A few years back, I was asked to train attorneys on how to give effective presentations using PowerPoint. My client did not want the usual three-hour presentation on good speaking techniques. Instead, he wanted something short, to the point and immediately applicable to the attorneys’ work. He also wanted the training to be engaging and interactive, because “his people were a tough audience.”

Reorganizing the Training Into Microlearning

I have been doing presentation training for several years using a three-hour “sage on the stage” approach with large slide decks. I needed something new, and I needed it quickly, as my client wanted the training in a month. Luckily, I had completed training on microlearning and had recently read Sharon Bowman’s “Training from the Back of the Room” (2008).

I created four 20-minute sessions composed of microlearning elements:

    1. Curated, publicly available videos lasting around three to five minutes each.
    2. Two-minute lectures using PowerPoint slides, each containing a large graphic and little text. These lectures included no more than five to six slides, focused on one point — and only one point.
    3. “Better or Worse”: I offered examples of a bad slide and a good slide or a good presentation and a bad presentation. Participants voted on which was bad and which was good, and selected participants had to defend their vote.
    4. Pair-share: a classic training exercise in which the participants summarized each other’s learning.

Adding a Workshop: The 4 Cs

As I continued to refine the 20-minute sessions, I added other activities. In response to participant requests, I added a 30-minute “presentation makeover,” in which the participants and I worked as a group to make a PowerPoint presentation more effective.

Every 20-minute session was self-contained and followed Sharon Bowmans “4 Cs” framework: connections, content, concrete experiences and conclusions. I started the session with a quick icebreaker to connect the learners with the content. Then, I delivered the first three-to-five-minute content piece and then did a quick practice activity. I continued this cycle of content and concrete experiences another three or four times.

Near the end of the course, I handed out a job aid that summarized the training’s key points, and I asked selected participants to share the most important lesson they learned or which topic they wanted more clarification on. This final stage was fourth C (conclusions), and according to evaluations, it helped improve learning transfer.

Why 20 minutes? Because of the attorney’s busy schedules, I had designed the sessions as part of a brown-bag lunch. However, when I was asked to give longer sessions, I was able to easily accommodate that request by combining two or three sessions with presentation makeover workshops between the sessions. (Yes, these sessions easily translate to an online format if you have plenty of breakout room activities.)