Word Scramble Activity

A while ago, I got a Balloon Time Newsletter* that shared a few things you can do with balloons, besides blow them up and make them into balloon animals. Their featured activity, “Word Scramble,” may have potential as a team building activity.  I’ll let you decide:

Needed Supplies:balloons

  1. 30 or 50 balloons
  2. Ribbon
  3. Helium
  4. Felt-tipped marker

How To Play:

  1. Select a word or phrase related to the occasion.
  2. If you select a word: inflate one balloon per letter of the word.
    If you select a phrase: inflate one balloon per word of the phrase.
  3. Attach a ribbon to each balloon. The balloons will be free-hanging, so be sure to make the ribbon long enough that the participants can reach them.
  4. Use a felt-tipped marker to write one letter (or one word) of the selected phrase on each balloon. Scatter them around the room.
  5. Have the participants work together to unscramble the word or phrase and put the balloons in the correct order.


  • The game can also be played with teams by inflating one balloon per letter (or word) multiplied by the number of teams.
  • You can play this game outdoors, providing you attach weights to the ribbons tied to the balloons.

How can this be used as a team-building activity?

  • The phrase (or word) can be a message central to the meeting. A motivational saying, perhaps, or a core value you’re emphasizing.
  • You can structure the teams to include organizational roles, or personality types, etc.   How they solve the puzzle may be based upon those roles.

Yes, this activity itself is a variation of many message-assembly activities.  The balloons add an energy to the activity, especially as participants search through a room of moving balloons.

*I’d attribute this activity to balloontimenews.com, but the site appears not to be active any more. You can check out balloontime.com for some additional party activities.

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Practice facilitating webinars – for free

In a week, I’ll be facilitating an ASTD-Orange County Total Trainer session on distance learning. It will be my second time doing so; the last time I actually conducted the session virtually. This time I’ll be standing up in the front of the classroom.

The focus of the session is on how to design for distance learning. My premise is that one should design a web course no differently than one would design a course to be facilitated in a physical classroom. Yes, there’s the problem that the tool you’re using may be limited to a computer screen. But that shouldn’t limit how you engage your participants.

When it comes to Total Trainer, or any course that teaches others to facilitate over the web, there’s a problem of application. The two webinar powerhouses, Adobe Connect and WebEx, aren’t free.*

Enter AnyMeeting.

The name aptly indicates that the tools available in the program are geared towards meetings rather than training. For practice, and for the “real world,” AnyMeeting still creates an opportunity for experiential application of hosting webinars.


AnyMeeting tools


Chat is the staple of web meeting participation, and anyone who is familiar with Instant Messaging (or even texting) should find chat to be a comfortable method of engagement in a virtual meeting. AnyMeeting allows you to hide and resume chat throughout your webinar. It also allows for private chatting, which can be a handy tool for 1:1 discussions between participants.


Polling allows you to ask a question and get responses from everyone. It’s a great tool for quickly measuring what the learner knows, and engages everyone (not just the eager “hand-raiser”). In AnyMeeting, polling is done one question at a time. Questions are automatically stored in a bank, so you’re able to create your polling questions in advance.

Note: always create your polling questions in advance. It’s handy to be able to create questions on an as-needed basis, but nobody wants to wait for you to type your question and answers. Fire your ad-hoc questions verbally, plan your polling engagements.

Mood AnyMeetingMood

The name’s deceptive. “Mood” is a facile way to quickly understand where your participants are. Want people to ask questions? “Mood” has a “Raise Hand” prompt.  Get the sense that they don’t quite grasp a point you’ve just made? Ask a yes/no question, and tell them to respond using a mood option. Participants clear their mood by selecting “I’m Fine.”


Share PowerPoint  AnyMeetingShare

Yup. You can share your PowerPoint files.
AnyMeeting also allows you to share PDF files, and your desktop.

Share YouTube

It can be effective to include short videos in your webinars, so being able to share YouTube videos is helpful.



A frequent concern about web-facilitated meetings is that there’s no connection with the instructor. This is especially true if the camera’s turned off. Go back to that adage about how people understand what we say. How much from tone? How much from the words we choose? How much from body language? The camera allows the web facilitator to use that crucial method of communication (body language) in delivering content to the participants.

In AnyMeeting, an active web camera will dominate the screen until something else is shared, which I think is a nice touch.

Note: I may not leave my camera on ALL the time. For videos and demonstrations/simulations, I turn the thing off. Too many moving pictures. For introductions, conclusions, and active discussion with participants, my webcam is on.

There you have it: if you’re a budding trainer who wants to get some experience facilitating webinars, AnyMeeting is a great tool for you.


* True, WebEx does offer a free trial. as does Adobe. So if you’re going to try designing on those platforms, be quick!

Sharpening the Saw: Notes in the Cloud Addendum

A few posts back I discussed using OneNote as a document curation and note-taking tool. The features I described were primarily associated with the work I do for CCi, on the computer. But what note-taking tool do I use when I’m away from my desk – in meetings, or struck suddenly with inspiration?

OneNote does have a mobile application. I’ve tried using it on my iPad, but ran across some difficulties. The program works well when you sync your existing notebooks through Microsoft’s Skydrive*. My challenge: IT won’t let us do that.

So: with OneNote Mobile effectively rendered useless, what other mobile-ready note-taking resources exist?


Back when I was reveling in the novelty of using an iPad, I was reading about apps that were trying to improve on the functionality of the iPad Notepad. The Notepad is a pretty good tool, and I was making decent use of it, but the idea of “notes in the cloud” appealed to me. I elected to attend a conference armed with an app called SpringPad.


SpringPad provides several templates for their cloud-based notes.

SpringPad allows me to create robust notes that can include audio recordings and pictures to enhance my recall. I’m able to organize these notes into separate notebooks. This was my first foray into the cloud, so I was intrigued that all the stuff I captured while out and about would be synced to a SpringPad app in my Google Chrome browser, making it easier to retain and review those thoughts at a later date. Additionally, I would be able to share my notes with anyone who also had SpringPad. And since I was going to a conference that many of my co-workers were interested in, well, that made sense to me. Let them see my notes.

SpringPad uses templates to support your note-taking efforts. In other words, you don’t necessarily start with a blank page and fiddle with it to create what you need. Looking at the image on the right, you can see that it allows you to create a note or paste a link. Below that are options for creating a checklist, a task, or an event. You can create notes for books, music, and movies. Select one of these latter options, and you’ll be linked to databases that connect you to readily-available information about that media. In other words, if I want to record a fascinating insight gleaned from “Road-Tested Activities,” I won’t need to first record title, author, and ISBN – SpringPad will make all those connections for me.

Additionally, SpringPad comes with two features that support ease-of-use on my iPad: a quick shortcut to create a note directly from my desktop (rather than open the software and then select what I’m trying to create), and a Safari web page clipper that sits in my iPad browser’s shortcut bar. This is a handy way to take a snapshot of something that I can’t readily link to. An error message, perhaps. Or an online receipt.

Unfortunately, I haven’t utilized many of the cloud-based and co-authoring features available in SpringPad since the conference. My co-workers weren’t interested in learning another bit of software just so they could read my notes, which tend to be cryptic when they’re not rambling. Plus, I had other note-taking mechanisms in place. SpringPad quickly became an under-utilized app on my iPad.


When I started this Sharpening the Saw exercise, I decided I’d check out EverNote. Why? While EverNote and SpringPad do practically the same thing, like, everyone has EverNote. I actually know people who are using it. It’s number 12 on Jane’s list of Top 100 tools..

At its heart, EverNote is that blank notebook on which you can record a great many things and arrange them to remind and prompt you into action. You can include pictures and audio, manually create checklists, etc. Just as in OneNote and SpringPad, you can group your notes into notebooks for easier access to the information you’ve stored.

But EverNote aspires to be more than just digital notepaper. With one account, you get access to a great many tools to support your activities while on-the-go. There’s an EverNote Web Clipper, which allows you to save a web page (from your PC’s browser) into a notebook. There’s EverNote Clearly, which allows you to save blog posts or articles into a notebook for reading later, without all the web distractions. There’s Skitch, which allows you to annotate pictures that you’ve saved in EverNote. EverNote appears to work well with third party vendors; there are a slew of programmers out there creating apps to make your EverNote experience easier. This is important, for it appears that these sorts of note-taking programs are best when you use them for all the stuff you take note of, not just a select group of things. I recall a blog post once suggesting that Evernote works best when you use it, gosh darn it, for everything.

One EverNote tool that I was quite interested in was Penultimate, an app that lets you write with a “pen” on your iPad. It’s a cool feature, once you get the hang of writing on a digital surface. If you’ve ever seen my signature scrawl when I sign for my credit card purchases at the grocery store, you know I need more practice.

Unfortunately, Penultimate ultimately didn’t pan out. My Penultimate notes had to be kept in a separate EverNote notebook, meaning: if I wanted to revisit what I drew, I wouldn’t be able to find them in the binder where I’d kept all my other (typed) notes on the topic.

One neat EverNote feature: audio recording that lets you type your notes while recording the conversation. SpringPad does record audio, but it doesn’t appear to let you type at the same time. This is a feature I wouldn’t readily use, given people’s reticence for being recorded, and state law requiring consent be made before I make any recordings, but it could be handy for future conferences.

What I’m Using

For now, it appears that OneNote will be my document curation tool of choice. Why? It’s integrated with all my work products. EverNote does work with Outlook to allow you to post emails into your notebooks, but that’s it. Although EverNote appears to be ubiquitous on the web, it’s just not as available where I need it to be.

For my mobile devices, I’m leaning towards SpringPad. It allows me to store my notes in the cloud for easy access and transfer to my OneNote notebooks (or wherever I decide they ought to go).
But I mostly use SpringPad to create checklists of action items when I’m in meetings. SpringPad’s checklist and task list templates make this much easier than fiddling around in EverNote. I imagine someone out there has created an easy-to-use app that works with EverNote, but I’m not motivated to search for it. Plus, I like how SpringPad itself integrates with my iPad, rather than rely upon a bunch of third party vendors to get the job done. Mind you, I might have a different opinion were I using an Android tablet.

A bit of advice, whatever you decide: it’s important to keep your notes with one tool. We’re all familiar with the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, but equally important is our tendency not to bother searching for content (unless we really have to) if we’re not exactly sure of where it is in the first place. For nearly a year I hadn’t paid attention to my conference notes because I’d stopped using SpringPad. Now I’ve got some test notes in EverNote that I need to import into either OneNote or SpringPad, lest I forget them.

After my OneNote Sharpening the Saw post, several of you indicated you might try the program. If you have, and have used OneNote Mobile successfully for your on-the-go note-taking efforts, let me know in the comments!

*Skydrive is Microsoft’s version of cloud-based document storage. Like DropBox. Or Google Drive.

(This was a high-level overview of two popular and powerful cloud-based note-taking tools. For a deeper look, check out this article: EverNote vs. SpringPad.)

Dude, Where’s My Ribbon?


MS Word with ribbon

Microsoft Office products are replete with keyboard shortcuts that are designed to save us time while working on our documents, but sometimes they can “inexplicably” trigger actions that flummox the user. For me, recently, I’ve been experiencing this flummuxation with the Office Ribbon.

Try this. Open Word (or Powerpoint, or Excel) and press the following keys: Ctrl+Shift+F1.


MS Word without the ribbon. All it needs is a blue background…

Neat, huh? If you’re in Word, you’ve got a text editor. If you’re in PowerPoint, there’s that much more space to design in. No fuss, no muss.

This can be a useful feature, but annoying if you don’t know how you got there. That’s because a hidden ribbon works just like a hidden task bar. Move your mouse to where that ribbon once dominated your screen, and it will appear to let you complete one command. Again, a handy feature when you’re putting stuff to digital paper and could use the space to focus on the task.

Ah, memories!

Ah, memories!

But if that’s not the case, and you were planning on using that ribbon to put some finishing touches on your document…

Ever accidentally switch an Office product to full screen? Feels like that.

I don’t know how I managed to press Ctrl+Shift+F1 and hide the ribbon in the first place. I might not have. I might have clicked on that small, unassuming chevron in the ribbon’s far right corner.  It took this article to figure out how to get the ribbon back.

And now that I know this, I have a new Office feature I’ll be using when writing or designing.

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Sharpening the Saw: OneNote

ImageAll the way back in February I made a commitment to explore new tools in support of my professional development. This was inspired by a post by Jane Hart, social learning and collaboration expert. In my post, I pledged that the first tool I would discuss would be OneNote, and then we’d see where I’d go from there.

On Jane Hart’s Top 100 Tools, she briefly describes OneNote(along with EverNote) as a “note-taking tool.” I’d challenge that description as a bit confining – OneNote has a variety of uses that extend beyond note taking. Notepad is a note taking tool. OneNote easily serves more as a curation resource.

Let’s start with the basics:

Remember your TrapperKeeper back in high school? The one that you used to carry your class notebooks, and homework assignments, and notes, and pictures, and all that other stuff necessary to survival in high school? That’s OneNote.

Yes, you can take notes on it. But you can also store emails in that notebook. Or documents, Or images, including web screenshots and PowerPoint slides. Anything. In one place.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Different Nooks in the Iceberg:



The Move to OneNote button in Outlook 2010.

Our company is heavily invested in email as its primary source of communication. So much so that several of us frequently max out our email server quota. There are ways to manage this, of course, but those ways frequently cause me to spend more time searching for the emails that I need than I’d like.

“Is it in my archives? No? Did I put it in the wrong folder? Maybe I’m looking for the wrong subject.”

OneNote has a convenient button in the Outlook Ribbon. Press it, and your email goes to the Notebook/Section Group/Section of your choosing.  Attachments will go with the email, openable from OneNote. PLUS, you can then change the title of the page on which the email is located to better find your notes after the fact. PLUS, you can type any of your notes to the page holding the email to add context.



From the OneNote 2010 Home menu, you can opt to insert Meeting Details into your OneNote page.

Once upon a time, I had tried to use Outlook as a central location for many of my notes. It made sense: I’m in there a LOT.

I attempted to keep my meeting notes in Outlook: for a brief moment, attached to the details of the meeting; for another brief moment, within a Journal entry that corresponded to the meeting time. Both methods required that I search for these notes later, and remember how and when I had stored them. “When was that meeting again?” became a tough question to answer with my meeting-packed schedule, especially since Outlook pulls old meetings off my active calendar after they’re done.  Now, I keep my meeting notes in OneNote.

OneNote allows you to insert the meeting details from your Outlook Calendar to provide context to the notes. I merely create a page for the meeting, placed in the appropriate notebook section, and select “Insert Meeting Notes.”  The meeting subject, date and location, and invited attendees will be inserted on the OneNote page.  If your Outlook Calendar has the meeting agenda included in the details, or some talking points to address, those will be included as well.

Things To Do:


You can sort OneNote notes into to-do lists, question lists, even Outlook tasks by selecting a (fairly) descriptive statement, and then clicking a tag.

I do a lot of project-based work. I’ve tried to use Microsoft Project to keep organized and set schedules, but I’m rarely successful. Again, it’s a matter of where the information lies for me. I can make a list, I can check it twice, but all the other stuff I need to be successful lies scattered in Outlook.

I tend to use tasks in Outlook to keep on top of the things I need to do. However, those aren’t necessarily project-based. (Yes, I do use the Categories feature, and that mitigates some of my  issues, but not all.)

Since I’ve already got a OneNote Notebook section set up to hold my project emails and meeting notes, it becomes an easy task to create a front page that lists all the tasks I need to associate with that project. I can then:

  • Create a checklist  using the To Do tags.
  • Mark items as important using the Star tags.
  • Indicate a item I have a question about using the Question Mark tag.
  • Use the “Insert Outlook Tasks” feature, which will place that task in my Outlook with a link to the OneNote page.

A caveat to this feature: I still need to be rather thorough in describing what I’m tagging. Let’s use the Outlook Tasks feature as an example: because it will appear in my Outlook, I’ll want to be sure that when I look at the task, it doesn’t make me scratch my head and wonder what I’m supposed to do (The details don’t transfer from OneNote to Outlook.). An example of what I mean: one of the first tasks I created in OneNote was: “Step One.” It made sense in the context of the page, because the page contained SO many more details and links, but it made little sense within Outlook.

Other stuff:

OneNote provides other tools for you, and suggestions on how to use them.

  • You can store audio clips in your notebooks. You can even record a meeting in OneNote using your laptop microphone.
  • You can send PowerPoint slides to a notebook, and annotate them. Useful for presentation reviews.
  • I mentioned screenshot clipping – that’s a nice feature that many of the MS Office programs have. If you haven’t used that, try it out!  However, OneNote works with Internet Explorer to allow you to select content from a web page and send it to a notebook.
    There’s a lot going against IE, and I do tend to use Chrome, but this feature enhances IE’s usability.
  • I  mentioned that I create a front page to list the tasks for a project. I can also create links on that front page to other pages in my Notebook – sort of a cross-referencing tool.
  • I haven’t used the SideNote feature yet, which opens OneNote in a side window to capture notes while you’re reviewing content in another program. As an instructional designer, however, I can see how this could be useful in the Analysis or Evaluation phases.


Frankly, there appears to be a lot that you can do with OneNote, and with each new discovery I find I’ve only scratched the surface of how much more I can do. I’m currently in the process of adopting OneNote as my central source for the information I need to do my job. I’m able to store my notebook on the network, and sync it to my computer’s hard drive. I’m able to reduce my “Outlook footprint” and hopefully the amount of time I search for notes and information buried within the emails I receive. I’m able to keep task lists and meeting notes close to other information surrounding the topics.

Ultimately, it’s all about collating the information I need in one space. For that, OneNote seems to fit the bill.


Footnote: Yes, there’s a plethora of other cloud-based note-taking software available. I mentioned EverNote at the beginning of this post. I’ll post in a little bit about why I’ve decided to cancel my EverNote account and stick with OneNote, and why I’ve retained my SpringPad account.

On Learning New Things – A Reminder

cockpitLast week, I got to “fly” an F-16 jet. Simulation. Pretty darned cool. Since we were beginners, the staff only activated three buttons (talk, fire, and brakes), the throttle, and the steering joystick. It was still pretty hard to fly. I “died.” Many times. And I thought: how does anyone fly this thing once all these other buttons are activated?

Later, I explained to my stepfather how to download an image from his Facebook Newsfeed. As I was guiding him to click this button, then that, he wondered: “Geez! How can you remember all this stuff?” I imagine his face had an expression similar to the one I’d had when I’d sat in the F-16’s cockpit.

These two interactions brought to light how foreign and overwhelming ANYTHING can be when someone’s exposed to it for the first time: be it a computer system, a new process, or a fighter jet. Next time I take on the task of teaching someone a new system, I’ll have the image of that F-16 jet cockpit to remind me.

Automating Your Webinar Introduction


Photo Credit: H is for Home via Compfight cc

I was attending a webinar facilitated by the talented Geri Lopker, during which she impressed some of the attendees with break slides that included a timer. This wasn’t a separate program, but a series of slides that transitioned automatically as break time elapsed.

This was a nifty tool. I have never been successful in transitioning my slides automatically within WebEx, even after using PowerPoint’s “rehearse timings” feature, even after importing said slides into WebEx’s .ucf format.* As a result, my break slides tended to be a kludge of deftly timed animations.

I concluded that a gap exists between PowerPoint’s abilities and WebEx’s. But it could be overcome. How?

A little bit of research turned up this feature hidden under WebEx’s “View” menu: “Automatically Advance Pages.” Here’s how:

  1. Import the file into WebEx.**
  2. From the menu bar, select “View.”
  3. Then select “Automatically advance pages.”
  4. You’ll be able to change how frequently the pages advance, along with if you want the slides to repeat. If you’re doing a break timer, I’d suggest not repeating your slides.
  5. Click “Start” to automatically advance your slides.

How else could we use this feature? Having numbers change on a screen is one thing, but to quote Ted Arroway, “…seems like an awful waste of space.”

What if we used it to train our attendees? Not on course objectives, but on the web tool itself?

How much time do we spend in our webinars introducing people to the tools we use? Probably not a lot, but it cuts into the webinar time. If you’ve got an hour-long session, that introductory 5 minutes took up more than 10% of your class.

An alternative solution that we’ve implemented, with limited success, is to deliver an “Introduction to WebEx” in advance.  But what if we were to provide this “how to” information as a pre-show, for attendees to view as they log in to the webinar? That might work.

Here’s a slide deck that I created to try that technique. It’s both a timer to let people know how soon class will begin, and a quick introduction to WebEx participant tools – 60 seconds for each tool. The slides are designed to be advanced every 30 seconds; the first slide introduces the tool while the second slide encourages participants to try out the tools in a “safe zone,” before the real business of the webinar takes place.


If you use it, let me know how it works for you!

*yes, I know that you can share your PowerPoint application in WebEx, and I know that if you run that show, your transitions will work. I find that this reduces audience participation, because the chat box and participant windows “disappear.”
** it’s up to you how you import the file. I’ve started converting my slide decks into the .ucf format to help transition much of the fancy stuff I do in PowerPoint.

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