I have a colleague – a thoughtful, compassionate consultant and educator – who loves to tell people what they need to know.
Here’s the relevant research, my colleague says, clicking through the slide deck. Here are the trends. Here are the facts. Internalize this stuff. Use it to change your behavior.
This is, after all, a time-honored approach to teaching. Gather the information, assume a position of expertise (after all, you’re the person at the front of the room), and present what you know. Tell a story or two to illustrate your point. Invite and answer a few questions.
However, there’s an inherent problem with this training model. For most students, it doesn’t work.
Adult learning 101
At the risk of over-simplification, here’s how adults learn.
As a student or participant, you’re likely to remember 20% of what the instructor tells you. If a compelling visual element is included – a photo, drawing, chart, or graph – retention rises to 30-40%.
But you’ll remember about 90% of what you do. This is the heart of experiential learning.
As an effective trainer, your job is to design interesting tasks for people to do, encourage them to do them, and then reflect on what they learned by doing them.
This is a lot different than lecturing your way through a slide deck. When you stand in front of a group and talk, most of what you present – literally most of it – is lost.
A time for telling – and it’s not much time
As someone who facilitates at least fifty workshops, classes, and planning sessions per year, I spend plenty of time telling people useful information (at least I think it’s useful!)
However, I’ve learned to deliver my content in bite-size pieces. I rarely spend more than ten minutes presenting information before setting up break-out groups and giving them a question to answer, an exercise to do, or a problem to solve.
The minute I hand the work to the participants – here, you do this – the energy in the room jumps.
At that moment, they take responsibility for their own learning.
Try asking instead of telling
As you design your workshop, planning session, or meeting, how can you present the content as a series of questions, rather than a summary of data, checklists, should-do’s, etc.?
Here’s a favorite example.
Sometimes I begin a fundraising training with the following icebreaker: “What’s one thing you think you know about fundraising that’s probably wrong?”
It’s a complicated question that takes a few seconds to grasp, but once people talk it through in pairs or small groups, they generate some really thoughtful answers:
- “Only rich people donate money.”
- “Most people only want to be asked once per year.”
- “I like to give a certain way; therefore everyone else prefers to give the same way.”
- “Fundraising for my cause is more difficult than other causes.”
This question is designed specifically to encourage people to challenge their own assumptions, rather than relying on teacher to do all the heavy lifting. Therefore, the answers are more likely to stick.
What would you ask your board?
I’m currently consulting with a college that – in response to our changing social, demographic, and political landscape – is figuring out how to highlight its values and talk about its programs differently.
I designed a 90-minute workshop for the board of trustees based on three simple questions:
- What do you see as the fundraising implications of the new plan?
- How can the board step up its fundraising to help deliver the new plan?
- What would inspire you to personally give more?
No slides, no training materials, very little wisdom dispensed by the facilitator…just three provocative questions, the chance to discuss them in small groups, and a moment to debrief each question before moving on to the next.
How might you use questions like these to facilitate a fundraising conversation with your board?
Ask more, talk less
If you’re an instructor, trainer, or facilitator – really, anyone who leads groups or teams – here’s a simple ratio to ensure your success.
The less you talk, the better your results.
Therefore, a big part of your job is creating interesting, probing questions that inspire others to start talking, generate ideas, and engage with each other.