4MAT systemHave you ever wondered if there’s a good way to format a talk, presentation or training module that goes beyond the traditional advice (below)?

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Tell them what you’ve told them

This article, about the format that I use to expand on that good but rather basic advice, is adapted from a forum post I wrote today to help out a friend who is about to run his first ever training session. He’s training people who drive for a living in the ‘Drivers Certificate of Professional Competence’- hence the driving-related examples that I’ve used.

The method I use to design my courses is based on Bernice McCarthy’s ‘4MAT‘ system, originally designed to appeal to all 4 ‘learning styles’. Although a recent study has pretty much debunked the concept of learning styles, this format still works on a practical level as it seems to suit the way the human mind learns.

Each ‘chunk’ of content should be delivered with this format:

  1. ‘Frame’ the content, identifying what it is, ideally with a ‘headline’ that will get people’s attention e.g. ‘There’s one thing that most drivers don’t know that could save your life on a long drive’. The other bit of the frame is basically the ‘tell them what you are going to tell them’. As well as giving people a conceptual framework to fit the information into, it stops them asking irrelevant and distracting (to other learners) questions about braking distances while you are doing the section on EU driving time legislation, or whatever. They will know not to because you can remind them that this bit of the course is about driving time legislation. NB the importance of headlining was first brought home to me when I attended my friend Jonathan Altfeld‘s ‘Linguistic Wizardry’ course.
  2. ‘Why?’ – reasons why they should pay attention, for people who refuse to learn unless you give them a reason why.
  3. ‘What?’ – the actual information content. Just what people need, and no more. This appeals to people who like learning stuff for its own sake, but will bore anyone else if it goes on too long.
  4. ‘How?’ – the hands-on bit, appealing to practical learners. Give them an exercise to do. If necessary, demo it beforehand.
  5. Finally, the ‘What If?’ for speculative thinkers and people who want to know exception conditions etc. They may be asking questions all the way through – if they ask at the ‘what’ stage, for example, I generally tell them to try the exercise out first and ask again if it hasn’t answered their question.  This bit is where you take questions. If you get into the exception conditions too soon (e.g. in the content stage) it will get too complicated for people to take in.
  6. Review. This is the ‘tell them what you’ve just told them’ stage. It’s also worth a very quick review of what you’ve covered before each break, before lunch, and at the end of the day. Studies show that people remember material from the beginning and the end more than material from the middle (the Serial Position Effect).

If you would like me to put together a course on ‘workshop design for non-trainers’, let me know!

For practical advice about the 4-MAT system and how to use it, I recommend the book ‘Presenting Magically: Transforming Your Stage Presence With NLP‘ by David Shephard and Tad James:

Image by star-one at sxc.hu

How To Format Training And Presentations With The 4MAT System
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