Introduction to Adult Learners: Creating Presentations and Trainings for Impact

In a post a few weeks ago, I highlighted some of the best parts of the professional development training event that I designed and conducted in Denver. What I didn’t mention were the sessions that could have been better, including the one where attendees started to leave while I was still talking.

The sessions that went well all had two things in common: I spent time planning and they were designed around adult learning principles.

I’ve been studying adult learning for the past few years and it’s been a challenge to find general resources on the topic that can be applied to a variety of situations.  I’m putting together a comprehensive resource collection that I’ll share soon – keep in touch!

In the meantime, this post will help you think about designing your presentation and/or training around adult learning principles so that your learners will be more likely to retain and use what they’ve learned.

Step One: Determine What You Want Your Learners to Take Away from The Training

My rule of thumb has always been to ask, “If learners can only take away one thing from this learning experience, what would it be?”

I know, I know, we always want learners to take away at least three things, but the reality is, unless you’re putting together a super hands-on, relevant training that directly applies to what your learners are going to do when the session is over, I would consider having them remember one thing to be a resounding success.

step one blog post

When I was working for the organization that helped me find my love of instructional design (ID), what we wanted our learners to do at the end of every session, regardless of who gave the presentation, who the learners were, or the content of the session, was to visit our website and subscribe to our blog.

We wanted our learners to take action, or do something when our presentation was over. But first, they needed to know how to do it.

I’ve found this to align with most professional development opportunities where the learners need to know or do something as a result of what they’ve learned.

I know it’s a bit more complex than this, but this is an introductory post. I’ll go into more detail about learning objectives another time. If you really can’t wait, I recommend this resource on writing learning objectives.

There is one specific adult learning principle to consider here, if possible:

adult learning 1
According to Malcolm Knowles’ 4 Principles of Andragogy
Step Two: Determine Who Your Learners Are

I want everything I design to be a learning experience, not another mandatory session or hour-long waste of a valuable lunch hour (also known as the standard webinar).

Designing a learning experience is a lot easier if you know who your learners are. Of course, this is one of those things that can get complicated, even political, but at the very least, try to find out who you can expect to be in your audience.

If you have attendee lists available, check them out for sure! I get a bit obsessive about attendee lists because they contain so much valuable information, but I’ve found them to be often overlooked.

Here’s how I use attendee lists for ID purposes:

I always look first to see if I know anyone that’s attending or coming to my session. That way, if you haven’t planned the exact content to cover, you can ask someone you know what they want to learn.

This is more than being social, it’s abiding by another adult learning principle:

adult learning involved
According to Malcolm Knowles’ 4 Principles of Andragogy

Asking the audience at the beginning of a session what they want to learn works too, just use their questions to provide context as you present, if you can.

After scouring for any familiar names, take a look at the titles – are there more managers, entry-level attendees, or gasp, VP’s and high-level folks?

Maybe you already know who’s coming. Perhaps you give the same monthly overview to new hires or you’re preparing for an annual event for a national network of new directors.

In my former life, I received a request to do a general presentation of what my program was all about, which was to provide technical assistance to a national network of refugee employment service providers. The request came from the organizer of an event that another program in my office was putting together – Children’s Services.

It would have been easy to provide the same old 45-minute schbeel about what we did and how they should subscribe to our blog when they left the session, and that’s what we were asked to do.

But I just couldn’t do it – our standard presentation was for adults that worked with adults, not adults that worked with kids.

I wanted them to learn something they could actually apply when they got home.

In the end, I’m not sure it was worth the effort it took, but I was able to build my Piktochart skills and put together a damn good youth employment resource guide for anyone that ever needs one.

For more on this topic, I recommend this learner analysis resource ).

Step Three: Determine Where You’re Presenting

Is this going to be an in-person event or a virtual one? In today’s fast paced, high tech world, it could also be a combination – a blended learning approach.

Regardless of how your presentation is going to be delivered, there are so many options for designing great trainings, it just takes a little creativity and hard work.

If you’re designing a webinar training session, do some research on the software. Look to see if you can upload resources for learners to instantly download, or my favorite, encouraging interactivity with quizzes.

If it’s in-person, do you know anything about the room? It’s amazing how much the setup of a classroom can impact the effectiveness of a training.

Here’s an infographic that covers classroom setup.

If you’ve ever been thrown off by the setup of the space you had to train in – virtual nod of understanding and apology.  It’s kind of the worst. But, as I’ve heard “them” say, the show must go on.

We had some significant space challenges in Denver, but we made it work. A computer lab wasn’t our first pick for the motivational presentation without slides, but it worked, and the assessments for this session were some of the best of the entire event.

Copy of Day3-35
The crowd loved it when he tripped over the cords. IT did not.

This group of managers/supervisors was a lot bigger than we anticipated, but the real leaders must have emerged when this session moved into the hallway for a productive, safe and structured way to discuss the difficulties of managing a staff.

Copy of Day3-21
When the room is too small, head to the hallway!
Step Four: Determine When You’re Presenting

If you’re scoffing at why this is even a consideration, I’ve got three words for you: after lunch session. If you’ve got this time slot, I’m sorry, and I can relate.

The dreaded after lunch time slot needs something a little extra to get learners back and ready before the “three o’clock slow down” kicks in. Regardless of what you’re covering, if you’ve got this time slot, try to get people up and moving around at some point during the session.

Be prepared to end the session a little early if you’re right before lunch – we’ve all found ourselves packing up early to be the first one in the lasagna line. Respect your learners’ time and they’ll respect yours.

Did you know that there are best practices as far as when to offer webinars? According to ON24’s 2017 Benchmarks Report, the best time to offer a webinar is mid-week, which I’ve found to be spot on.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 11.16.27 AM
ON24 Webinar Benchmarks Report 2017, page 7

For other great webinar stats and industry benchmarks, check out the full report.

Step Five: Determine Why You’re Presenting

As my dog would say, listen babe. No really, our dog Emmett, he talks and calls everyone “babe” – it’s so embarrassing.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re not just presenting because you have to. You’re like me – you want the people in the audience to learn something. You want them to walk away feeling like, “Yes! I can do this!” – whatever “this” is.

Sure, you’re not going to get that sort of passion and enthusiasm from a group of learners coming out of a session on mandatory reporting requirements, but imagine a world where you hear “That story about that office and how they botched that one requirement was crazy – I’ll never make that mistake!”

That reminds me of another adult learning principle:

Adobe Spark
According to Malcolm Knowles’ 4 Principles of Andragogy

The only thing better than learning from your own mistakes is learning from someone else’s. I always share my mistakes if they’re relevant to the conversation – personal stories help your learners feel more comfortable and can be a great way to build a quick connection with them.

For me, I take pleasure in the little things. Part of my holistic design strategy for the Denver Workshop was a free surprise resource bonanza on the very last day. I had been saving up posters and every piece of free snazzy gear I could find for a year. It was a resounding success with attendees, so I’m glad I paid that extra luggage fee to bring it along.

But nothing made me happier than when an attendee came up to me with a poster in his hand and said, “Thanks, I finally got something out of this event“.

Now that’s good design – a little something for everyone!

By figuring out the who, what, why, where and when of your presentation, you’re already designing with adult learners in mind.

Here’s one last resource – this one pager triggered my interest in adult learning principles, and after looking at it again for this post, I’m reminded why!

Keep up the good work and let me know how I can help!

Have fun learning, y’all!

business card series: get noticed by deep throat with this design

I’ve been obsessed with the X-Files for far longer than any other secret government/alien conspiracy shows, and it inspires a lot of projects that I have in the works right now.

poster shotThat poster that Agent Mulder has in his office though!

I’ve always loved the print, but it’s never felt like the right time to have it up on my wall.

By making it the back of my business card, I can look at the image every day without it taking up too much space.

Design Program: Canva
I wanted to approach the feng shui of this card a bit differently than my last one, just to see if I am able to notice any long-term results down the road.
Here’s the general matrix that I use for pretty much everything, with what I’m hoping for with this design circled in red:
 business card 2 feng shui.png
Printer: Vistaprint
I primarily use Vistaprint for my printing needs, but I’m always open to trying new things. They almost always have a sale and I’ve always been happy with the quality of the product.
I really love my shark cards, but they lacked any white space, which is one of the things I like best!
But for the rest of the series, I want to include white space so that potential clients and contacts are able to write anything down on the card that they see fit (hopefully something like “get in touch asap” or similar).
At first, I tried to match the font color to the blue sky on the poster image, but I didn’t love it.
Luckily, my girl Heidi had the brilliant idea of matching the pop of green in the image – brilliant. To do this, I used Colordot:
Screenshot 2017-07-24 12.58.47
When the cards arrived, the image on the back has a slight white border on the bottom edge, but otherwise they look great!

Here’s my newest business cards that I’m thinking I should use to target new DC clients:

Lessons Learned:
  1. Don’t Rush Image Alignment 
    The little white border that was printed on my cards wasn’t exactly a surprise – I played around with it on Vistaprint for a few minutes before deciding I just needed it to be done. I convinced myself that it probably wouldn’t print – it was well below the “safety” line.

I’m happy to send hard copies of this series if you’re a tactile person (like me – we’re so weird!). Just get in touch with your mailing address and I’ll pop ’em in the mail for you!

So Many Colors: 4 Great Resources to Make Life Easier

I struggle with colors, especially when it comes to matching. Without any formal training, it’s been tough to know what really works and what colors to use if I’m trying to achieve a specific purpose, like motivating learners or gaining subscribers.

I’ve spent countless hours obsessing over colors and have found several helpful resources that help take some of the guess work out of it for me. Hopefully one of my four favs will save some color-challenged designer from the eyestrain that I’ve come to associate with color matching.

Material Design Palette

The feature that I use the most on this site is the palette. You simply choose two colors that you want to work with and voilà – you’ve got yourself a palette! Since I invested in Camtasia for school, as well as to build my video editing skills, I made my first very short, very silent tutorial on how this baby works:

Besides the palette feature, the icons and colors sections are worth checking out as well.

Color Lisa

This site is more inspirational for me than it is functional, but I spend a lot of time on here looking at beautiful colors. If you love a famous work of art, this site might be able to provide you with the color palette. For example, one of my favorites is The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, and with the click of a button, this site provided me with an inspired color palette to use as I wish:

The Psychology of Color

I became enamored with Neil Patel a few years ago when I stumbled upon the guide that he co-wrote with Bronson Taylor, The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking. It really spoke to me and helped me uncover my natural ability to understand consumer behavior. I subscribed to his blog and was really excited when I heard about another guide that he co-wrote with Rita Puri, The Complete Guide to Understanding Consumer Psychology.

Chapter Four, The Psychology of Color is amazing and is one that I look at on a regular basis. For example, this is just one section of an infographic that conveys a lot of super helpful information:

Screenshot 2017-07-24 12.47.16
Source: Patel & Puri, The Complete Guide To Understanding Consumer Psychology

Hell-ooo-OOO Red Orange, Black and Royal Blue!


I took what I learned from designing the first business card in my series, networking like a shark, and got to work on the next one.

I minimized both screens (Canva and Colordot) and put them side-by-side to use Colordot to find a green close to one on the image on the back of the card.

Screenshot 2017-07-24 12.58.47

Please let me know if you have any recommendations for color matching resources – I’d love to hear what you use and how you use it so I can give it a try!

Professional Development Workshop in Denver

I’m so glad that I was able to be a part of this event. It was one of the best learning experiences of my career and it confirmed my passion for designing high quality professional development opportunities.

who is that babe in the nasa sweatshirt?!?!

I designed and planned managed nearly every aspect of this event, and I went big. I may cover some other aspects in a later post, but for now, here are a few of my favorite design accomplishments.

Design + Delivery: Adult Learning Principles Session


I designed this session around Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction. There’s more to it than this, but in short, I used the nine events to teach the nine events.

Design + Delivery: Cultural Competency Session

I had an hour to deliver my first cultural competency session. My friend Daryl helped me design the session around the Yang Liu’s series, East meets West.

Agenda Design: Opportunities for Authentic Peer-to-Peer Exchange

This one was great because it allowed me to have some fun too!





Invitation to Love: City Garden Party

Last summer we got in touch with Michael Owen, a local artist we adore, to design and install a mural to add a little life to our back patio space.

We didn’t give the mural the celebration it deserved last year, so we decided to have a city garden party in early June. I knew I would need some help with the planning, so I called on my girl Heidi at Casa Pena Designs for some assistance.

If you’re interested in event design, take a look at the rough plan for this party.

I love the mural so much and wanted to try to share it in a tactile way; I wanted everyone to have a part of the mural.

I tried to accomplish this by creating and printing invites featuring the mural design. Once printed, I wanted to send to invites through the regular mail – everyone loves to receive mail.

Because Michael Owen let us keep the stencil (which I cherish), I used it as the starting point and went from there. I started with another concept in mind, but here’s what I came up with:


save the date: an STD of cosmic proportions

I really think it’s great that the acronym for save the date is STD. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do because I’m going to use every chance I get.

I’m getting married next May and the clock is ticking for getting the STD’s in the mail. I’m pretty particular about the look, feel and the cohesiveness of the invites to the theme (which I’ll get into later), so I’ve got full creative control here.

I knew I would get obsessive if I designed them myself, so I ordered a beautiful STD template from etsy so it could go to the printer and just be done.

In the meantime, I decided to spend a little time working on an STD to build my skills. After a round of edits, this is what I came up with:


This was first for me, so my hope is that I continue to build my skills and improve over time!

Action Item: To keep the momentum going, I’m going to put spend some time on an invitation and RSVP and will try to finalize a complete wedding kit


Casa Pena Designs

I had a blast with my first business card design and learned a lot in the process. Here is everything I learned, from beginning to end.
Client: My girl Heidi at Casa Pena Designs, an interior design firm
We’ve been talking about updating the CPD logo for awhile, but it hasn’t happened yet. In the meantime, a great networking opportunity made business cards a priority.  I used the current logo as a point of reference.
current logo

 Heidi incorporates a lot of blues into her designs, and loves those clean lines
I wanted the design of her business card to represent her distinct style, and here’s what I came up with.
Design Program: Canva
After a few revisions, I completed the design. Heidi quickly double checked the details before uploading to Vistaprint.
Printer: Vistaprint
I have used Vistaprint in the past, so I knew they could turn the job around quickly and deliver a decent quality product. Plus, they almost always have a sale.
After the cards were ordered, we both realized that there was one little detail we had missed: the website was wrong. Luckily, Heidi was able to work some sort of web magic to resolve the issue.
When the cards arrived, the fonts were smaller than they looked on the screen, but otherwise, they looked great!
Lessons Learned:
  1. Logos are Complex
    I spent a lot of time researching logos and logo design before deciding that logos are far more complex than I thought. Perhaps I’ll go into it another time, but it’s worth noting as one of my major takeaways from this project.
  2. Be Careful with Font Sizes
    In particular, modern fonts on printed material. Next time, I won’t order 500 cards the first round, no matter how enticing Vistaprint makes the offer.
  3. Confirm the Details
    It did occur to me that I should get up from the computer and take a 5 minute break before uploading and sending to the printer, but we both just wanted to get the project done. Next time I’ll trust my instincts and try to have fresh eyes when I finalize the design.

business card series: network like a shark with this design

I’ve been putting off re-entry into the working world for long enough. I’m finally ready to put in the work to see if doing what I love (cool design projects where the view from my desk includes my dog) can actually can generate an income. I know it’s going to be hard, but I’ve already got a lead.

Once I got that first lead, it gave me enough confidence to realize that I was ready to do this thing.

When I started seriously considering this option a few months ago, I had the idea to design a personalized set of business cards for myself. There’s a whole marketing/outreach/testing component to this idea, but let’s see how this part goes.

I want to give away the type of business card that might get hung on a cube wall (best case scenario) and looked at every day, but I’d settle for a double take before getting tossed in the recycling bin if it gets a visit to my website if you know what I mean.

Here’s the first one: