Around this time last month, the stress of balancing my personal, work and family commitments was making me miserable. Enter Maura Nevel Thomas’ Personal Productivity Secrets: Do what you never thought possible with your time and attention, and regain control of your life! That’s quite a title, but it delivered what it promised.
It’s rare to come across a book that offers tips so practical that they had an immediate impact on my life. So after reading the book, I contacted Maura about attending a half-day workshop she held in Austin a few weeks ago. She was kind enough to let me attend for free, in exchange for an honest article about my experience.
I was a fan of Maura after reading Personal Productivity Secrets and after attending the corresponding training, I’m even more impressed. Between the book and the workshop, Maura’s work has facilitated one of the most transformative learning experiences I’ve ever had. I still have a long road ahead of me but, overall, I’m more relaxed, more productive and – as a student of how people learn – I’m also fascinated. For this article, I wanted to look at some of the reasons Maura’s work was so impactful for me, and how you might incorporate those elements into your next training.
Train on a Now Problem
One reason Maura’s materials were so effective for me is that they got straight to the point, and that point – how to get a handle on my workload – was something that really mattered in my life. To make your next training more effective, design it to directly address a problem that’s persistent in your audience’s life now. Maura didn’t have to persuade me that I needed help or that my time investment would pay off in the future – I was already convinced, and I was eager to try her advice. In this article, former Harvard Business School professor David Maister hits the nail on the head when he writes:
A good test for the timing of [corporate] training would be as follows. If the training was entirely optional and elective, and only available in a remote village accessible only by a mule, but people still came to the training because they were saying to themselves, “I have got to learn this – it’s going to be critical for my future,” then, and ONLY then, you will know you have timed your training well.
Make Your Audience Immediately Successful
During her workshop, Maura shared that achievement is the number one motivator for people. Thinking back on my experiences, this is true for me. Make your next training more impactful by identifying specific actions your audience can take to achieve results. Communicate those actions by using concrete verbs in your presentation materials and in your title (for her book, Maura uses do and regain). Then keep your audience motivated by providing regular opportunities to make progress. When I was reading Maura’s book, I followed a tip to use email archiving as a quick way to reach inbox zero. It only took about 30 minutes, but it made me feel like I was living the new American dream.
Allow Time for Reflection
In Maura’s four-hour workshop, at least an hour was dedicated to breaks and group discussions. This made the time fly: I never felt uncomfortable in my seat or bored by the material. It also helped me absorb the information being presented. Why? In his book Smart Thinking, Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, writes that after any distinct experience (like a presentation on productivity), the average person can only remember about three things. And how well you remember those three things is determined by the extent to which you can connect them to what you already know. Improve your next training by breaking it into sections with three or four clear messages each, and giving your participants time to relate to those messages during group discussions or breaks.
Provide Supplemental Material
I read Maura’s book before attending the training but even if I hadn’t, I would have had prior exposure to her ideas. That’s because, before the training, she sent attendees an email with suggested videos and articles. She also handed out a copy of her book at the training and she sent a series of follow-up emails after the event. Providing supplemental materials like this will help improve your training in a few ways. First, it will allow your audience to absorb much more information than they would have been able to if they attended your presentation alone. In Beautiful Evidence, Yale professor Edward Tufte writes that, content-wise, a four-page handout is roughly equivalent to 50-250 average PowerPoint slides. He also writes:
Thoughtful handouts at your talk demonstrate to the audience that you are responsible and seek to leave permanent traces and have consequences…Writing sentences forces presenters to be smarter. And presentations based on sentences make consumers smarter as well.
The second reason supplemental materials are a great idea is because they give your audience more experiences with your message. Remember, from above, that we remember roughly three things about every experience we have. If your audience experiences your work through reading a book, attending a presentation, participating in group discussions and reading follow-up emails, it’s likely that they’ll retain more of the information.
Wrapping It Up
This article covered four suggestions for improving your next training based on the work of Maura Nevel Thomas, an award-winning international speaker and trainer on individual and corporate productivity and work-life balance. Maura is frequently cited as an expert in major business outlets including Forbes, Fast Company, and Huffington Post, and she is also a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, with articles there viewed over a million times.
- Train on a now problem
- Make your audience immediately successful
- Allow time for reflection
- Provide supplemental material
Could these tips have improved a training that you delivered or attended in the past? How might you use them in the future?
FTC Disclosure in Accordance with the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising: I attended Maura’s training for free and offered to write an article based on my experience. I am recommending her work because it was personally impactful for me and I believe it will help others.