In a 1990s version of the Chicken and Egg scenario we witnessed the spectacular rise in popularity of the video projector and Powerpoint.

Dilbert and others have done a lot to help us come to our senses and remind us that (as Garr Reynolds says):

Powerpoint slides are not the “star of the show” and that we shouldn’t let our message and our ability to tell a story get derailed by slides that are unnecessarily complicated, busy, or full of what Edward Tufte calls “chart junk”

So, we need to keep our slides simple. How simple? Garr suggests:

The best slides may have no text at all. This may sound insane given the dependency of text slides today, but the best PowerPoint slides will be virtually meaningless without the narration. Slides are meant to support the narration of the speaker, not make the speaker superfluous.

If you’ve been to a Rally presentation or class you might have noticed we subscribe to the same philosophy. My colleague Ben Carey has taken this to the next level. Influenced by Dan Roam and Sunni Brown he has been experimenting with deckless training using butcher paper and a marker pen. You may not have the confidence in your drawing skills to do what Ben does but, it does illustrate (excuse the pun) that we can succeed without Powerpoint.

Of course, the star of the show is not the presenter, as Garr points out, the real star of the show is the audience and in direct contrast to some of our established paradigms the less the presenter speaks the more the audience learns. As Sharon Bowman discusses in her excellent book Training from the Back of the Room: 65 Ways to Step Aside and Let Them Learn:

If learning is your goal, that is, enabling learners to remember and use the information you give them, then listening to you won’t get them there. What will get them there is involvement and engagement during the entire training – high interest, content-related, physically active involvement – where they are teaching and learning from each other.

Sharon encourages trainers to get to the back of the room and not to talk for more than 10 minutes without some kind of learner activity. This approach dovetails perfectly with the games and exercises we in the agile community have always included in our training but are only perhaps now coming to value for the intangible benefits they bring.

Two excellent books on games are Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo and Luke Hohmann’s Innovation Games.

Games enable us to get up on our feet, exercise our minds, relax and of course have fun. But games also help us learn to self-organize and work together and can spark innovation as they help us approach business challenges from different directions.

Are games childish? I hope so. I am always amazed at the openness of a childs mind, how easily they soak up new information and how eager they are to learn.

I look forward to seeing you soon at a Rally event or training class where I will I do my level best to:

  • not read slides
  • train from the back of the room
  • encourage you all to be childish

Ken Clyne is an Agile Coach with Rally Software. You can find Ken on Twitter at @kclyne. Ken will be at the Atlanta stop of Rally’s Agile Success Tour on June 9th.

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