Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Using Systems Thinking: How to Go from 140 PPt Slides to 2

What kind of motivation does a trainer need to liberate herself from an unweildly PowerPoint slide set? What about the above - might that work for you too?

Last Wednesday in London I delivered a systems thinking module for LEAD Europe Cohort 14 (I was the Director of Capacity Development at LEAD International for 6 years). For several years at LEAD I delivered a systems thinking training module that had 5 heavy PPt files which contained over 140 PPt slides. People generally liked the module, and it was always a bit of a marathon and rather overwhelming even in its one day version.

Last week I delivered the module with the same learning objectives (common archetypes, goal setting, Behaviour Over Time graphing/Reference Mode diagramming, and introduction to Causal Loop diagrams), in half the time, and with only 2 PPt slides! Even with this incredible dematerialisation (literally and figuratively), people found the module incredibly useful and perhaps even more deeply so.

What could get me to break my dependence on that pile of carefully crafted slides, and get me closer to the point in half the time?

I knew that in the amount of time we had (4 hours) there was simply no way I could run through those slide sets and do the exercises. So I decided to change the format, and have me be the medium for content delivery rather than the slide deck. As a result, people really got more of me, the trainer, as I went through the steps with them of the various games and exercises, helped them identify their own examples for application, and coached them as they tested the two diagramming tools on these examples. Because they were interacting with me instead of the slide set, I got more immediate feedback, which gave me more confidence in what I was delivering, which in turn helped me to resist hiding behind an enormous slide set.

Here are a few other practical things I did to reduce my need for slides:

  1. I wrote the schedule on a flip chart and used it for signposting and transitions, instead of slides. This was for myself as much as participants. I also wrote up the short hand of the overall sequence and narrative of the module and carried that around with me so I could make and remake the key points for people, and never lose the plot that was so carefully constructed in the slides.

  2. I learned the game briefings by heart and gave them orally with a physical demonstration to help people follow (rather than the rules on a slide and a picture of the action);

  3. I took out ALL the examples. As heretical as that sounds, it helped quickly contextualise the tools for this particular group, as they came up with stories related to their collective knowledge based on past discussions. For example, I gave people the archetypes (like "better before worse"), with a cartoon which illustrated each one, and asked people in pairs to come up with the examples of these archetypes from their discussions together that week, as well as from their own life and work. These were then used to breathe life into the generic structures (rather than my generic examples).

  4. My only 2 slides described the anatomy of the two diagramming tools, which I put up to talk through briefly. Then I took them down. I had photocopied these and put the tips on the back, (e.g. for selecting good variable names, or for assigning polarity on a CLD), and handed these out, so that they could be used as a reference when they drew their own diagrams.

Overall it was an exercise in getting to the essence of the learning. Deriving the most critical points, and having people do all their learning through application. It was such a success, I will probably never use those 140 slides again!