Beyond the Bullet - Organization leads to memorable and effective training

Editor’s Note - Building Better Training - part two of three: this 3-part series written by Mark Murrell and Jane Jazrawy, co-founders of CarriersEdge, looks at ways to make training more meaningful, engaging and effective through setting objectives, organizing and presenting content, and using a variety of testing methods to check knowledge. This second installment, written by Mark Murrell, looks at how to organize and execute effective training programs. 

‘I’ve seen people who use bullet points [as a script for their training sessions] actually turn their backs on their audience while they read the screen. There’s nothing that says meaningful training like watching someone’s back!
— Mark Murrell
Mark Murrell - co-founder, CarriersEdge

Mark Murrell - co-founder, CarriersEdge

I'm not sure if the invention of PowerPoint had a positive or negative impact on our culture. On one hand, it was a big step up from overhead projectors and messy hand-drawn diagrams on transparent plastic sheets. On the other hand, it introduced a new training paradigm: the bullet point. 

Ah, the bullet point. 

Gone are the days of reading paragraphs in a book or squinting at strange diagrams hastily doodled on a flipchart in the training version of Pictionary. Now, we squint at bright 18 point text on a customized background, neatly lined up in rows headed by an innocuous bullet. Sometimes, the bullet is a circle, but it can be a star, a pin, a cute animal or smiley face, but you are still faced with bullet points. 

Now, I'm not against bullet points. I use them frequently, and I don't miss the overhead projectors - of my GenX youth. However, I am against endless bullet points that don't contribute to the overall message that a presentation is trying to deliver. 

So, let's look at how to organize training material more effectively, using some of the other tools that technology provides. 

Step 1: Organize

If you read the first part of this 3-part series, Objectively Speaking, you hopefully came away with some useful tips on focusing your training materials using learning objectives. Once you have your learning objectives, you have a rough outline that your training should follow. Let’s look at the learning objectives we created in part 1:
After completing this training session, participants will be able to:

  • Define fatigue as it relates to commercial driving
  • List five common signs of fatigue
  • Describe three ways that fatigue can impair judgement
  • Correctly identify the employer and employee responsibilities in managing fatigue
  • Explain four ways to manage fatigue

You may alter these objectives as you develop your training if you find additional information or want to put more emphasis on a particular piece of information. 

Your next step is to organize your material so that it is easier for the learner to digest. Your best bet is to provide a big picture of what the content is about, then move from the general to the specific. For a session on fatigue management, that big picture might be why fatigue is a particular problem for commercial drivers. Your introduction should be a grabber – this is where movies, images and stories are effective tools. 

Once you have introduced your topic, the next step is to decide the order in which you will present your training content. When you are talking about regulations in particular, there is a tendency in the industry to try and teach the regulation in the order in which it's written. This is a terrible idea for the simple reason that regulations are written by lawyers, not by educators. Regulations are written so that they can be enforced and defended, not to make it easy for people to understand them. Your job as a trainer is to organize and translate those regulations into chunks of information that people can understand and apply to their daily lives.

Like I said, go from the simplest, most basic concepts to the more complex (exceptions should always be last once everyone has learned the rule). Think about it this way, when you were in school, you didn't learn division first. You learned addition, which is the simplest mathematical concept, and worked your way up from there to division (which requires that you know addition, subtraction and multiplication already). 

The same principle applies to designing educational material for adults and it helps your learners feel more confident about the information. When they feel more confident, they are more likely to apply a new concept or change their routines. So, for our fatigue management session, general to specific information could look like this:

  • Overview of fatigue and why it's important to the trucking industry
  • Circadian rhythm/when your body is naturally fatigued
  • How fatigue affects your body
  • Effects of chronic fatigue
  • Signs that you're getting fatigued while driving
  • What to do when you feel fatigued

Remember - this is not a list of learning objectives. There are no action verbs or methods of measurement. This is a just a list of topics you're planning to address in training so that you can meet your learning objectives. This list of content takes you from a general overview, to some theory behind fatigue, to more concrete signs of fatigue and what to do when you feel fatigued. 

Step 2: Illustrate

You have learning objectives and you have organized your content to meet those objectives. You are moving from general, theoretical information to the specific and personal actions that people can take. Now, you can start filling in the details. 

Details, you say? How about some bullet points for those details?

First, think about that list of bullets. What are you trying to say? Is there a better way to illustrate your point? Here are some alternatives to bullet points that work well for illustrating particular types of information. And you don't need to be an artist to use them!

Flowcharts > Show a process. 

Flowcharts show a series of steps in a process. 

Flowcharts show a series of steps in a process. 

Flowcharts show a series of steps in a process. They often show places where people have to make decisions. The key to using these is to keep it simple. For example, the Reasonable Suspicion testing process includes three basic steps: Observation & Documentation, Confrontation, and Testing & Followup. As you discuss each step, you can create other flowcharts that show the details. 

Charts > Show a comparison. 


Charts are excellent for showing comparisons between concepts. For example, if you want to show the differences between Hours of Service rules in the United States and Canada, a chart will do that quickly and easily. Above is a chart that compares fuel efficiency for two drivers with different driving behaviors.


Any concept that takes place over a period of time can be shown in a timeline.

Any concept that takes place over a period of time can be shown in a timeline.

Timelines > Show changes over time. 

Any concept that occurs over a period of time can be shown in a timeline. Often, company histories are depicted as timelines, but I have used a timeline to show how Circadian Rhythm affects fatigue.




Videos > Demonstrate a concept.

Videos are best used for demonstration purposes, such as conducting parts of an inspection.

Videos are best used for demonstration purposes, such as conducting parts of an inspection.

Videos should not be your entire training strategy, as they are not interactive, and they may not be the best way to explain every concept. They are fabulous for demonstration purposes, such as conducting parts of an inspection or showing an example of dangerous driving. Regulations may be better explained with different techniques.








Images > Show examples and real-life scenarios. 

They say pictures can say a thousand words. Perhaps they can take several bullet points out of your training presentation?

They say pictures can say a thousand words. Perhaps they can take several bullet points out of your training presentation?

Any time I can, I use an image to demonstrate what a learner's success looks like. I try to have as many visual examples as possible. Think about whether your PowerPoint slide full of bullets could be better represented with a picture.

Hands-On Activities. Training should include interactive components where participants can do something other than just listen to a trainer or watch a video. Interpreting log books, using BMI calculators, participating in Jeopardy-style games, or inspection competitions are all ways that you can make training more engaging and interactive.


Step 3: Rehearse!

When trainers use PowerPoint chock full of bullet points, it is often because they are using the slides as their script so that they remember what they're going to say. To immediately improve your training presentation, stop doing this! It ends up as a terribly boring experience for your audience. I've seen people who use bullet points like this actually turn their backs on their audience while they read the screen. There's nothing that says meaningful training like watching someone's back! 

If you are going to take advantage of other visuals when conducting classroom training, I highly recommend presentation notes. You can write your entire script in the Notes section, print it off and no one will be the wiser. You can also print out a presentation with 2 or 3 screens on a page and lines where you can write out your notes. But even if you write down everything you're going to say and do, rehearsal is still very beneficial. When your content is written, re-read and edit it. Your audience will thank you for it.

There is much more to designing training, but organizing your information and illustrating the concepts you want to teach will make it much more interesting. And the more interested and engaged your audience, the better they will retain information and put it into practice!