Lessons From The Back Row

You can learn a lot from the back row. Over the last eight years I’ve had a great back row seat to learn from many gifted presenters, trainers and facilitators for the Arrow Leadership Program.

Photo Credit: loop_oh via Flickr

In this post, I’d like to share some of these lessons – not from the content they’ve delivered but from their approach to teaching, training and communications. Whether you are a veteran communicator or gearing up to share your first Sunday school lesson, I trust this post will have a takeaway or two.


Lessons For Teaching, Training and Communicating

  • Come To Serve – I’ve watched world-class presenters who have traveled for hours to join an Arrow week jump immediately into service mode – helping to load suitcases into the water taxi or bus, setting up the training room, connecting with participants after session, etc. Instead of expecting us to serve them, they took the initiative to model servant leadership. This speaks volumes to participants and hosts. Remember, even though you are ‘the speaker’, this isn’t about you. Your aim is to serve your hosts and the participants.
  • Share YourselfLearning often happens best in the context of relationship. While you may have outstanding content and remarkable credentials, be sure to first share you. Make a relational connection early – briefly sharing some of your life journey, introduce your family, humbly share a recent mountaintop and valley experience, etc.
  • Invite Early EngagementIf you are hoping for engagement and interaction, then invite it early. Instead of you praying for the group from the front of the room, ask the participants to find a partner and briefly pray together. Another idea – go around the room and have each participant share one question they have about the topic – if this would take too long, have them do this with a partner or write their question on an index card they post to a bulletin board.
  • Get Started – Sometimes introductions and preliminaries can eat too far into your first session. Be sure to get started into the objectives for the session fairly quickly.
  • Harness the Wisdom of the Room – The combined wisdom, experience and brainpower in the room is usually always going to be more than what you bring. Invite participants to contribute their experiences, ideas, wisdom, etc.
  • Less is Usually More – To give the group their money’s worth and to maximize your time, there’s often a temptation to ‘back up the truck’ and unload all your content. Doing so, however, leaves most participants feeling like they had too much to eat. Instead, go with a ‘less is more’ approach where quality trumps quantity and the participant is left desiring more.
  • Never RushIf your content is greater than your time, don’t let your anxiety overflow to the participants and don’t try to cram everything in. Instead, you can make a choice to cover A and not B – then inform the participants. Or, you can invite the participants to choose whether they would like to focus on A or B in the time remaining. This takes the pressure off everyone.
  • The Twenty Minute RuleYou may have a ton of great material, but most people need a short mental and/or physical break every twenty minutes. This could include exercises like: discuss with a partner, work in a small group, stand for a minute and share one takeaway or question so far, etc.
  • Provide Quality NotesThe quality of your handouts can take your presentation to another level. While it’s quickest to simply print your slide presentation with three slides to a page, this route gives away your presentation, can be hard to read and doesn’t add value. Your notes can provide value-added quotes and extra resources that you can reference but not have to teach. We leave a right-hand column for relevant quotes and to provide participants the space for making notes.
  • To Powerpoint or Not? – I’ve seen professionally designed Prezi presentations used by some presenters and no technology used by others. Interestingly, both have been effective. Be careful not to rely on slides – they can be restrictive and become tiresome. Ask yourself: Does this really need a slide? Could one slide be the concept image for several points I want to make?

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