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Welcome to

The Standup Trainer Newsletter

August 2005


Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.



This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end. But we're betting you'll change your mind by the time you get there.)

Welcome to all new and continuing subscribers!

In this issue:

1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month

Sometimes all you can do is hope they're laughing WITH you, and not AT you!

2. Presentation Hall of Shame

There is no excuse for being unprepared to present. Unless it's not your fault.

3. Presentation Skills Book Review

It's show time! Learn how to apply the techniques of a late-night talk show host in your next training session.

4. Useful Online Resource of the Month

Interviewing and networking skills for trainers and presenters.

1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month


[Editor's Note: Have you a good story to tell about the time SOMETHING WENT WRONG at a presentation you were giving (or attending)? We are soliciting submissions for this segment of our newsletter. If your story is chosen, you will receive a FREE copy of either of Ellen's two books, The Standup Trainer or Presenting with Style (your choice). Simply send your story (just a couple of paragraphs will be fine) to edowling@standuptrainer.com.]

The winner of this month's contest is Diana Spendlove, an independent Instructional Consultant for various community colleges and universities in New Mexico.


Some time ago, Diana was conducting a management training skills class for a pretty high-profile group of folks: vice presidents of a regional medical center (some physicians, many also holding PhD or MS degrees). As she went through her PowerPoint presentation (which she had spent HOURS AND HOURS proofreading and disaster-checking, of course), she thought she heard snickers of laughter starting from one side of the room. Then she realized that the snickers had become a "wave" of laughter directed at the slide up on the screen.

Puzzled, she turned to learn what was so funny, expecting to see the word "assess" (under the heading "Critical Areas for Managers").

Of course, what she actually saw (in letters oh, 5 to 6 feet high, at least) was the word ASSES.

"Well, what could I do," Diana says now, "but just laugh along with them!"


[Ellen's Note: I once put a sentence up on an overhead transparency that said something like, "Time management is a critical skill for any shift supervisor." Except I left the letter "f" out of the word "shift." Of course I had carefully reviewed the overheads (I do, after all, teach a grammar class!), but I never saw the typo until a student in my class commented, "Well, I think that's actually a more accurate description of that job anyway!"]

2. Presentation Hall of Shame

Jim Hughes, President of the New Mexico Chapter of The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), relates that he once worked for a company that nearly never gave its trainers enough time to adequately prepare for a training session. Typically, the curriculum for a new class would not be finalized till around midnight of the night before a class scheduled to start at 8 am (with, apparently, a very sleepy instructor). And to make matters even worse, most of the time the poor trainer was only given HALF of the curriculum before the morning start; the other half would be given to him or her during lunch for the afternoon session!

Can you imagine? It would take a most amazing instructor to be able to persuade any of the students that he/she was really prepared for the class.

[Ellen's Note: Indeed, sometimes the "horror" of the presentation or training session is NOT the trainer's fault. If something like this has ever happened to you, please let me know.]

3. Presentation Skills Book Review


Showmanship for Presenters , by Dave Arch (1995, Creative Training Techniques Press)

Back in 1996, while I was participating in Bob Pike's Creative Training Techniques Conference in Minneapolis (conducting my The Standup Trainer workshop ), I had the opportunity to sit in on Dave Arch's session, Tricks for Trainers. Dave (a master magician as well as a trainer) assured us that no matter how uncoordinated we trainers might be, we could ALL learn how to perform magic tricks to amaze, delight, and wake up our own trainees.

I'm not sure that Dave every really converted me to the belief that I could become an adept trainer/magician. (I was always afraid that somehow I would set myself on fire.) But I've always agreed enthusiastically with his underlying philosophy: "Showmanship is the art of making the ordinary extraordinary."

Following the success of Tricks for Trainers (the book), Dave brought out Showmanship for Presenters: 49 Proven Training Techniques for Professional Presenters, in which he suggest that trainers and presenters can improve the quality of their sessions by adapting the same structural segments used by late-night talk show hosts: warm-up, introduction, monologue, banter, talking guest(s), musical guest(s), closing. Here are some of the points I found most interesting in Dave's book:

On finding humorous material to use in a presentation or training session:

"One of the best ways to find new comedy material is to tape record a session in which you rant and rave about issues of significance to you, anything that really makes you feel. Then play the recording back and take notes. . . a comedian's strongest material is always found in the arena of his or her passion."

On recovering from mistakes:

"Shrug it off and move on. Your participants will respect you for it!" [Diana Spendlove, above, must have read Dave's book!]

On building suspense to increase participant interest in the subject:

"Hidden from the audience by a screen, master showman and escape artist Harry Houdini often escaped from his restraints a full 15 to 20 minutes before coming out from behind the screen. It's said that he once sat backstage reading the newspaper until a stagehand informed him that the rustling of the pages could be heard in the audience. (Houdini responded that the band should play louder.) May each of our training sessions unfold like a well-written novel."

Build suspense by "unveiling":

"Whenever there's room for early arrivers to congregate outside your room, open the doors no more than 30 minutes before training begins. When people sit in a room for 45 minutes or longer, principles of attention management tell us that the room is no longer fresh for them. Your participants are curious to see the room, so build their anticipation and keep the room 'fresh' longer by waiting to open it."

How to "warm up" your audience:

"Fifteen minutes or so before the official start of the session, I walk around the room and meet the early participants individually. Then, with about five minutes to go, I place a project or brainteaser transparency on the overhead for table teams to work on. A prize giveaway is offered to tables that successfully complete the assignment." [Ellen's Note: Dave also includes sample warm-up exercises in the book.]

And lastly, how to increase energy and add humor with a prize giveaway for any participant who volunteers:

"[Tell the volunteer] 'You've just won a brand new Cadillac (pause) windshield (pause) wiper (pause) blade (pause) box (pause) top!' The participant receives a tiny piece of cardboard from the top of a wiper-blade box! With the appropriate pauses, the trainer cuts into the group's laughter and takes the collective energy to yet another level."

4. Useful Online Resource of the Month

One-E-Anna Notes is a monthly (free) newsletter produced by Anna Watkins, a certified professional career coach (and former President of the Hudson Mohawk Chapter of ASTD).

In the most recent edition of Anna's newsletter, for example, you'll find useful resources for achieving your professional and personal goals, including how to "transform the chore of networking into the pleasant experience of building friendships" and how to "interview yourself" before being interviewed by a prospective employer or client. (All of these techniques would work very well for presenters and trainers as well.)

That's it for this month! If you enjoyed this newsletter please do pass it on to your friends. (Or send them to www.standuptrainer.com to get their own subscription. Why should YOU have to do everything for them?)

If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:

Dowling & Associates, Inc.

Ellen Dowling, President


(505) 883-9070