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Master Faculty Video Series

Expert faculty guides you through the latest training techniques.

Create Effective Presentations

Use PLI tools included in your membership to build better presentations.

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Experts share insights to keep you up to date on developments and trends.

Master Faculty Video Series

About the Series

Learning consultant Dr. Will Thalheimer shares research-based design recommendations. His practice is based on applying results from research on learning, memory and instruction.

Creating an Effective CLE Presentation

In a series of interview and articles, our 2017 Visionary Corporate Partner, Practising Law Institute, will bring four expert perspectives to our members. In this inaugural interview, J.C. Kinnamon, Ph.D., PLI’s director of research and development, interviews Will Thalheimer, Ph.D. a workplace learning expert who has consulted with PLI on several program improvement initiatives.

Dr. Thalheimer: Let’s start with the obvious things. As a CLE instructor, you need to know your audience and provide them with content that is relevant to their work. Don’t bore them with fundamentals if they’re already knowledgeable, but don’t forget to put new and complex concepts into perspective. Avoid presenting a series of bullet points—bullets will kill your audience. Instead, tell stories, show relevance, provide examples, ask questions, ask for questions, and get your audience thinking deeply. If you want to help your learners remember what you’re teaching, you’ll have to do more than just talk. You’ll have to engage them in making decisions. In a sense, you want to give them practice USING the wisdom that you’ve taught—NOT just listening passively. By wrangling with the content that you present—either through answering questions, debating options, or thinking about boundary conditions—you’ll help your learners solidify what you’ve taught. The bottom line is that you won’t have done much good if people learn from you, but forget what you’ve taught in a day or two. To support their retention, you have to get them engaged.

Dr. Thalheimer: Here’s what we most often aim for: (1) good content, (2) attentive learners, and (3) learners who understand what we’ve taught. That’s a good start, but there are at least two other goals you should have: (4) learners who can make decisions with the information you’re teaching, and (5) learners who can remember the information you’ve taught. If you really want to be a superstar, you’ll aim for doing two more things—but please note that these are often extremely difficult, if not impossible, given the constraints of CLE logistics: (6) giving learners specific guidance on how they can take the new information and use it in their work, and (7) motivating learners to engage in additional learning on their own initiative.

Dr. Thalheimer: Yes. It’s called “instructional design,” and people can get master’s and doctoral degrees in it. Indeed, some instructional designers specialize in classroom-based learning, while others focus on learning through technology—for example, from computers or smartphones. Recently, instructional designers have also begun supporting learners as they learn on the job. Instructional design blends science and art. Research from many fields is utilized, including learning, memory, human-computer interactions, organizational psychology, persuasion, and other social sciences. Good instructional designers also bring other skills into their work, including graphic design, aesthetics, web design, writing, advertising, marketing, etc. Very few of us—indeed, even very few instructional designers—are good at all these skills, so for more complex learning initiatives, instructional designers often work with teams of people. Fortunately, when we’re making a presentation, we can follow a few simple guidelines to radically improve our effectiveness.

Dr. Thalheimer: I’ve watched dozens and dozens of hours of CLE programs, and several things have struck me. First, the teachers generally know their stuff and are usually passionate and engaging presenters. That’s wonderful, of course! But I also often see some problems. The biggest problem is that instructors often try to teach too much content. This is, by the way, the biggest flaw in the workplace learning field. We ALL try to cram in too much content. I do it, too! The next time you create a presentation for a CLE program, cut out 40% of your content and drill down deeper into the content areas you do cover. If you feel bad that they’re missing some valuable nuggets of content, you can provide your learners with a link to an article to read. Remember, you’d rather teach 6 topics really well and have people remember 5 of those topics than teach 10 things quickly and have people remember only 2 of the topics. How do you drill down deeper? Provide them with examples of effective and ineffective methods, tell relevant stories, provide hypotheticals, have folks debate the options, have them work in small groups, ask them what they agree with and what they’re worried about. In short, prompt them to make decisions about the content you’re teaching them. Passive listeners may be great in a symphony, but active learners will not only be jazzed by your engaging class—they’ll take more of what you’ve taught back to their work.

Dr. Thalheimer: The future will bring self-driving cars and more intimate learning. You may still be asked to play the role of “sage-on-the-stage,” but you will also be challenged to make classroom learning more engaging, more relevant, and more effective in supporting long-term remembering. Also, as learning technologies get better and better, your learners may decide they don’t want to schlep to a classroom; they’d rather engage with you on their smartphones or tablets or through audio assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s OK Google, etc. Obviously, you won’t have to be live 24/7, but you may be tasked with recording little snippets of video, creating scenario-based hypotheticals, and working with instructional designers to embed these learning morsels into a stream of interactions that feels intimate and personal to your learners. With all the time they’ll gain when their cars do the driving, they’ll be more inclined to spend time learning—and you’ll have more of a chance to help them in their work and careers.

Dr. Thalheimer: I’ve mentioned a few things already. Avoid too much content. Avoid talking too much—instead, get your learners making decisions. Avoid bullet points. Here are a few more mistakes to avoid. Don’t present lots of information all at once or all on one slide. Your learners won’t know where to look on your slides. Use simple slide animations to reveal one thing at a time. Don’t go crazy with fonts or colors. Keep it simple. Don’t use your company’s slide templates—you don’t want to clutter the screen or lose space for more important information. Okay, you can use your logo on the first and last slide. That’s it. Think of it this way--when you go see a movie, is the movie studio’s logo visible throughout the movie? No, of course not. Don’t fall for the biggest myth in learning—learning styles. At some point, you might be told to cater to your learners’ different learning styles. But here is the thing: there is now a ton of research to show that doing so is unnecessary and probably counterproductive. Instead of catering to so-called learning styles, remember to give your learners realistic practice making real-world decisions. And finally, whatever you do, don’t read your presentation. You’ll not only look like a rookie, but your audience will zone out as you drone on and on. Okay, one more thing--have fun! When you have fun, your audience will be more engaged and they’ll learn more. And, well, you’ll have more fun if you’re having more fun!

Delivering Effective Presentations

Help participants in your program learn by aligning your presentation with the human cognitive architecture. Structure your slides to best help them understand and remember what you're teaching.

Read the Notes

Delivering Effective Presentations Video Summary

  • Be concise – don’t write in sentences
    • Slides should help program participants understand – not remind you what to say
  • Make your slides readable
    • Reduce the number of words
    • Use sans-serif fonts at least 20 or 24 point size
    • Be sure the screen is readable from the back of the room and online
    • Don’t show everything at once – your audience can’t listen if they are reading ahead
  • Personal stories add unique value to the facts
  • Always start with a clear case for the value of what you are teaching
  • Cite real world examples of the costs of failure and benefits of success
  • Repeat key points – a little repetition helps participants remember
  • Use questions throughout your presentation to make your learners active participants
  • Use hypotheticals to help participants understand how to apply what are learning
  • Summarize – leave time to repeat each key points and remind them why it is important
  • A smooth presentation is more effective
  • Make sure you have the right amount of content for the time available

Using Questions

Avoid overloading participants with content and increase their engagement via questions that enhance learning success.

Read the Notes

Using Questions Video Summary

  • Research has shown that simply lecturing is ineffective
    • Teaching too much overloads learners
    • Learners lose ability to concentrate and retain information
  • Using questions effectively in a presentation:
    • Challenge and engage users
    • Provides the 3 Rs: Repetition, Relevance, and Remembering
  1. BEFORE - Pre-Questions
    • Establishes Value
    • Introduces the topic
    • Grabs attention and orients the learner
    • Motivates people to think deeply about the topic
  2. DURING - Clarifying Questions
    • Ensures understanding and engagement
  3. AFTER - Reinforcing Questions
    • Helps remember
  • Give participants a chance to discuss their answers before providing the correct/best answer.
    • Keeps engaged
    • Brings out new information
    • After talking, then share the best answer

Constructing Hypotheticals

It isn't enough to know the facts, you want participants to be able to get under the hood. That's why hypotheticals, if well-designed, can be valuable in triggering recall of what was learned and how to apply it.

Read the Notes

Constructing Hypotheticals Video Summary

  • Engage students
  • Require critical thinking
  • Ensure remembering
  • Real-world decision
  • Complex situation that requires thinking
  • Create the hypothetical without planning answers
  • Offer plausible decision options so participants have to identify the best option
    • Ask colleagues what they would do – use their responses to formulate options
    • Include common misconceptions as options
  • Pilot test questions
    • Half of your participant’s responses should be incorrect until after you have provided instruction
  • Prepare for facilitating discussion
  • Make slide readable, clear, appealing
  • Fit main points on 1-2 screens but do not sacrifice important details
  • Use a large font (20-24 point)
  • Don't cram too much text onto each slide

Creating Effective CLE Presentations

Use these tips, templates and checklists as building blocks to help improve the quality of your presentations.

  • An Interview with Dr. Will Thalheimer

    Refer to this interview for perspective on approaching your presentations.

  • Writing Objectives

    Use these tips to write clear, well-written learning objectives that meet accreditation requirements.

  • Creating Presentations

    Quickly structure and organize your powerpoint presentation with this template.

  • Program Evaluation

    This checklist can be used by a reviewer or presenters to assist in preparation and as a self-assessment.

  • Learning Effectiveness

    Based on scientific research, this checklist will help you achieve your goals as an instructor.

Thought Leadership

Learn how leaders in the professional development community are innovating the field. Drawing from scientific research, leaders share insight on the potential for applying eLearning in the legal education space.

Will eLearning work in legal education?

Here's how PLI is applying instructional design in our programs

Contact Us

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