Category Archives: learning

Power Phrases for Effective Training Facilitation

6170_1209261548246_1129939012_30668483_6822462_sLast week, I received this photo from a former colleague. A team of us had just happily completed a low ropes course–including  the “spider web” in the photo. (That’s me in the lower right hand corner-circa mid 80’s). The spider web metaphor in this training is powerful.

In our 4MAT train the trainer programs, we often describe the process of facilitating learning as weaving a web. As a facilitator, you draw people into the conversation and link the emerging thoughts together. You redirect the conversation, based on the common objectives the group has defined. You help the learner to see the emerging pattern of thought.

The language you use helps weave the conversation together. Here are some power phrases I’ve heard and often used that work welly:

“Susan brought up a great point. Specifically, the point you raise about ….is relevant to our conversation today.”

Here the facilitator acknowledges the value of the contribution. This encourages further sharing by the group. Notice how one, specific point was acknowledged, isolated and linked to the relevance of the learning conversation.

“Let’s talk about your expectations today and see how we can customize our time together.”

When you begin a learning design with an activity that defines expectations, you build collective ownership in the learning process.

“Let’s go back to our expectations mindmap and see how we are doing.”

A clear set of expectations will help you manage side-bar conversations. If the dialogue starts to move off-track, you can lead the group back to the expectations. This will help the group table conversations that are not immediately relevant to the learning objectives.

“Is everyone feeling comfortable with this? Are we ready to move to (applying this, the next piece of information)? Is there any part of the conversation that needs to be revisited?”

These questions allow the facilitator to check in on the comfort level. Notice there is no mention of “Do you understand?”  Many learners are not comfortable acknowledging that they are confused.  

“That’s a great question. Does anyone want to add to this or respond to Mike’s question?”

Here the facilitator is thrown a question. The facilitator’s response expands the dialogue to the larger group. When a learner asks a question, repeat it for the whole group or pose it to the group. Otherwise, the conversation narrows to a one-on-one and everyone else checks out. 

What works for you?  Share any questions, phrases or techniques that work well for you.

Dialogue in Training Design

“Are we as human beings so immersed in conversation that, like fish in water, conversation is our medium for survival and we just can’t see it?”
-Juanita Brown with David Isaacs, The World Cafe, Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter

The most powerful insights are those that we come upon ourselves. In a learning experience, it is far more impactful to create opportunities for learners to explore their own insights, rather than sharing our own or those of the experts.

New insights begin as a conversation wtih have with ourselves. We ponder and reflect on our own experience. We then move outward and begin to notice the experiences of others. We listen, we compare, we contrast and we look for patterns. The core process in the development of new insights is dialogue.

I am often struck by how little of this happens in most “learning experiences”. How many conferences have you attended where the only conversation that is happening is the one-way monologue of the speakers?

To create a dialogue that allows new insights to emerge, certain elements must be present:

A belief that the knowledge lives within the “room”-an acknowledgement that every participant in the room brings some knowledge of the issue, the content, the “stuff” we are about to “teach”

A context that encourages meaningful sharing-a physical and emotional space that brings forth sharing

Well-crafted questions that provoke dialogue

Skilled facilitation that helps the contributors see the patterns emerging in the conversation

Think about how you can begin a learning experience with a dialogue around the big idea of the subject you are teaching. Here are a few ideas:

Ask questions:
What question, if answered, could make the biggest difference in the issue we are exploring here today?
What conversation could happen here today that could have an impact across the organization?
What experiences have you had that have shaped your perception of (the issue, the topic, the system) we will be exploring today?

Create activities that elicit what the learners already know about the content:

Moving surveys-learners walk around the room and survey other participants on what they already know about the topic

Crafting outcomes-learners review a wall chart with the outcomes for the course. Learners dialogue on the outcomes that are most important, adding depth and personalizing the desired outcome

Focus your energy on provoking dialogue-bringing forth what is already present.

What is Learning?


We all perceive and then process our experiences, along with the information gained from the experiences. The differences in thewe approach these two activities define our learning style. 

Perceiving: how  we take in information-through experiences, reading, listening, visualizing or other sensory modes

Processing: how we determine the meaning, store and retrieve information-reflecting, watching, jumping in and doing, sitting back and observing

 These differences define our learning style.  Type One learners are feelers and watchers. Type Two learners are watchers and thinkers. Type Three learners are thinkers and doers. Type Four learners are doers and feelers. Your learning style influences your communication, coaching, leading and training style.

Learning is so much more than classroom instruction. Reading an email,  meeting, coaching, communicating are all learning processes. Our preferences impact how we engage and disengage in every situation that involves taking in and processing information.

Storytelling through Powerpoint

Powerpoint has gotten a bad rap. Powerpoint gave the power to design to the people. Yes, we the people have abused that power, a bit—100’s of slides in 12 point font each filled with competing images and points to be made. With a bit of self-control, powerpoint can be a dynamic and powerful storytelling tool.

A great story begins by drawing the audience in. It takes the learner on a journey–writers call it a “story arc”. And, it ends with a big finish, a moral, a point to be made.  Think about Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth–it all began with a story being told through powerpoint.

One of the absolute best books I have discovered on powerpoint design is Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology. Here is an archived webinar discovered on, in which Nancy shares tips on how to apply design principles to powerpoint:


What Would Google Do… with learning design?


I just finished reading Jeff Jarvis’ book, What Would Google Do? Jarvis does a great job of moving the learner from passive reader into engaged learner by asking questions.  What Would Google Do? has us ponder what we might learn from history’s fastest growing business. Jarvis suggests that involving your audience in the creative process is a key element of the success of Google.

Communities exist within your company and within your customer base. They exist to facilitate their mutual interest(s). The question isn’t how to create (learning) communities, the question is how to help them do what they are doing better. What forum can you provide that makes connecting and learning more accessible. 1

Questions to ponder:

How can we enable stakeholders to talk, share what they know, support each other, create together?

How do we synthesize all the content “out there”? How do we make it easily findable?

How do we create the ability to “mash-up” content and customize it, as needed?

How do we involve our audience in helping us create content?




How are you involving the learner in the creative process? What tools are you providing for the learner community to connect, share and create with? Would love to hear from you.


1Jarvis, Jeff. What Would Google Do? New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009.

Engaging Learners: Community in Learning

Reading Community:  The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block.  Block shares:

“If we have any desire to create an alternative future, it is only going to happen through a shift in language. If we want a change in culture, for example, the work is to change the conversation–or, more precisely, to have a conversation that we have not had before, one that has the power to create something new in the world. This insight forces us to question the value of our stories, the positions we take, our love of the past, and our way of being in the world.”

To create learner engagement, we must  tap in to the conversation the learner is having with themselves about the content to be learned. Next, we move the conversation from an internal one the learner has with themselves to an external dialogue they have with others. Well-designed questions lead the learner through this  process.  Without this dialogue at the beginning of the learning experience, it is difficult for true engagement to occur. Think about:

-Eliciting learner stories about their own experiences through simulations, journaling, group sharing,  and personal reflection exercises.

-Asking the learner to compare and contrast their story with others’

In a recent 4MAT web class, a designer shared that she had  learners create a timeline of experiences that shaped their definition of effective leadership. The exercise created a rich dialogue focused on great and not-so-great leadership moments. By comparing and contrasting the stories, the group began to create a collective definition of powerful leadership. Community emerged and engagement was immediate.