How to Be a Wizard at Tech Training Design and Delivery

The breakout session “How to Be a Wizard at Tech Training Design and Delivery” at the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) originated from an earlier session designed by Andrea Berry, Beth Kanter, John Kenyon, and Cindy Leonard. The session not only included training tips, but modeled them during the session so that the audience interacted and practiced skills directly.

The 2016 session took all of the trainers’ lessons learned from the previous session and improved upon the presentation and exercises. The basic premise remained the same: to give training tips, model them, and to provide “meta” data that gave a glimpse into the minds of the session designers. Andrea Berry had moved onto another job by then, and so Jeanne Allen took her place.

We used a Harry Potter theme to give the session a fun feel. We began the session by polling the audience on training experiences. Adults tend to interpret information received in a training based on existing knowledge in their brains and then integrate it with previous experiences. Obtaining a sense of skill level prior to training helps the trainer make spontaneous decisions about content modification to suit the audience.

In the first portion of the training, Jeanne and Cindy modeled four great practices for designing training content, including:

  1. Spend a little time researching adult learning theory, or
  2. Provide experiential education, giving learners the opportunity for reflection, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation, and concrete experience
  3. Incorporate the three learning styles: visual, audio, and somatic
  4. Give the learners a jolt—an engaging learning activity that lasts for a brief period of time and illustrates one or more important learning points

Beth, John, Jeanne and Cindy leading the audience in a JOLT exercise. Photo by Paula Jones.

Next, the learners sorted themselves into stations based on the four Hogwarts Houses and conducted a “Four Corners” exercise in which they discussed how they might incorporate the four “great practices” into their own training practices. This activity allowed the learner to move, engage in small group discussion, and apply analysis to the content.

After returning to a full group, Beth and John modeled great practices in designing training interaction, including:

  1. Setting goals for interactive exercises, such as learner readiness to learn, involvement in discussions, opportunity to practice, and to reflect. Finally, learners made a decision to incorporate the skills in the future
  2. Using a content interaction exercise grid to prepare varied interactive exercises (a blank grid is included with the session handouts)
  3. Engaging in a variety of exercises: thinking, writing, discussing, moving, and making

We had the learners participate in a number of interactive exercises during this portion of the sessions, including a “think and write” exercise and a “share pair/trio” exercise.

Before moving into the final Q&A, all four trainers went “meta” and shared what they had just learned during the session itself:

  • John – Sometimes you have to hold yourself back from shutting down important conversations when planning and facilitating – balancing freedom in planning with the need for controlling flow.
  • Beth – It can be difficult to plan interactive exercises (she explained the set up difficulties and revisions of the theatre style room we used) and that you should always plan but be prepared to improvise or hack it.
  • Cindy – You always have more content than you have time for, so it’s important to pare down and not making people drink from the fire hose.
  • Jeanne – There’s a balance between giving learners control vs. choice while planning exercises (she explained how we four went back and forth about letting the learners sort themselves or sorting them in advance for the four corners exercise).

Cindy Leonard, Beth Kanter, Jeanne Allen and John Kenyon under the Hogwarts House signs.

If you were unable to attend the live session at the NTC, you may still access trainer bios and session notes and materials online. The session slide deck is also available on

Cindy Leonard
Consulting Team Leader
Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University
Cindy Leonard joined the YWCA Westmoreland County as Executive Director in September 2018, bringing over 20 years of nonprofit leadership and management experience. The YWCA endeavors for social justice by working to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Previously, Cindy spent 12 years at the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, working with the director and consulting team to enhance the Center's consulting and technology programs. She also performed community organizing around technology through the Center's popular Bagels & Bytes meetups and annual TechNow conference. Before that, she managed IT for Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. An experienced speaker and trainer with a highly engaging, interactive style, Cindy has successfully worked with groups as small as 10 and as large as 200 on a wide variety of topics. She has presented and trained at over 100 conferences and classes, including conferences by Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, Nonprofit Technology Network, Nonprofits LEAD, Alliance for Nonprofit Management, Association of Fundraising Professionals of Western Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Library Association. Cindy presently serves on the board of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, a Master of Business Administration, and a Master of Education, all from Seton Hill University. Raised in Blairsville and Derry Township, Cindy has had a lifelong love affair with the Laurel Highlands, and currently resides in Youngwood with her husband Rob and a handful of very spoiled felines. She blogs about nonprofit management and technology at