The L&D Secrets from Mad Men Unbuttoned

Recent reading on 1960s America and the real life Mad Men of Madison Avenue has got me thinking about how great training sessions are much like great adverts: they get you curious and draw you in to what they have to offer and, before you know it, you have bought in to the message that they are trying to give you. So what are some of the ways that we can make sure we do this as L&D professionals every time we need to deliver?

I enjoy Mad Men, so much so that my wife got me Mad Men Unbuttoned by Natasha Vargas-Cooper as an accompaniment to the series. It has provided a bit more context to much of what was going on, meaning next time I hear ‘Ogilvy’, I will know it is a titan of the industry rather than a new chair from Ikea.

But what are some of the things that great adverts have that we might be able to learn and apply for our own everyday lives?

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue
Read and subscribe to this blog and in a few short posts you too can look this good. Or at least be a more competent L&D professional. Well, I cannot guarantee it, but at least you get to look at cool photos when you are here, no? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t leave homework till Sunday night

We all used to do it growing up – leaving things until the last-minute over the weekend, then panicking and cramming all our work in at the last on a Sunday evening. From personal experience this not only made me cranky on a Monday morning (well, they are Monday mornings in fairness) but often meant coursework was patchy, at best, in terms of depth and content because I had not planned or reviewed what I was submitting. Making sure you have as much of the right information is crucial before you put the pen to paper or mouse click to PowerPoint slide. This was a point Ogilvy stressed, saying “You don’t stand a tinker’s chance of producing successful advertising unless you start by doing your homework… there is no substitute for it”.

As a minimum, you want to have a clear understanding of what it is going to be the outcome of your session and how it is going to either change, develop or support a behaviour which is expected from your intervention. But assuming you were given clear instructions about what needed to happen, have you been as effective as possible in achieving this?

This requires reviews and analysis of not only what you have created in your session but also a review of how you learn most effectively to understand how this influences your design. So when you are reviewing content and considering ‘Are there enough activities to engage my audience?’ or ‘Does this provide sufficient depth in terms of their understanding?’, think also about what you would and would not like to see in your session as an audience member.

Upon review you will have found that a lot of the content is designed to suit your own learning needs, which is natural – you cannot fight the way you learn most effectively. However, you need to be aware of it and keep in mind that the session is based upon your audience’s needs and not your own – so if the content is too heavily weighted to what you prefer, change it up. The only consequence is that you will appeal to a wider audience, so no bad thing there.

More = Bore

Ever looked at a presentation and thought ‘Do you know what? This would benefit from another 7 or 8 bullet points per slide, with longer sentences. I just love it when it takes longer for me to read a slide and get to the point’.

Anyone feel this way? I doubt it (if you do though you need to let me know why below!), as material designed in this format is often dull. Sure, there will be times when you need to hit people over the head with info and data but don’t assume that more info = more effective. It is often is the case that more = bore.

Is there a way you could perhaps use an image to represent all of that content you have tried to put up on the screen? Would it not make it more dramatic and create a total change of pace from what went before? Think also about how different images will have different meanings to different groups and people – suddenly you have different reference points for the group, an avenue for debate about what those images represent to them and why.

You then find that you no longer have a group that are falling asleep in front of your data but one that is finding their own story within it. You have got their attention and interest – that means no more bore, for you or for them.

Simple slides are smart. But make sure you are smarter

Building on the theme of dramatic images and more = bore, check out this advert for Western Union telegrams below (there is a larger version of the advert here).

First of all, how clever is the psychology of that tag line? Having been told to ‘Ignore it’, there is no way you can as your interest has been sparked. Certainly when I was reading this chapter I kept re-reading the text and advert, wanting to double-check there was nothing I missed.

Not all slides can be like this – if every slide was a form of reverse psychology this would, ultimately, frustrate and annoy your audience. However, taking a smart and simple approach to your slide design is no bad thing – especially when you back it up with delivery which is just as smart.

Part of what will make a session work is building rapport with your audience and to do this you need to be give them a chance to speak. So a slide in a ‘bare’ format as the advert above is a great launch pad for some Q&A (‘What comes to mind when you read that sentence? Does it make you curious to read on? Why is it so effective? Does it make you nostalgic for a simpler time when telegrams ruled the world?!’), which will mean that your delegates will feel they are taking part in driving the session and gain their buy-in further.

Added to this is that they will provide some answers that you cannot prepare for – meaning your session suddenly has more spontaneity and your delegates have bought even more in to what you are presenting on. Win-win!

So there you have it. How Mad Men Unbuttoned got me thinking about how, in one way or another, all great L&D professionals are advertisers in their own right. A bit thank you to Natasha Vargas-Cooper for writing it in the first place to get me inspired.

Think this was too far-fetched a suggestion to make? If so, I would love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments section below or, if you are feeling very retro, via a Western Union telegram!*

*NOTE other telegram providers are available. Well I think they might still be, but I cannot say so for sure

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