Monday, August 31, 2015

Combining Passions: How Stand Up Paddle Programs Strengthen Core Presentation Skills

By Tim Chandler, ACA SUP Instructor

Back in 2013, two notable things happened for me. First, I finished my Australian gig and took a job in back in the US technology sales/market where I began presenting almost daily (even if sometimes just to small groups). Second, I ran across a special report by the Outdoor Foundation that showed the sport of stand up paddling as the fastest growing water sport in the world. Excited to share the stoke I'd found with SUP surfing and potentially combine it with a my love of training and presenting technical content, I decided to put my water skills to the test to become an SUP instructor. 

Through multiple experiences, I eventually settled on the American Canoe Association SUP program as one of the oldest and most recognized organizations in the USA, set my educational goals, and speak to you now as one of a handful of Level 3 SUP Surf Instructors specializing in surf zone skills. 

During the last few years as an ACA SUP instructor/guide, the framework I've learned from the ACA instructor training programs surprised me as incredibly applicable in my role as a technologist and presenter. 

Here are four things I've learned on the water that have fundamentally impacted how I present technology to technical audiences in my day job.

1. Use a framework that ensures you 'deliver' what you present.

People learn in very different ways, and a good presentation should allow for content consumption by all kinds of learners.When delivering skills training we learn as instructors and presenters that groups we are speaking to contain many different types of learners/listeners. The ability to fully relay information to a "doer" at the same time we're delivering information to a "thinker" takes time & practice, but there are frameworks that we can follow to ensure we present in ways that are 'consumable' for each type of learner. I find frameworks like the IDEAS method (Introduce, Demonstrate, Explain, Activities, Summarize) used for skills training & development extrapolate well to technical presentations. This type of interactive presentation requires more than slideware and will need solid story telling with examples. I have found that adding interactive polling, listening for feedback and engaging audience members to speak beneficial. Even asking for feedback and physically 'pursuing' those who nod their heads in agreement to state why they're agreeing will grab the attention of listeners you may lose with even the most passionate 'flat' presentation of slides. Obviously, venue matters - but the IDEAS framework elements are things we do in SUP Instructor training or while training the lay person... and it's a great experiment crossing IDEAS into daily presentations even to groups of 100+. Just be prepared to reward a few participants with gift cards to Starbucks or Pete's Coffee for speaking up on the spot if you hit 'pursuit mode'. The first time you hand one of those puppies out, make a show, and you'll see other heads start to nod and hands going up. After all, technical people love their coffee... use the cards to teach your audience how to engage you!

2. People will remember a fraction of what you 'say'.

A good rule of thumb, people remember 20% of what they hear, 40% of what you show them, 60% of what they do, and 80% of what they discover on their own. It's clearly illustrated in teaching on the water SUP skills to adults, and you can cut the metrics in half or more when teaching kids! So how do you ensure that individual people actually digest the content you're delivering? We talked about delivery above - but remember to keep things short and simple and tie them to easy takeaways and key points. If your venue allows you can use stories with open ended questions like "Who has a story, where somewhere in the story arc, You were left sleeping on the data center floor during a SEV1 event?" That'll get techies talking, as we all love to compare battle scars. Leaving room in your presentation for a natural interaction to occur is important. Let the audience talk if the venue allows, or even push your perceived boundaries of the venue, ensuring that you tie any audience comments back to your key points. You'll find yourself creeping past the 20% rule into 40-60% as they show and tell and recall what it is they "do" or "did" that illustrates your points. If you can leave them with clear calls to action and really lead your audience down the path to simple discovery, you'll have a much richer experience in any follow up as they'll recall more of what you presented, and why.

3. Share the "A-HA!" Moments

A great way to close a training session or presentation is to discuss the "A-HA!" moments - or point to one of your own as you've learned during your time presenting to them/others. Getting someone to state their "discovery" moments in our rule of thumb above really 'seats' the information in their minds, and gives you +80% likelihood they'll remember. In skills training with stand up paddle boarding, we as instructors hear things like "I had no idea I was bending that way..." or "I realized I need to slow down and focus on efficiency in my paddle stroke." In technology, I recall a time where one of my early mentors chided that I was a 'bulldog' with technical problems grabbing on and not letting go. I was forgetting I have a team of knowledge behind me... that I need to know when to slow down or stop, and ask for help. That was an A-HA! moment in my career (thanks @ChristianSpence). Work to create AHA! moments with your audience as you present that you can recall later with them -- you can see these moments when they happen if you're actively watching and listening to how your audience received your information part by part. Recall that at the end, or even better, have them recall it for you. Retention rates will climb.

4. Check or Change Your Passion

Leverage your experience and be a story teller, but be sure your own experiences relate well to what you're discussing or don't discuss it. Example: Don't ask for people to discuss the pain of a massive security breach if you've never experienced one. It's like listening to someone describe riding big waves when their language clearly indicates they've never dropped in over 3 foot. We all have our stories, but when building connections and using empathy as a tool during your presentation, you must be genuine to achieve any lasting impression. In my experience, it's temping when in a group of highly skilled ACA Instructor Trainers to exaggerate the story when comparing scars/stories/lessons learned. It's even easier when talking to students on the water: "Oh, I paddled 300 miles one time....". It's an easy mistake with lasting consequences. Similar pressures exists in the tech world, where we love our feeds and speeds, specs and metrics, and complex hybrid IT solutions. Rather than contribute at all, maybe lean on your audience's experience if you can and continually point to their examples. Make your passion in teaching the "guided discovery" and building context for audience members to apply the knowledge they've remembered or discovered on their own during the presentation - and they'll remember you as the catalyst.

I love that formal business technology training and presenting align so well with skills training, skill development and coaching. What an excuse to do two things I love to do. In technology terms, it's an excellent mash-up of passions and I utilize components from both experiences when training or presenting to others. In surf terms, I can sum it up in a word: "cosmic." If you're not sure what I mean, come hit the water with me for a SUP tour or a surf.*

I firmly believe that through my work with the ACA I'm getting a boost on both sides of the lifestyle/career coin lately, utilizing skills training methods discovered on the water or in the waves over the years to deliver technical presentations in the board room to great effect. Having been in martial arts and other activities over the years where I worked my way up to training others, I've experienced similar things in those areas... and maybe you have too? Stories and experiences welcome!

It occurs to me I've given away the method a bit here and that maybe any mystique I could have created will be gone the next time I present? You can call me out for applying the IDEAS method when you hear it - but first you'll have to let me take the stage!

* I provide high-end adventure SUP instruction tours in the US Southwest when not working on complex Hybrid IT / Cloud Visio diagrams. Interested in a unique corporate retreat / private learning experience? Let's hit the water in Northern Arizona or the beaches of Southern California. Fair warning, I can't promise not to talk too much.

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