Eyes On The Prize

How someone could mistake the well-lit room with tables of snacks and drinks, the room buzzing with excitement, the room where swag was being distributed for the room lit by an overhead projector, the room where a carafe of coffee for participants was brought in from home by an instructor, the room where participant guides the size of a phone book were stacked at the end of a table, the room where an excruciating death by PowerPoint awaited, how a mistake like that could be made by someone with a flair for the obvious is beyond understanding. However, the mistake was made.

The someone was me.

I arrived early and took a seat up front. As is my usual practice, I struck up conversations with others as they came into the room, even inviting one person who’d taken a seat several tables away to join me and the young man at my table lamenting he’d not taken the time to stop at Starbucks for a hot chocolate as he enjoyed fresh fruit from the snack table.

I discovered my name wasn’t on the sign in sheet.

“Just write it in at the bottom. There were a few names not on the list at the reception last night too,” said the young woman passing around the sign in sheet.

I don’t know why her statement didn’t set off any bells. Something in my brain should have signaled to some other part of my brain the fact that I hadn’t attended a reception with this group the night before.

It wasn’t until we chatted about the features of the new smart phones and I’d learned that the person I’d invited to join my table was a professional photographer and that he and his wife enjoy ballroom dancing, it wasn’t until we’d exchanged phones to look at one another’s photo galleries, it wasn’t until the room had become standing room only, it wasn’t until I heard “Welcome, please take a seat, let’s get started” that it hit me.

I was in the wrong room.

I stood and walked out into the hall where I saw a familiar face heading into the room next door. I went back into the crowded room, gathered my belongings and tried not to be observed. (In the front of the room, as the head of the organization was presenting opening remarks, pushing my way through the people seated closely together who did not make it easy for me to get passed them.)

I wasn’t embarrassed. I didn’t make a scene by announcing my mistake. I just left the room and went next door. I took the swag.

Was that wrong?

I suppose if I ever do use the nice canvas bag with its multi-pocket organizer, embossed with the organization’s logo, I will be forced to remember my mistake. As if that isn’t punishment enough, I sat through three days of mind-numbing boredom required training.

The first day, one participant, who refused to actually participate in the group activities, told us that she’d had so much training over the years that she wasn’t going to learn anything by going through the scenario with us. Instead she talked over the instructor and high jacked discussions with stories of what happens in the “real world”.

Nice!

By the way, she got credit for taking the class the same as the rest of us.

The next two days were spent listening to the poorly executed delivery of outdated materials exacerbated by long sighs from one instructor who constantly interrupted during the other instructor’s presentations.

INSTRUCTORS SHOULD NOT READ POWER POINT SLIDES. They certainly should not read every. single. slide. in. the. deck!!!!! This is especially important when the deck is the size of a freaking phone book.

NOTE: Text animations DO NOT improve Power Point slides.

Tandem instructors should not compare resumes in front of a class as a means of emphasizing the importance of a topic.

“I’ve done this and that and this other thing. So, I know I’m correct when I say…”

“Well, I’ve been in this situation during this or that…”

Who cares?!#$%@ Just because a person has war stories doesn’t mean they are the best choice for delivering training.

Then there’s the end of course survey, supposedly anonymous, but you have to set it down in front of the instructor before you can get your certificate of completion.

What good does it do to comment that instructors should know better than to read the Power Point deck? What good does it do to remark that organizations should know better than to send instructors into a classroom with such outdated materials that they have to skip entire sections and apologize for the parts that make no sense? What good does it do to say that the instructors gave off a serious “don’t anyone dare have a question if you want to get through this shit load of material” vibe?

Participants who have attended hundreds of hours of technical, soft skill and other training walk away with a severe case of wtf? what a farce, but what good is bringing up any of that when the decision makers within an organization won’t act on it?

With the exception of knowing specific policies and procedures, most people who volunteer have to wing it. They have to be flexible because every event is different. They have to follow directions and at the same time, take initiative, be creative, manage the expectations of everyone with whom they interact as well as their own, and above all, be aware of public perception. Knowing how to do all of these things well takes experience.

Because of inadequate training, many times volunteers must rely on information they’ve managed to piece together. If they’re lucky, they’ve participated in a simulation or at the very least, find themselves working alongside others who aren’t too wrapped up in themselves to be helpful. In the end, volunteers do what they are told to do by whoever is in charge. God help ‘em if those in charge don’t have proper training.

It happens more often than you think.

Budgetary restriction is an acceptable reason for not providing snacks and drinks for class participants; it is NOT an acceptable excuse for neglecting to cultivate skilled instructors and provide adequate materials to those who volunteer their time.

A passion for community service keeps me focused on my goals. Knowing my strengths and my limitations helps to keep my expectations realistic. At the same time, I recognize that I often expect more than most people when it comes to training.

I often have to remind myself just to salute smartly and carry on.

34 thoughts on “Eyes On The Prize

  1. So rarely do a Power Point maker and a Power Point presenter make a good combination. They put me to sleep so quickly. Plus I know how to read: they don’t have to read the slides verbatim!

    1. You may be right about that. PR for community relations and partnership building is appealing to me. PR for message managing and politic wrangling is not my cup of tea.
      You’re right we should challenge the notion that this is acceptable.

  2. I detest workshops and seminars for exactly this reason. The PowerPoint slides are brutal enough, but when they’re presented by people with minimal people skills and even fewer public speaking skills, I just want to hurl myself out the window. They should award medals to people just for getting through them without dying of boredom. And 9 times out of 10, I find that I don’t actually learn much in them. That just makes it extra sad.

  3. I absolutely HATE the presenters who read their slides to you. We are intelligent people. We can read for ourselves. Why else would they make the slides and put them there and hand them out as hand-outs if not to have us read them. Then they go and read them AGAIN! It wastes time and annoys the participants.

    1. Wow M~ you must have had an especially bad experience. You’re right that most of us can read for ourselves and I would venture to guess that most of us prefer to read at home in our pajamas. As for presenters, I don’t believe they want to bore the audience to death, I think maybe there is a combination of reasons why they so often do. Of course I could be mistaken, as I sometimes am, and they really don’t care if participants sink into a Power Point(less) coma.

  4. You had me laughing and cringing all at the same time. What bad memories you dredged! I heard of one story CEO who finally got exasperated and banned PowerPoint from his company – that would have been fun to watch. The video at the end was priceless – great humour.

    So I suppose at the end of the day you never did make it to the right room.

    1. I’m almost always good for a laugh, either with me or at me! Throughout my life, I have been in classrooms where excellent learning opportunities were offered, but yes, you are correct, I haven’t found myself in one lately. In fact, three courses taught by college professors which I have attended within the past five years have been a complete waste of money and time. So, I suppose my expectation for the free training offered by a non-profit may have been unrealistic.
      When will I learn?

    1. How unfortunate. It’s disappointing to have an instructor read to adults about managing expectations and the importance of collaboration when clearly neither were considered when the course was developed.

    1. Let me guess Mr. Petruska, you wanted to see Terms of Endearment but ended up in Terminator. Or was it Gone With The Wind instead of Gone In Sixty Seconds?
      Glad I gave you a laugh.

  5. My, how I hate PowerPoint narrators. Either turn off the computer and read your outline aloud (preferably with a lot of razzle-dazzle) or leave the room and let us click through the slides ourselves. Better yet: email me the outline, delete the PowerPoint file, and save yourself the trouble of reading to me as if you’re a librarian and I’m a five-year-old.

    I can understand the lack of snacks. Our company did that for a while for cost-cutting, but in the past two years — as part of our wellness initiative — they’re now catering meetings with healthy snacks. Pastries and cookies have been replaced by fruit and granola bars. Sensible, and better than nothing, but I miss the cookies.

    1. I agree Randall. I think maybe a better solution is to have web-based training with a WELL DESIGNED assessment of comprehension and then follow with a classroom setting for application of knowledge and to provide opportunities for collaboration and interaction when appropriate. But what do I know?

  6. Boy have I sat through a lot of that crap. The video is hilarious! I had a marketing director “fix” my presentation by changing everything to the more fun font – Comic Sans – apparently unprofessional = fun. I think PowerPoint gives non designers enough bells an whistles to make a mess. Fonts don’t show what kind of person you are, they show wether or not you should have access to a mouse 🙂

    I just finished Steve Jobs biography – if someone started to show him a PowerPoint presentation he would shut them down and insist that they just tell them the facts and not rely on the crutch of bad slides. He thought if you knew what you were taking about, that those slides were pointless (PowerPoint-less)

    1. Why is this difficult for people to understand? I cannot imagine why so many trainers think it is okay to read an entire presentation, but I’ve attended too many classes where presenters didn’t have the skill of a Wal Mart greeter.
      I once managed to almost make it through a week long class when the instructor requested feedback about what we’d covered so far, I asked if he planned to read the slides for the remainder of the course. He didn’t miss a beat, just kept on clicking and reading. I wrote a letter to the president of the college. They refunded my tuition.
      It’s one thing when you’re being paid to attend training, but my god, to offer to work for free and give up an entire weekend to sit through bad training to be a volunteer. GAAAHHH!
      I’m giving a talk Wednesday night and was asked if I need audio visual equipment. A slide presentation could enhance the topic, but I’d much rather engage the audience.
      Power Point-less! Exactly.

      1. I think visuals have a place – I use them when I train – but I used them as illustrations. I think that there is more retention when you see and hear, but I think that is diminished if it becomes tedious. Have you ever read “Jump Start Your Brain”? It’s by a former product developer for P&G – he has an amazing process that makes you leave your established process behind – of course it’s for brainstorming and creative thinking, but I believe that changing things up can help retention.

        1. I haven’t read it. Once I’ve generated some new brain cells to replace the ones I lost last week, I’ll check it out. You’re right, seeing and hearing is more effective in delivering a message with impact.

  7. I’d rather put a fork in my eye. Sounds like real estate license renewal before I could do it online with a glass of wine.

  8. Sounds like after putting up with this, you earned the swag from the other group. And sitting down in the wrong room is SO something I would do. Only I’m very unlikely to make small talk, so I wouldn’t have had any pre-lecture warnings. I also probably would have been sitting in the back so that would have made my exit easier. I guess sometimes it pays to be a quiet introvert. 😉

    1. I can’t disagree with you Carrie. Sometimes I wish I was a quiet introvert. Conversations with other participants have many times been the only valuable take away from a training event. Organizations that rely on volunteers don’t always do a great job of making the most of a person’s enthusiasm, and when I lose enthusiasm for an organization that doesn’t value my time, I move on.

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