Saturday, 26 May 2012

Delivering a better presentation / training course. No. 5. Eliminate typos from training materials!

This is the fifth in a series of posts where I plan to discuss my ideas, tips and best practices for delivering a great presentation / training course. Eliminate all typos and spelling mistakes from your materials!

Before I start, I must warn you that I will shortly be referencing a scene in Men in Black 3 which will to some count as a spoiler. Particularly as many of you have probably not seen it yet. So if you would rather not read on, why not check out some of Bryan O'Connor's posts? He's been a busy guy this month.

This isn't the first time that I have written about spelling. I was going on about it in the following post: How hard can it be to write a paper that contains no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors?.

And before you write in, yes I do now that it contains a spelling mistake. It was an attempt at humour.

There is a scene in Hell Boy (this doesn't count as a spoiler as it such an old movie) where HellBoy is running down a corridor and his chunky right hand thing is on his right hand side as you would expect. He turns a corner and suddenly it is on his left. Then he turns another corner and it is back on his right side.

The editor presumably flipped the footage due to continuity. i.e. emerging the right way out of a corner. I would have thought that chunky right/left/right hand thing would constitute a more serious continuity gaff?

A mistake like that spoils the movie for me. With all of the millions they have spent and they can't fix that?

Crikey. Oliver Reed died whilst filming Gladiator and they still managed to add him to an extra scene!

MIB3 is another offender. I won't get into how they tackled time travel because that's always tricky. They did it pretty well in fact. Loved the film. But there were some stupid mistakes that spoiled it for me.

There is a scene towards the end of the film where agents J and K are detained by some soldiers at Cape Canaveral. At least one of the soldiers, a Corporal, is wearing an Iron Cross. All of the soldiers were wearing plenty of medals but it is the GERMAN Iron Cross on an AMERICAN soldier that I object to.

My first reaction was that some dumb Muppet in the Props Department had simply grabbed a handful of medals. Then I thought "No way". A multi-million Dollar movie like this? All the attention to detail that has gone into creating an authentic 1969? It must be deliberate. So then I'm thinking that perhaps this is a clever reference to Wernher von Braun who was whisked away to America at the end of the Second World war and was a leading light in the NASA space program. And then I thought "Nah!". Some dumb Muppet in the Props Department has just grabbed a handful of medals from the dressing up box.

In the moments that I took to process and be annoyed by the medals, I was distracted from what was happening on the screen.

Now talking about gaffs in movies is just as common a topic as the weather or perhaps politics. More so. And is often a source of amusement.

But mistakes in training materials is more serious. Just as the gaffs I just mentioned lower my opinion of the movies slightly, the same would be  true of courseware.

Typos and errors in courseware say 'poor quality' and are very distracting. Now typos in new material is understandable. Typos in material that has been in use for some weeks, months or even years is unforgivable.

They either mean that no one in the organisation has spotted the typo (nor indeed any delegate) or more likely, no one has taken responsibility for correcting the error.

Let's put that another way. No one could be bothered to correct the mistake when it was spotted. So how highly should a delegate value the course material and the course?

I once attended a Train the Trainer event for Visual Studio 2005. Whilst working through the exercises, I found and documented 169 mistakes. I was particularly keen to spot any errors as I would shortly be redelivering it. I couldn't believe how dreadful the exercises were. Fortunately, I was able to get hold of the Word documents so that I could make my own corrections before redelivery.

This was the tenth time that the course been delivered by the same trainer. Why had he not made the corrections himself?

Typos are a bad thing in two ways. A misspelt word here and there is bad enough as it just says 'poor quality' and can be distracting as I have already discussed.

However, on technical courses where you are showing code that delegates are expected to type in, if there are any typos, the delegate is unlikely to spot them as they are perhaps learning a new language.

They are more likely to type it in good faith and then spend the next 10 minutes trying to debug the program. How do you think they are going to feel when you come by and say "Oh yes, that's a typo"?

You could just bluff and pretend that you hadn't seen it before. Which means you are asking them to believe that no one has ever typed in that incorrect code before or that perhaps you could use the trusty "Ah, this is a brand new reprint. Perhaps the typo was introduced in this edition?". Keep digging!

The error has been there for months and you were too busy doing other stuff to correct the mistake or get  someone else to correct the mistake.

Where you or your company own the material, you are well positioned to correct the mistake. With  QA Authored material such as Developing Windows Presentation Foundation applications with Visual Studio 2010 and Expression Blend 4, if I or  a delegate finds a typo, I update the material and upload it to our courseware repository the same day. That way, the next print run will not contain the same mistake.

It is not so easy when the material is bought in. QA, like many training companies use training materials written by software vendors such as Microsoft Official Curriculum.

We have no access to the source documents. That doesn't mean that you cannot deal with typos. Most courseware contains typos. That is to be expected. It is how you manage them that matters.

It is no good to simply say "Mmm, Yes. There are a few typos in here. Well of course we buy it in so there is not much we can do".


Whenever I prepare to deliver someone else's course, I maintain a log of all the typos. If the typos are in the slides, I can at least ensure that I correct my electronic slide deck. If the typos are in the exercises, I will know to warn the delegates just before they reach them. If there are several mistakes, I will usually give the delegates a copy of my error log as a PDF to keep on their Desktop.

Fortunately, I mostly deliver my own material these days and so do not have to deal with many typos.

The first couple of runs of a course are going to throw up some typos that weren't spotted during the writing and proof reading stages. However, I always enlist the support of delegates on new(ish) courses and award points for any typos found. Winner gets a Mars bar on the last day. During the first few outings for a course, 30 or so typos might come to light. By the 3rd or 4th outing, we are down to perhaps 10. By the 5th and 6th, we are probably hearing of spaces before question marks.

So if you or a delegate discover a typo, correct it immediately, just walk over to your computer and load up the document that you carry with you (you do don't you?) and fix it!

Perhaps you don't keep a set with you? Well, access whatever remote content management system you use and fix it!

If you cannot do it immediately because you are fire fighting 12 stressed delegates who are trying to cope with the typo rich exercises, do it on your next break.

If it's not your own material, update your own error log immediately so that you never have to 'discover' the typo again. You could also feed this information back to the people who wrote the material in the first place. You never know, they might actually fix it.

That'll do for now. I have checked this post through several times and am pretty sure that it is free of typos. However, if you do find any mistakes please let me know and I will correct them immediately. You never know, you could win a Mars bar.

Finally. I did a quick check online to see if anyone else had written about American Soldiers wearing Iron Crosses. Look at what I found: 14 American Soldiers awarded the Iron Cross. Spooky!

[Update. My colleague David Walker got in touch to say that the medal was in fact the US forces veteran medal from the end of WWII. So that's OK then.]

[Update. Except for the fact that MIB3 is set in 1969 which would have meant that this particular youthful soldier would have been 6 months old at the end of World War II!]

Just saying!

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"


Delivering a better presentation / training course. No. 4. Don’t swear!

This is the fourth in a series of posts where I plan to discuss my ideas, tips and best practices for delivering a great presentation / training course. This is another obvious one, right? Don’t swear!

This is another one of those obvious ones and yet I have often heard presenters do it.

Now I am not talking about full on foul language that would make my mother blush as that is totally unacceptable.

However, what about a low level word like (and I am deliberately misspelling here) carp? I'm sure I have seen that word on a newspaper cover. Granted it was a tabloid with a red top.

I am sure that to some trainers, words like this are in common parlance and don't give it a second thought.

I know for a fact that some trainers do it deliberately as a means of engaging with a male only group and to become 'one of the guys'.

I have to admit to having used the carp word once or twice when experimenting with techniques to keep the attention of delegates. It can be difficult to maintain a delegate's attention. Particularly in the afternoon when they have already been sat listening to you for several hours and have now eaten. Whenever I spotted a delegate begin to nod off, I contrived to slip the carp word in.

Sure enough, it would be enough to give the person a slight jolt. Perhaps they were thinking "did he just say carp?"

After a while, I stopped using it as it was earning me a frown from some delegates and there are plenty of other techniques for keeping a group engaged/awake (I feel another post coming on).

It was brought home to me a few months ago. I was attending a Windows 8 Train the Trainer event and one of the presenters strolled onto the stage looking quite scruffy. There's casual and then there's "going dressed to steal cars". (There's another post right there!) Anyway, about midway through his presentation he used the carp word and I was taken aback.

As someone who has used the word himself in a presentation (and much worse in a car), I was quite put out. So much so that I almost certainly missed whatever he said next. Good job I recorded the session.

I used to work with a guy who is a popular international speaker. I delivered a course for a client a week or two after he had delivered a course there. The client made a point of telling me that the previous trainer had sworn and they didn't approve. So much so that they told the training company to make sure that this particular trainer was never sent to them again. Unfortunately, none of that was shared with the trainer, so that he could take it on board. The training company simply sent someone else.

So as the saying goes, "It's not big and it's not clever!". Swearing doesn't add anything of value to the presentation and can only detract from it.

So don't do it.

"Simple as" as my son's Film Studies lecturer once said to me at a parents evening. Where do they find these people?

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Delivering a better presentation / training course. No. 3. The Daily review.

This is the third in a series of posts where I plan to discuss my ideas, tips and best practices for delivering a great presentation / training course. This one can easily be dismissed as a bit of a time waster. Don’t. This one is gem!

This one is probably the most important part of any training day.

Review sessions are quite common at the end of chapters to evaluate how much the delegates have learned. This often involves asking the delegates questions. I find that technique too challenging for some delegates. In so far as it puts them on the spot and they feel uncomfortable.

Instead, I set aside 10 to 20 minutes first thing every morning after the first. The setup is the same. I create a Powerpoint slide with everyone's name on it in advance. I then work around the room asking each person to name one thing that they know now that they didn't know the morning before. i.e. something related to the course and not something that they read in the Metro paper on the train.

It can be a fact, a technique or an anecdote that I used the day before. It can be something important or trivial. By the end of the review we have usually covered all of the ground from the day before.

This technique allows me an opportunity to ask questions both open and closed. If I want to expand on a theme, I am also able to ask reflective questions such as "so why was that the recommended best practice?".

This daily session is very powerful. Particularly on the longer 3-5 day courses as it acts as a reminder to the delegates of all the things that they have learned.

Not only does it reassure me as the trainer that they are taking on board everything I have said, it also acts to reassure them that they are actually learning new things (and retaining them). It also encourages delegates to ask questions they wouldn't have asked during the actual lesson as the review session is ideal for engaging with otherwise unresponsive groups.

On longer courses, it is quite common for delegates to become weary and lost track of what topics have been covered. However, a quick review in the morning brings all the key points flooding back.

I have been tempted to drop the review sometimes when the course has been running behind and I want to make up time. I am glad to say that I haven't done so too often.

Delegates often get into the spirit and start to note down one or two (someone else might get their first one) key points so they are prepared for the following morning. Furthermore, one or two delegates per course will sometimes ask for a copy of the review slide deck to take away as they value the information and ideas that they contain.

So if you haven't tried a technique like this, why not give it a try? At the very least, I am sure that you find that it helps you to engage with the group and improve the dynamic. Who knows, the delegates might even find the course more satisfying!

Delegates will be able to recall more facts.

You will be reassured of their learning.

They will be reassured of their learning.

You will be more likely to engage with quiet groups.


Trust me. This one is a gem!

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Delivering a better presentation / training course. No. 2. Don’t read aloud from the manual!

This is the second in a series of posts where I plan to discuss my ideas, tips and best practices for delivering a great presentation / training course. This is so obvious and yet I have seen it happen several times. Don’t read aloud from the manual!

In the first post of my series, I tackled a major Bête Noire (its French) of mine, trainers who sit down while presenting. Well here is another one, trainers who read aloud from the manual.

This says one thing and one thing only to the delegate. "I do not know my stuff. I do not know the course. I probably don't know the subject. I am totally unprepared.".

OK that's four things. All of them bad.

This is a training course, not Jackanory or Listen with Mother.

They would be better off reading it quietly to themselves or perhaps sitting in the garden and reading a book on the subject. Perhaps with a nice cup of tea and a Cherry Bakewell.

I attended a course once (not at QA). It was a Microsoft Official Curriculum course (Windows NT 4.0 Administration) and so the trainer was MCT certified. He sat and read some pages from module 1 to us. After coffee, he read some of module 2 to us and then asked us to read pages 36 - 42 ourselves while he nipped out for a minute or two. I got up and left. I met him some months later and he admitted that it was his first teach and he wasn't prepared. I told him that it was obvious.

If you don't know the course, don't deliver it.

There is no need for all the words to be spoken aloud anyway. The notes in the manual are there to support anything that you might say about a topic during a presentation. If you were to narrate the notes, the course would last much longer than scheduled.

There is a widely used phrase. "Death by Powerpoint". Now let's be clear. I use Powerpoint slides, I have created countless Powerpoint slides and they are a much better alternative to the combination of flipchart, marker and my handwriting.

I suppose that could be a guide couldn't it? Only put on a Powerpoint slide what you would have written on a flipchart if you had the time. I have seen slides with 20 bullet points on them! What's more, so did many of the other 40 slides in the same deck.

I plan to write a post on the dos and donts of using Powerpoint in the future so I will just say two things here as they relate to this post.

Do not face the screen and read the slide to the delegates. That is as bad as reading the notes to them.

Finally, do not put quotes onto your slides. I am sure that some people put quotes on slides to add some kind of gravitas to the material.

What are you going to do? Read the quote out to them and then nod sagely? Worse? Ask them to read the quote themselves and then raise your eyebrow as only Roger Moore can do and then nod sagely.

If it's someone else's material, and it's their fault? Paraphrase and move on.

You know it wrong!

That will do for now.

I'll be back as soon as I can with more tips and ideas to help you deliver a great presentation or training course. 


See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"

Delivering a better presentation / training course. No. 1. Don’t sit down!

This is the first in a series of posts where I plan to discuss my ideas, tips and best practices for delivering a great presentation / training course. So here is a very simple, yet effective technique to get us started. Stand up.

You might think that this one is obvious but I have attended several training courses where the trainer sat down the whole time.

Now there are a couple of good reasons for the trainer to sit down. For example, they are giving a demonstration and are sat at the keyboard typing in some code. On the other hand, they might have broken their leg in a skiing accident and are more comfortable in a chair.

If neither applies, then they should be on their feet.

Incidentally, although most of the technical training rooms at QA currently have desks at the front of the classroom for the instructor, I try and use a lectern where possible so I can remain standing during the demos too.

I have read a number of evaluation forms where the respondent has complained that the trainer sat down throughout the course.

Look at it from the delegate's point of view, if there are two monitors (theirs and the instructor's) between them and the instructor then they will spend the entire course listening to a disembodied voice, unless they want to move their chair into the aisle and I have seen that done before. They might as well listen to a pod cast.

If the trainer is sat down, they are unlikely to be maintaining eye contact with their delegates. How are they to know if the delegates understand what is being said?

So why do I think that some trainers remain seated?

Nerves. They are probably nervous and by sitting down behind the monitor and desk they are maintaining a barrier between themselves and their audience.

Well the best way to overcome the nerves is for them to get on their feet and get on with it. The more they present in this way and the more they realise that the delegates didn't come to hurl abuse at them then the more comfortable they will become. Then again, if their nerves are so bad that they can never overcome their fear of presenting then they are obviously in the wrong job.

Many years ago I was a DJ (it was the 80s and I had hair). I had been working as a DJ for several years and thought I was doing pretty well when I asked a very good friend of mine named Tony Thomas who was a brilliant DJ to give me some tips. He came along to one of my gigs and at the end of the night came over to give me his advice. He had one tip for me. "Open up your set". My standard setup was to arrange my turntables and records (remember them?) on a series of tables across the stage with an array of lights to the front and flanked by speakers. I would spend the entire evening 'behind' the decks flipping through my record boxes thinking about what I might play next. In effect I was hiding.

I followed his suggestion of placing the decks and records on tables either side of me with a gap in the middle. As I had nowhere to hide, I was forced to engage more with the crowd. In no time at all I found that I was having a much more enjoyable night and judging by the bookings, so were the crowd. Within weeks of my changing my approach, the weekly number of booking calls quadrupled and stayed that way.

So whether you're a DJ or a trainer, if you do not engage with your audience you might as well not be there at all.

How about this to help you get started? Before you begin your next course/presentation, remove the instructor chair from the classroom. That kind of immersion therapy will have you sorted out in no time. Either that or you will have realised once and for all that you are not suited to a career in presenting and can crack on and find something that suits you better.

I'll be back as soon as I can with more of my tips and ideas to help you deliver a great presentation or training course.  

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"


Did you have a satisfactory course?

I have written and delivered training courses for many years and in all that time there has always been some form of evaluation at the end of the course. Although there are several questions on the current QA evaluation form, the most important is Overall Satisfaction.

What is the evaluation form for? 

The design of evaluation forms has varied widely over time and they have asked respondents to rate many aspects of the course including pre course administration, the venue and its facilities, catering, training materials and the trainer.

These forms were often referred to as 'Happy Sheets' which tells you I suppose what we thought they were for. i.e. if the delegate scored relatively highly then they must have been happy and therefore it must have been a good course.

Not really. I have known delegates who have had a great time, had a lot of fun and made some friends but in terms of learning felt that the course wasn't the right level for them.

Never mind if their employer (the client) was happy.

Why is that?

Like many trainers, I would check out the scores at the end of a course and look at the trainer scores (i.e. mine) first. How did I do? What did they think of me?

Only natural right?

I would of course check out the other scores such as facilities, administration and materials to see how they fared. I would probably tut if there had been a problem in one of those areas. In fact in a selfish way it was a reinforcement of my score if everything else was lower. e.g. if the trainer's score was higher than the course structure and materials.

As long as my score was good, I could hold my head up.

An interesting debate recurred over the years to do with scoring. It had to do with not using an odd number to score a question. e.g. 1 - 5. If you scored using an odd maximum score then you were enabling the respondent to score an average. e.g. 3 out of 5.

So I have seen question score lines of 1- 6 and 1 - 10 on forms but very few 1 - 5 etc.

I understand the logic but those who came up with the theory missed an important point. If the respondent scored anything other than the top two values then they were not happy at all.

At QA, each of our questions is scored out of 9. So for me, anything other than an 8 or a 9 is poor.

Over the years I have come to realise that although I want my contribution to be appreciated and valued, it is the combination of factors that really matters.

Are delegates satisfied? 

Although the scores in each category is important on a QA evaluation form, the single most important thing that QA have done is to focus on another question entirely.

Overall Satisfaction

This has four possible answers and therefore a swing of 1 has a great impact.

Possible answers are:

1. Very Satisfied

2. Somewhat Satisfied

3. Somewhat Dissatisfied

4. Very Dissatisfied


Someone who is Very Satisfied is highly likely to come back to and or recommend QA.

It stands to reason that either Somewhat Dissatisfied or Very Dissatisfied are totally unacceptable a as the delegate is clearly not happy with some aspect(s) of the course/QA experience.

Someone who is Somewhat Satisfied is saying it's OK.

I had an Antipasto Misto in Swindon the other night. It was OK. I'll not be walking 600 yards to the restaurant again this evening.

On the other hand, I had a meal in a restaurant ( once that I enjoyed so much (food and service) that I now make a point of staying in the hotel across the road even though it means a 3 mile walk (I don't do The Underground - full of sweaty/smelly/sneezy people) each way to our centres at Middlesex Street, King William Street or Tabernacle Street.

I am committed to doing everything that I can to ensure that all delegates are happy to say they are Very Satisfied. Not only by making sure that I deliver the best course that I can and hopefully attaining a high personal trainer score but by also focusing on those areas that are in theory "not my responsibility".

Even though I take a strong interest in my trainer scores, I also look at the other scores. particularly if I feel that they contributed to a Somewhat Satisfied score.

It gives me the motivation to approach colleagues with an influence on other scores to see if there is anything I can do to help them address the problem.

This includes discussing course pre-requisites with account managers or in the case of courseware, seeking out the author to report a typo or misleading step in an exercise. If it's externally sourced material, this might involve me compiling a list of gotchas in the material and making sure that the delegates have a copy to save any problems whilst working on them.

If it's a problem with the room, I will be aware of it on day one. e.g. faulty air conditioning, chair or window blind etc. So I can start dealing with it straight away rather than kicking it into the long grass.

After every course, I look at the evaluations and try and identify what we did right and what we could have done better.


How do you deliver a great course? 

Having said all that about all aspects being important, it is only natural that I constantly strive to not only improve my scores and keep them high, but that I also try to find areas of the course in terms of design and delivery that I can improve to help contribute to a high level of satisfaction.

With that in mind, I have decided to write a series of posts/articles that deal with ideas, tips and best practices. i.e. Those that work for me and get me results.

If you are a trainer, perhaps you will find them useful.

If you are not a trainer, well I hope you will find the insight interesting.

Watch this space.

I'll be back just as soon as I come up with a catchy title for the series.

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"