Have you ever noticed that most mailers' recommended "cure-all" for any problem is to improve communications and implement training? Sounds appropriate, or is it?

In order to fill the gaps in my presentation skills, I recently completed a 12-week course on training and development. The most relevant "take-away" for me was recognizing that while the lecture format is an inexpensive method to share information with a large group, it is not the most effective for long-term transfer of learning. I am guilty of building a PowerPoint (loaded with color, graphics and pictures) to tell and talk and NOT train! At best, that method is an awareness exercise. The reality is "being lectured to" is not effective communications and training. The information will not be remembered unless active training is a part of the communications and training plan.

Active training is an effective way to communicate when working with adults. Adults need to interact and be involved with other people to influence the training transfer. At a pre-NPF breakfast (probably 15 years ago), a Postmaster asked the audience what part of the NPF was the most valuable. I said, "The networking events" and of course got a laugh. But I wasn't joking. I learned and remembered more when I discussed session concepts relevant to my current work situations with other mailing experts at receptions and networking events.

Volumes have been written focused on best practices for implementing the two cure-all words. I was the most impressed by the concept developed by the late Mel Silberman, a respected pioneer in the field of education psychology and training who inspired people to be "people smart - to learn faster and collaborate effectively." According to Silberman, "Adults need to study ideas, solve problems and apply what they know in a fast-paced, fun, supportive and personally engaging session." Presenters at one end of the spectrum stand stiffly glued to a podium reading a script. And at the other extreme I've watched people pace up and down the aisle like a nervous long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs - that's not the intent of a fast-paced environment.

Adults need to hear the information, visualize it, ask questions and discuss it with others. Highest on the list is to "do it" by discovering for themselves how to take the training home and apply it. If you can demonstrate a return on the training investment your company will most likely include the expense in future budgets and I will see you at the next NPF.

The general consensus from a variety of experts point out these effective communication and training characteristics:
· Specify why the material is important to the learner - "what's in it for me"
· Establish realistic goals and objectives. Adults prefer to self-direct their rate of learning and involvement. An example of this is selecting which sessions to attend at the NPF based on what the participant perceives to be their need.
· Immediately applicable information and content - discuss how to apply the information allowing the participant to work more effectively (performance-centered orientation).
· Provide a variety of methods and exercises relevant to participant's experiences, knowledge, skills and interests linked to their real working environment (role-playing, interactive demonstrations, case studies, on-the-job activities, brainstorming)

Silberman identified segments of active training that will engage adults and help you to improve your communications and training efforts.
1. Opening activities that immediate engage participants to get acquainted, build teamwork, assess the group and get buy-in for the training session
2. Discussions that are lively and focused to engage participation in varied formats, separate fact from opinion and manage the flow
3. Presentations that are brain-friendly and will be remembered involving participants to reinforce key points
4. Practice skills that will show (not tell) and match the method to the learner while monitoring the performance to provide feedback and coaching
5. Closing activities that are unforgettable to review the material, promote self-assessment, encourage application, and end with a bang!

Using any of these tips will improve effectiveness for face-to-face sessions. Much of the training we are involved with today is web-based due to multiple participant locations and reduced travel budgets. I have gathered volumes of tips to improve conference calls and "webinars" - but I'll save that for another day except for this; never, never flush unless you use the "mute" function and do not use "hold" - most of us don't enjoy your music!

(Take a moment to be inspired by Mel Silberman's contributions. Check out: http://www.activetraining.com. He was an exceptional educator and leader.)