Best Practices, Self Improvement

Active Listening

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” -Bryant H. McGill

Communication requires speaking and listening. It’s a dance where effective communication requires the participation of everyone. One of the most difficult parts is active listening. Here’s a quick summary. Take two minutes and watch.

Forbes offers 10 Steps for Effective Listening. The article is from 2012, but still good advice.

  1. Face the speaker, maintain eye contact
  2. Be attentive, but relaxed
  3. Keep an open mind, don’t judge
  4. Listen and picture what is being said
  5. Don’t interrupt or impose your solutions
  6. Wait for a pause to ask clarifying questions
  7. Ask questions to ensure understanding
  8. Try to feel what the speaker is feeling
  9. Give feedback by nodding, reflecting, show some feeling
  10. Pay attention to non-verbal cues

And I will add…

If you are the speaker, give the listener a chance to offer a response or ask a question. Conversations shouldn’t be a one way street.

Best Practices, Instructional Design, Self Improvement

Presentation Points

What makes a good presentation?  Is it the speaker? The content?  The visual aid?

What about all of it?

Everything matters and contributes, but it’s the little things that will elevate your presentation to the next level.

The speaker can detract from the content, just as poor/inaccurate content can take away from a good speaker.  A poor visual aid (PowerPoint) can be detrimental as well.  Just as an unprepared speaker can make the audience uncomfortable, a thrown together presentation is off putting to an audience. 

Compare it to viewing property for sale. 

One home has consistent fixtures throughout, antique bronze light fixtures, faucets, and door handles. The flooring may have tile in the kitchen and bath, hardwoods in the common space, and carpet in the bedrooms. The color selections complement each other.  Walking through the home is pleasant.

The other home has stainless steel faucets, with antique bronze light fixtures, and gold door handles. The kitchen is tile, but the living room is dark hardwood that meets thin light hardwood in the entry way. Carpet in the master bedroom is a thicker shag than the smooth, cheaper, carpet found in the other rooms. The hall is hardwood, but it is neither the dark of the living room or light of the entryway. Each room is a different color, and not part of an overall theme.  While each room may be nice, the overall viewing experience leaves one a little confused.

Consistency and/or complementary is pleasing to the viewer. Everything doesn’t have to be the same, but there needs to be a common theme.  While the viewer may not be able to put their finger on exactly what left them with a little angst they will feel as if something is just not right.  Take the time to work on the little things.

A few little things:

  • Keep headings similar in size, placement, and spacing.
  • Use consistent bullet points.
  • Use consistent fonts, and sizes, for headings and content.
  • Use consistent imagery. Don’t mix and mat photographs and clipart.
  • Colors should remain consistent or complimentary throughout.
  • Stay within your template. Do your best to work within the content real estate that you have.
Best Practices, Education, Learning and Development

A Few Presentation Tips

For years I attended teacher training seminars. Many were laughable. Someone who hadn’t been in a classroom for years stood in front of a room full of teachers reading a PowerPoint about how to teach. First rule of presenting, try not to insult your audience. Secondly, reading to them is boring.

Engage their mind, get the attention of your audience.  Start with a question or statement relevant to your topic. Try to come back to the introductory thought at the end.

If you are bored presenting, your audience will be bored listening. Speak in your natural voice, with confidence, and be yourself. Many of us are nervous when presenting. Remember this, your audience is not rooting for your failure. That would be very uncomfortable for them. Finally, care about your topic. Passion and excitement is contagious.  If you demonstrate how important your topic is, your audience will feel it and you will connect with them.

Another tidbit I learned in the classroom, everyone loves a good story- and story teller. Present your information. Don’t read to your audience. That’s boring. If you are the presenter, you probably know the content better than your audience so present with confidence. Whenever possible, provide a relevant example that helps to reinforce your content. I used to teach what many students said was a boring subject. When I could find a relevant story to tell about a particular historical topic, the students were riveted. At times it was alarming. I would realize they were listening and have a moment of stage fright. The story brought the history to life. They were able to make connections and the history became real, not just something that happened a long time ago and doesn’t matter now. Having something relevant to share engages your audience and helps them make connections.

Sometimes it isn’t our confidence, spelling errors, or information on the presentation that is distracting.  Sometime it is our body language and actions. Try not to stare at the screen. You’re speaking to the audience and if you do not look at them, they are not engaged. If you turn your back to them, you lose engagement. Also, don’t stand in front of the screen- especially if there is a projector that will make you glow or project content across your forehead.  If you are using PowerPoint, there is a presenter mode. If you use the notes section of each slide, your audience sees only the slide. You see your notes. Rather than facing the slide you can face your audience, and when necessary refer to the notes in front of you.

And finally…

Connect with your audience. Try to make eye contact, or at least pretend to. Look in the vicinity of your audience and move your eyes to different parts of the room.  When asking for questions, ask someone specific what they think of a topic, or if they have an example they could share. When appropriate, encourage your audience to participate and engage. You may have to encourage specific individuals. If you have questions you really want to answer and hope people ask, solicit assistance from friends in the audience to ask those questions at an appointed time. Someone willing to start participating will encourage others.

Best Practices, Life, Rambles

The Office Space

Click, click, click. Tap. Tap. Ding. Humming of the AC. Someone getting coffee. White noise of the office space is sometimes interrupted by a cough or chatter of a colleague. One of the biggest challenges I have faced (or am facing) is adapting to the office environment. For someone that is easily distracted it is not the smoothest transition. Learning what is acceptable and expected is also part of the transition process.

My question for today, what is office etiquette? Office culture plays a role, but there are standards consistent with most offices. A quick web search reveals a few consistencies:

  • Given that it is flu season, stay home if you are sick!
  • Personal phone calls are just that, personal. Keep it brief and your volume to a minimum. (I will add that professional phone calls should also be at a respectable volume. Your office mates have work to do too and if you are too boisterous in your enthusiasm for professional phone interaction it is distracting.)
  • Eating at your desk, or even in communal space, was a topic addressed on several lists- so much so that it had sub-points.
    • Crunchy, splatter, slurp noise are not pleasant or mannerly. (I agree. Major pet peeve for me.)
    • Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave dishes in the sink, or crumbs on the table.
    • While you may be looking forward to leftover sea food, your office mates are not going to enjoy the smell nearly as much. (Avoid smelly foods in general.)
  • Reply All. Wonderful feature, but ask yourself if everyone really needs your response.
  • Calendar usage. Well, use it and don’t forget to communicate changes. Your colleagues have to plan their day too.

As I perused resources on the webernets I am reminded of my former classroom rules. I really only had one, but most administrators wanted to see three. I improvised.

  1. Be respectful.
  2. Be responsible.
  3. Be resourceful.

The same three things can apply to any office.

Be respectful to yourself, your company, and your colleagues. Dress professionally, keep positive, focus on your responsibilities. Be nice to your co-workers, respecting their space, their responsibilities, and their work.

Be responsible. Arrive on time. Set goals. Strive to reach them.

Be resourceful. Use the resources available to you. (I have to admit, I’m still trying to figure this one out. What is protocol and who are my resources?)

If you think about it, everything really fits in the respect category.  If you are being resourceful and responsible, that is respect. Mind rambles for thought . . .


Live life. Give joy. Be at peace.

Best Practices, Education, Learning and Development

Be a Better Communicator

Communication is more than speaking your mind. Being a good communicator is not the same as being a good speaker. A good communicator knows how to listen as well as speak. In fact, listening is one of the most important tasks for effective communication.

It is not enough to just listen to what is being said. It is important to hear as well. Listening is being alert and attentive to the speaker, focusing on what is being said, not how you want to respond. You may not agree with the speaker, and that is OK. However, it is important to understand perspective. A good communicator is open minded enough that they listen and hear what is being said and seek to understand where the other person is coming from. Our experiences shape our views and perspectives. You do not have to agree in order to respectfully communicate!

When responding, think first. Do not say the first thing that comes into your head but instead take a moment and pay close attention to what you say and how you say it. Be clear and direct, get to the point. Being wordy is not beneficial. Try to be specific and deliberate in your response. Say what you mean, and do not make someone try to figure out what you really mean. Do not assume your meaning will be understood. If you are giving instructions, give all of the instructions. Explain the details. You cannot expect someone to achieve the details if you do not set clear expectations. Time frames are also helpful. Saying soon, or within reason, does not help. What is soon or reasonable to one person is not the same to another. When possible, give examples, but keep it relative to the topic. If there are boundaries, state them. If there are not, try to provide parameters, or explain that creative license is acceptable. If expectations are articulated, even if broad, everyone stands a better chance of being happy with outcomes.

If you are on the receiving end of instructions, seek clarification. Reiterate for understanding and remember…listening is key to good communication.

Really, good communication is based in respect.

Live life. Give joy. Be at peace.

Best Practices, Education, Instructional Design, Learning and Development

Bells and Whistles: Engagement


A few basics for creating an engaging lesson/learning module:

  • Plan. Don’t wing it.
  • Determine your objectives and desired outcome.
  • Establish how you will determine mastery.
  • Mine your resources.
  • Outline the lesson/course.
  • Build it.
  • Add the bells and whistles.

The course is just part of an overall process. For an instructional objective to be met and the course to be effective there must be ongoing performance support outside of the course. The learner must be motivated to engage in the content and to motivate the learner, relevance has to be clear.  Motivation can also be driven by opportunity. Meetings, projects, deadlines, task lists, family, and life in general are barriers to training. When categorizing tasks for the day training is not likely to be in the urgent and important category. Training is usually put in the “I will get to it when I can” or the “Oh my gosh it is due tomorrow” category.  If designers create training with time management in mind everyone’s life is made a little easier and training is more effective.  Compress activities and implement/suggest opportunities for practice to make training relevant to the participant. A few minutes here and there is a lot easier to manage than a sixty minute required commitment. There is a time and place for long sessions, but periodic required training is not it.  Saving progress is an essential feature. Chunk the module in such a way that there are natural breaks.

Planning is the key to breaking up the content into natural pauses. Story-boarding is an effective planning tool for planning. A storyboard is an organizational tool to establish the order of presentation, what resources are needed where, and where best to place learning checks. That is an oversimplification, but it explains the idea. PLAN for engagement. Preparing learning checks will chunk the material and engage the learner. Within the learning check, you have an opportunity to re-loop and review- TAKE IT.

Most understand that learning and presentation is a cycle. You explain what you are going to tell them. You tell them. Then you tell them what you told them.  I do not think of it in a circular pattern of instruction.  For me, loops are preferred.


In your loop learning, stimulate prior knowledge. Offering examples that relate to what the learner already knows can provide relevance as well as an opportunity to review prior material. Another opportunity to re-loop is by providing the chance to interact with the content.

Before building, gather all the resources necessary for success.  Mining of resources can take place before story-boarding or after. I prefer both. I gather the resources I know will be required. After outlining I usually find it necessary to add to my resource list.  Think of it like cooking. Before cooking you must check to see if you have all of your ingredients then purchase what you need. If you have all of your ingredients out, measured and ready for use you are not in a frantic rush to heat, stir, measure the next ingredient, and add it before whatever you are cooking is ruined by a delay.  Having all resources ready for use in an easily accessible folder or bank will make your instructional design process smoother and  less stressful.

When building your learning module, keep content frames clear, concise and uncluttered. Words, words, and more words is not necessary. Stick to the major points and add narration for explanation. Add images to enhance the topic and assist the learner in making connections.  While bells and whistles can be exciting and provide a tool to grab attention, don’t over do it. Too many bells and whistles become obnoxious after repeated use.  Keep in mind, just because the learning module is professional and serves a learning purpose, that does not mean it can’t be entertaining.  Lastly, if you are bored creating it, how will the learner required to complete it feel?

Keep it simple. Make it relevant. Plan and don’t wing it.

Best Practices

The Value of a Moment

This is the key to time management- to see the value of every moment –

Menachen Mendel Schneerson

With only 24 hours to work with each day, the demands of achieving work/life balance can be overwhelming. More time cannot be created, but time management can be improved.

It seems rather basic to say create a schedule and make a to-do list, but it really is that simple to begin managing time better. Just doing those two simple tasks can improve your life. By the time we reach adulthood most have figured this out. So let’s take it a step further…

One of the most important beginning steps of project management is to set goals and identify desired outcomes.  The same stands true for time management. Establishing goals and evaluating them will assist in prioritizing tasks. Many time management strategies encourage the use of the time matrix found in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Prioritize tasks into one of four categories:

  1. Urgent/Important
  2. Important/Not urgent
  3. Not important/urgent
  4. Not important/not urgent

Another, and my preferred, way to establish your matrix is to graph impact and effort which you can read more about here.

Taking time to plan your time may seem like just another thing to add to your already chaotic life, but in the end it will save you time and headache.  Establishing a to do list and prioritizing tasks is essential to reaching your goals. In this process, be realistic and be flexible. The not important/urgent tasks will interrupt your established schedule.

Learn to say no and do not micro-manage. Managing distractions and delegating tasks will save your sanity. When it becomes overwhelming and the anxiety is threatening to derail your plan, take a break. Walk. Move. Brain break. It doesn’t take more than a moment and it will help you refocus.

The downfall of many is procrastination. During undergrad I convinced myself that my best work happened at 2 AM, just before a paper was due in the upcoming hours.  It did not take long for me to realize this was a lie.  While I am not an early morning person, and I do work best in the late afternoon/evening hours, procrastination created great anxiety and my production was not the best it could be.  Be honest with yourself and determine your best hours of operation.  Block your schedule if you are able and attack the high effort tasks then.

Finally, periodically take a moment to evaluate your time management plan.

Make the most of the time you have. It is even OK to do things that you enjoy.  Not only is it OK, but it is encouraged.  There is a lot to be said for work/life balance.  If you aren’t living your best life, what’s the point?


Live life. Give joy. Be at peace.


Best Practices, Education, Learning and Development

Strategies for SQ3R

SQ3R is a strategy to facilitate reading depth. Survey. Question. Read. Recite. Review.

How do you get learners to participate in the five steps? It’s easier just to read the material and hope you remember enough to get the learning coordinator to stop asking you questions.  Let’s look at a step by step approach that may have your audience participating in all five steps without realizing what you are achieving.


Scan the reading. Looking at headings, sub-heading, pictures, captions, intros and summaries.

Before your audience has the opportunity to jump right in, ask what the reading is about. Then conduct a brief discussion of what is already known.  Ask questions about charts, graphics, basics of the reading content.

For younger learners:

My students love a word search. I feel there is value in this as they learn to look at the big picture and improve their scanning skills.  When we have a reading that I want to focus on, students will begin by performing a word search. They have to highlight specific words that I have chosen and will only have a limited time to perform this task.

We then discuss each word and I ask them to predict the content and purpose of the reading. Discussing what they already know and how the topic relates to previous discussions.


The audience should then take time to read the work. Ask them to focus on questions previously discussed. Remind them to read captions, titles, and subheadings.  Give time for this and don’t talk through it!  Most people cannot focus in there is chaos and conversation around them. If it is important enough to have your audience read, then give them the quiet time needed to absorb the information.

For younger learners:

Depending on the reading ability of your students, you can have them read silently or read aloud.  Sometimes I will read to my students, and sometimes we will popcorn read. I will call on people to take over at various pause points in the reading. Everyone is responsible for reading along, and knows at some point it may be their time to read.

Reading to your students models good reading. Students prior to high school can absorb more difficult content when it is read aloud to them. Reading aloud helps to foster literacy and reading appreciation.  It lets students know that reading doesn’t have to be boring.  Here are few good articles for the benefits of read aloud:

Reading Aloud: Is it worth it?

Reading Aloud to Build Comprehension

Read Aloud: What are the benefits?



Note the text. Highlight key points. Make notes in the margins. Write questions that the text raised. Challenge the text. Take this a step further and discuss what was read, raising questions and challenges. Make connections. The more senses that can be used in this step the better.


The review stage is an ongoing process and depends on the purpose of the reading.  For a step off of the learning topic, it may be simply referring back to the reading during the time frame. For classroom instruction it may be making the connections to learned content and new content.  Is this a resource to be studied later?  If so, more notes about the work and writing answers to the recite stage questions may be necessary.

SQ3R does not have to be a long drawn out process. Each step can be condensed and adjusted for learner needs and presenter purpose.  It is easily adaptable for individual needs.