set about listening to Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins Returns songs back-to-back. As the younger of us pointed out, the music in Returns mirrors the original. There is a song for when the kids don’t want to do something, one that involves people floating to the top of a room, and of course the requisite computer-animated scene of children dropping into an inanimate object.

Our conclusion: Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins is as much a teacher as she is a nanny. She invites us and the children into the sung lesson. Here’s an example:

Spoonful of sugar (1964)
Sung by Julie Andrews
Can you imagine that (2018)
Sung by Emily Blunt
Mary speaks the words. ·  
    
She explains why a spoonful of
sugar works.

With the children watching, she
demonstrates the magic that cleans
the room.

Jane tries and succeeds.

Michael tries and struggles. She lets him struggle and figure it out until he succeeds.
Mary starts singing. Her first words questions John’s intellect and
ability to “give in to imagination.”

It would be a discussion for another day to examine who is to blame: the writer, performer, director, or anyone else. However this came to be, the difference between these movies gives us lessons in learning:

Mary, in “Spoonful of Sugar” reminds us to:

  • Tell people what you are going to share in clear, spoken language. Bonus points if you sound as smooth as Julie Andrews.
  • Explain why it matters. We are asking adults to do things that may seem as fun as taking medicine. It has to be worth it!
  • Demonstrate what you want them to do. Whether it is a click of the fingers or something much more complex, show them what good looks like.
  • Let them do it, even if they don’t succeed at first. Stand to the side, and step in only if things get out of control. Like a toy cabinet that won’t stop opening and shutting.

Of course a lot of credit goes to the songwriters. The Sherman Brothers wrote lyrics that masterfully fit into our contextual experience. I can understand “let’s go fly a kite” and “love to laugh” without trying hard. “Turning turtle?” Not so much. Effective teaching is a magical combination of content and delivery. And that’s no tommy rot.

Grains of Learning in a Mayo Jar of Time

mayo
Mayo Jar, a Lesson in Time Management from Trainers Warehouse

It would be hard to imagine a more ridiculous purchase. Straight out of a trainer tools magazine, a $39.95 mayonnaise jar complete with golf balls, pebbles and sand. The prop was designed to demonstrate time management. I couldn’t toss the catalog into the recycle bin fast enough.

And yet a mere two hours later, our learning team gathered to talk about our new micro-learning strategy, and there I was talking about the mayo jar. Luckily I didn’t have to spend $39.95 to evoke the image of the mayo jar and the philosophical question of when it is actually full.

golf-balls.jpg

You see, if you imagine our learning program to be a mayo jar, it is full of golf balls: webinars or workshops that require registration and a commitment of time. We run 150+ of these a year (with an amazing staff of 3). We even have the super bouncy balls of our trade: conferences. As much as they flex and squish into different shapes and sizes, they take up even more room than the golf balls. The jar seems full.

darkredkidney.jpgBut there is still space for the kidney beans. Those are the many five-to-ten minute videos that we produce on key elements of content. We have the five “chunks” of board success, and the five buckets of finance knowledge. We’ve got resources on strategic planning and nonprofit law. These take up less room than the golf balls, yet you can still see small pockets of space.

brown_rice.jpgThat’s where the grains of rice come in. These are the short 1-2 minute lessons on one idea that fill the gaps left by everything else we offer. Captured on short videos, they include the ideas that people hear in workshops yet need to hear again to be able to apply them. They are the tips that we wish we had time to share in webinars. They are our content innovations too late to get into the professionally produced, longer videos. They are what folks have asked us to explain, as well as the “why this matters” intro videos that we upload to social media.

Over the next two weeks, we will be installing “WN Studios” in an unrented space near our office. We will start by filming video clips to be used in our newest initiative, Next Level Nonprofits. We’ll be tracking data to see if people actually watch the videos, and ultimately if they report back that they made a difference.

By this time next year, our mayo jar will indeed be completely full. I would bet $39.95 on it, but we already spent that on the tripod.

 


NEWS

Mark Nilles (Humentum) and I have been working on an ebook on conferences. Read the first Chapter now and look for the full ebook in January. Sign up to make sure you receive it when it comes out!

The 2nd annual “Train the Trainer Series starts February 26. Based in Seattle, this popular two-part series features Guila Muir and Tracy Flynn teaching participants from across Washington how to deliver an awesome workshop every time. Just in time for conference season!


 

 

Courage. Coragem.

Two weeks ago, nonprofit and community leaders gathered together in Yakima, Washington, to work in teams on hard issues. In several different conversations, people used the word “courage.” They described some people as having it, others as needing it, and a general hope that the community could muster the courage needed to do things differently.

I couldn’t help but think back to a time when a different community of leaders used the word “courage” to describe what they needed to have. I wrote about that experience in 2012, and the lessons from then seem as relevant now.  

As we go into the Thanksgiving holidays, I am tremendously grateful for the women I got to know in Salvador, Brazil– and the nonprofit leaders and partners across Washington I work with today. 

Coragem

Originally posted in February 2012

NancyTeachingSalvadorI was in Salvador, Brazil, last month teaching a class on NGO capacity building and grant writing, sharing everything I know about building community and structure around a mission that makes the world a better place.  On Friday, as all of the tools and tricks it takes to run an effective organization settled into the minds of class participants, one leaned forward and said, “Temos que ter coragem.”  We have to have courage.  Courage that allows them to pioneer new ways of doing things, knowing that they will make mistakes in front of each other along the way.

Indeed, courage was on the minds of these women that day.  A discussion about program evaluation shifted from graduation rates to measuring any gain in self esteem that might come through education and social support.  They described trying to get young women to even consider taking a university entrance exam within a culture of presumed failure.  Each of the women in the room had taken the Vestibular at least twice—several three and four times— before passing, and the young women they work with know that it is uphill battle to learn enough to pass this rigorous exam.  Their dreams of achieving a university education required courage to march through the pain of endless study with no guarantee of success, foregone wages, and, for some, social stigma for even trying.

As it turns out, the inner demons that haunt young African-Brazilian women were in good company. The night before, a police strike began, resulting in violence and looting in the neighborhoods to which these women were returning to that night.  By the time this conversation was happening, over eighty people had been killed, and randomness of crime had uprooted any sense of public security for the poor residents of the city.  The fear of what might happen was written on their faces.  They left early to journey home on public buses, some traveling alone as far as the airport.

Courage was on their minds, and now it is on mine.  These women are working in a space in which they have to muster together personal, professional, and social courage, battling internal and external demons around every turn.  They have to lift the spirits of others—giving others hope for a better tomorrow—when the same demons haunt them.  The success they achieve in these circumstances is heroic and humbling.

There I sat, listening to their discussion, aware of the space between their experiences and my reality.  What was my role in this partnership? Encourage? Encourage has someone else as its object.  It is passive, distant, and possibly condescending.  I was on a flight out the next morning.  Who was I to tell them to keep up the great work?

What struck me about my week in Salvador was how open these women were to learn and to teach, how they had made a commitment to social change and were in this work for the long term, and how they intuitively understood that their big societal issues were made up of many small problems, all of which could be tackled with the right resources.  They weren’t afraid to have the hard conversations.

Our alternative to encouraging them is to have courage with them.  We can be partners in hard conversations that cross cultural and power boundaries, giving each other the benefit of the doubt along the way. We can challenge our own limits, professionally and personally, in solidarity with them.  And we can build a long-term community in which to learn, celebrate, and labor together through whatever demons come our way.  To make a difference in this world, they reminded me, temos que ter coragem.

Webinar emails: trying something new

This fall, the Washington Nonprofits learning team changed up the emails we send related to webinars. Here’s an infographic explaining what we did and why.

webinars-designed-for-learning

What you do think? What are you doing to boost engagement with your webinars?

 

 

So Who’s In the Room? Moving On.

The presenter steps up to the podium, welcomes everyone to what will certainly be an awesome conference session. She segues into a typical warm-up exercise: let’s find out who is in the room.  How many of you are chickens?  Great, we appreciate the eggs. How many are cows?  Wonderful, thank you for your service—without you there would be no cheese or chocolate.  Do we have any alpaca in the room?  There you are. Few in number but mighty in spirit. Please don’t spit.

The exercise can happen in different ways, but the goal is the same: to build rapport and gather information about who is in the room so that you can better speak to them.

Or not.

At a recent conference session, some version of the above unfolded. The room was mostly filled with chickens—hard working creatures toiling hard to produce a golden egg. The presenter determined that right from the start. And then she spent the rest of the presentation speaking eloquently to an imagined audience of horses, delivering ideas and tools useful to running fast over hill and dale. Not so useful to chickens.

I sat in the audience trying to telepathically communicate with the chickens. I hoped that they were picking up nuggets of relevance between the lines. The session ended after its requisite 75 minutes. Before it did, I made some notes on how we could do this better:

  1. Know who is likely to be in the room before the session even begins. The attendee profile of most conferences isn’t a state secret, particularly for presenters who attend these conferences year after year. If you don’t know, ask the organizers. Optimize for the people most likely to be in the room.
  2. Influence who is in the room. At most conferences, anyone can attend any session, so how do you make sure your desired audience shows up? Invite them. When you write your conference description, include a clear description of who this workshop is designed for.
  3. Use your power as the holder of the microphone to connect people. Maybe you ask people new to the work to stand up so others can meet them later. Maybe you ask people to line up by years of experience and then “fold the line” to make pairs to answer a question related to what you are presenting. (I learned this from the awesome Tracy Flynn). There are many ways to connect people, and doing so strengthens your presentation.
  4. Customize in real time once you know who is in the room. By the time the presentation starts, your powerpoint and handouts are done. What isn’t done is how you deliver it. You have the power to shift your speed and focus through content depending on who is listening. You have the knowledge to stop and ask thought-provoking questions to get real-time engagement and feedback. You have the audience’s permission to adjust so that they get more out of their time with you.
  5. Stop talking. Let them play with your ideas. We hear all of the time about the importance of reflection. People need time to take what is going on in their heads and connect it to whatever you just said. They need to build a bridge between your idea and their lived experience. Presenters, therefore, need to build in time for people in the session to practice what they are hearing, share what they think about it, or otherwise exercise their brain. I know letting attendees talk introduces a certain level of chaos. Comfort with ambiguity is as great a skill in teaching as it is in life.

 


Want more on learning strategy?

I will be teaching a workshop on curriculum design this fall.

Copy of Train the Trainer Series

More information here

Let’s Play Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match!

The waning days of summer are upon us. The clouds have rolled in, and the smoke has cleared. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, there’s comfort in donning fleece and staying inside while the rains freshen the air.

One of the highlights of my summer was working with two groups developing a learning strategy. They wanted to take the pieces that they had—curriculum, partnerships, experts, and ideas—and turn them into a coherent program of activities that made a bigger and more lasting difference for more people.

MixandMatch

What a great opportunity to play Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match! (I first introduced this idea here.) Mix-and-Match takes the key elements of a learning program and invites us to combine them in ways that expand the times and spaces in which we can engage people. It forces us to think outside of the usual workshop model. It also forces us to consider practice more than we otherwise do. You have to do something with all of those orange parallelograms!

Learning elementsThese three key elements are:

1. WHAT is being delivered:

  • CONTENT
  • PRACTICE actions related to the content

2. WHO is involved:

  • STUDENT, the person learning
  • TEACHER, the person delivering the content

3. HOW people are organized:

  • CLASSROOM of people together
  • a GROUP of peers learning together
  • An INDIVIDUAL learning alone

Download Learning Strategy Mix-and-Match shapes here.


How does this work?

Most learning programs do okay with synchronous learning, meaning learning where the teacher and student are participating at the same time. Take a typical workshop or webinar. It may look something like this:

Workshop
In this workshop, you have your three pieces of content, each with time to practice. The teacher and student are in the same classroom. 

Webinar
In a webinar, the teacher and student are present at the same time. The student is alone (individual learning). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A good workshop has practice built in. (For more on how to do this, buy Guila Muir’s book.) How about webinars? What do we do about practice? We can’t just forget about it– that orange parallelogram needs to go somewhere! Here’s some ideas… Include practice in the webinar, even if you are giving assignments for people to do later on. Provide boosting activities after the webinar so that they remember to exercise what they learned.

Let’s make this a bit harder.

Workshops and webinars are pretty straight forward. Let’s push on how we can better reach the people we just can’t get to a scheduled event. Let’s explore asynchronous options, those where the teacher and student are not participating at the same time.

On-demand learning happens when you post a video or some other learning content on a website:

On demand
In on-demand learning, you have your content available on your website 24/7. The student accesses this learning separate from the teacher being there. The student learns individually (alone).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where are folks going to be able to practice? How are we going to deploy the orange parallelogram? Here are some ideas:

On demand practice

Office hours: There are many forms of this (from phone calls to Facebook groups), but at its core it means that the teacher participates in applying the content separate from the presentation of content. (A master at this is Maryn Boess of GrantsMagic.)

Peer or networks: Schedule–or otherwise support– practice in board or staff meetings, service club meetings, or any other time when people already gather. (At Washington Nonprofits, we do this through Nonprofit Conversations.)

Tool or micro-learning: Give the people learning something (worksheet, checklist, case study, scenarios) that challenges them to apply learning to their situation. Give them a short video that describes how they can practice. Set up the activity for them to try.

These are just a few ideas. Imagine if we really let lose imagining how Mix-and-Match might be used to design conferences, publications, and so much more.

Your turn.

Learning Strategy Mix and Match-page-001

Download your own set of shapes. Cut out the shapes. Lay them out on a table and see how many different learning events you can create using these building blocks. Some ideas:

  • Take a strategic topic that you want people to learn about and figure out five different ways that you can deliver it.
  • Explore time: scheduled learning vs. unscheduled learning. How can you expand opportunities to learn outside of scheduled events?
  • Explore practice. Where does it show up in the programs you offer or partner with? Where else could it show up? This is often the most overlooked element within learning programs.
  • Invite others to play with you! Your webmaster may have ideas on how to expand on-demand learning. Your membership person may have ideas on how to use affinity groups within the membership program. Your policy person may have real activities that need practicing, around which you can build a program.

Have fun!

 


Want more on learning strategy?

I will be teaching a workshop on curriculum design this fall.

Copy of Train the Trainer Series

More information here

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