How to Use This Book

What’s in This Chapter

•  Why communication skills matter

•  What you need to know about training

•  Estimates of time required

•  A broad overview of what the book includes

Why Do Communication Skills Matter?

In this world of constant change, effective communication is a crucial skill set for leaders and individual contributors. Communication is the key to both success and failure—making or breaking relationships, teams, or organizations. Poor communication reduces productivity, trust, and morale, whereas positive and respectful communication builds relationships and collaboration and increases productivity.

Verbal and nonverbal communication and attentive listening skills are valuable in the workplace. Good communication skills go beyond simply talking and conversations; communicating well in written reports, email, and in virtual settings (such as WebEx, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams) is also essential. Workplace communication can be a challenging and difficult task. It takes a strong sense of self, emotional control, and personal confidence to allow yourself to become vulnerable with your colleagues. But without strong communication skills, developing successful working relationships is nearly impossible.

Communication is the vehicle for sharing information with colleagues; it is at the heart of team building, customer service, conflict management, and every other interaction in the workplace. The goal of all communication is to develop a common understanding of what was said and to ensure the message that comes across is the same to all parties involved.

Understanding the benefits of effective communication helps companies focus on developing a workforce that can communicate with one another as well as with customers, vendors, and business partners. If you are searching to build a positive, collaborative, and trusting work environment, good communication skills must be your foundation.

The first edition of this book in 2004 approached the topic of communication skills somewhat differently, covering a wide variety of topics, with each topic presented at a very high level. This edition offers a new approach. Fewer topics are covered overall, but each topic—listening skills, business writing, communicating your message, and verbal and nonverbal communication—is explored more deeply. In fact, each topic can stand alone as its own half-day workshop. We’ve also updated the content to address communication skills training in the virtual space.

Providing your participants with a deeper, more nuanced understanding of communication will give them a solid foundation upon which to build strong skills and relationships in the workplace. The content, activities, and tools offered here are designed to help you to start this critical learning immediately

What Do I Need to Know About Training?

The ATD Workshop series is designed to be adaptable for many levels of both training facilitation and topic expertise. Circle the answers in the following chart that most closely align with your levels of expertise and your organization’s commitment to learning.






What is your expertise as a facilitator?


(more than 5 years, always awesome evaluations)

Some experience

(1–5 years, sometimes talk too much)


(less than 1 year, no idea what to do)

How familiar are you with the topic?

Evolving expert

(have taken courses, read books, created materials, and it)

Some experience

(have taken courses, read books, created materials)


(had a course in school)

How committed is your company to investing in training or performance improvement?

Integral part of our corporate culture

Depends on the topic—this one is hot right now

They want it cheap and fast


Now calculate your score. Each circled answer from column 3 gets three points, column 2 gets two points, and column 1 gets one point.

If you scored 13: You’re likely a novice at both training and this topic. Your best bet is to stick as closely as possible to the materials as they are. Spend extra time with the content to learn as much as you can about it. Also, closely read chapter 7 on training delivery and consider practicing with a colleague before delivering the program.

If you scored 46: You may be a topic expert. Use the outline and materials, and feel free to include materials you have developed and believe are relevant to the topic.

If you scored 79: You’re a training expert. Feel free to adapt the agendas and materials as you see fit and use any materials that you have already developed, or simply incorporate training activities, tools, handouts, and so forth into your own agenda.

For more on facilitation skills, see chapter 7. Chapter 11 also includes a comprehensive assessment instrument that will help you manage your professional development and increase the effectiveness of your communication skills training sessions (see Assessment 4: Facilitator Competencies).

What Considerations Need to Be Addressed in a Virtual Delivery Model?

Despite the many advantages to virtual training (such as reduced travel and facility expenses and increased scheduling flexibility), the modality does come with some potential pitfalls. You will be best positioned to maximize the benefits and minimize the hazards by taking the time to address these concerns. Some items to think about and plan for in advance of a virtual session include:

•  Ensure you have adequately prepared the content and practiced using any online tools needed in the session. Can you set up breakout rooms and move back and forth between them and the main session? Do you know how to mute and unmute participants as a group and individually?

•  Organize the distribution of any materials as needed during the session. Will you send them by email or through file share? Create your plan and communicate it to your participants.

•  Make sure participants understand their role in making a virtual training successful. Emphasize the necessity for active participation. Ensure that participants know how to use the platform’s interactivity tools. Be sure to vary the methodology of instruction every eight to 10 minutes if possible (for example with lectures, activities, worksheets, breakout sessions, large group discussions, or Q&As).

•  Remember that your participants are sitting in front of their screens for extended periods of time. Try to stick to scheduled breaks and encourage participants to move away from their computers during these breaks—this will help them better focus during the session. To avoid potential environmental distractions during the session, encourage participants to close other activities or applications (such as email and other chat programs) and put away their mobile devices.

How Much Time Will Preparation Take?

Putting together and facilitating a face-to-face training workshop, even when the agendas, activities, tools, and assessments are created for you, can be time consuming. Adding the element of a virtual environment contributes to the need to thoroughly prepare and plan. You will have to be comfortable not only with the content, but also with the platform being used, potential connectivity and functionality challenges and their solutions, and effective ways to get and keep participants engaged with you, each other, and the content. For planning purposes, estimate four to five days of preparation time for a two-day virtual workshop.

What Are the Important Features of the Book?

Section I includes the various workshop designs (from a half day to two days) with agendas and thumbnails from PowerPoint slides as well as a chapter on customizing the workshop for your circumstances. The chapters included are:

•  Chapter 1. Two-Day Workshop (15 hours program time) + Agenda + PPT (thumbnails)

•  Chapter 2. One-Day Workshop (7.5 hours program time) + Agenda + PPT (thumbnails)

•  Chapter 3. Half-Day Workshop (3 to 4 hours program time) + Agenda + PPT (thumbnails)

•  Chapter 4. Customizing the Communication Skills Workshop

The workshop chapters include advice, instructions, workshop at-a-glance tables, and full program agendas.

Section II is standard from book to book in the ATD Workshop Series as a way to provide a consistent foundation of training principles. This section’s chapters follow the ADDIE model—the classic instructional design model named after its steps (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation). The chapters are based on best practices and crafted with input from experienced training practitioners. They are meant to help you get up to speed as quickly as possible. Each chapter includes several additional recurring features to help you understand the concepts and ideas presented. The Bare Minimum gives you the bare bones of what you need to know about the topic. Key Points summarize the most important points of each chapter. What to Do Next guides you to your next action steps. And, finally, the Additional Resources section at the end of each chapter gives you options for further reading to broaden your understanding of training design and delivery. Section II chapters include:

•  Chapter 5. Identifying Needs for Communication Skills Virtual Training

•  Chapter 6. Understanding the Foundations of Training Design

•  Chapter 7. Delivering Your Communication Skills Workshop: Be a Great Facilitator

•  Chapter 8. Evaluating Workshop Results

Section III covers information about post-workshop learning:

•  Chapter 9. The Follow-Up Coach

Section IV includes all the supporting documents and online guidance:

•  Chapter 10. Learning Activities

•  Chapter 11. Assessments

•  Chapter 12. Handouts

•  Chapter 13. Online Tools and Downloads

The book includes everything you need to prepare for and deliver your communication skills workshop:

•  Agendas, the heart of the series, are laid out in three columns for ease of delivery. The first column shows the timing, the second gives the presentation slide number and image for quick reference, and the third gives instructions and facilitation notes. These are designed to be straightforward, simple agendas that you can take into the training room and use to stay on track. They also include cues on the learning activities, notes about tools or handouts to include, and other important delivery tips. You can download the agendas from the website (see chapter 13) and print them out for easy use.

•  Learning activities, which are more detailed than the agendas, cover the objectives of the activity, the time and materials required, the steps involved, variations on the activity in some cases, and wrap-up or debriefing questions or comments.

•  Assessments, handouts, and tools are the training materials you will provide to learners to support the training program. These can include scorecards for games, instructions, reference materials, samples, or self-assessments.

•  Presentation media (PowerPoint slides) are deliberately designed to be simple so you can customize them for your company and context. They are provided for your convenience.

All the program materials are available for download, customization, and duplication. See chapter 13 for instructions on how to access the materials.

How Are the Agendas Laid Out?

The following agenda is a sample from the two-day communication skills workshop.

Two-Day Workshop Agenda

Day 1: (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)


8 a.m.

(10 min)

Slide 1

Welcome and Introduction

Briefly welcome the participants and introduce yourself. Give them a brief overview of the functionality or interactivity that will be used during the session (such as polls, chat, whiteboard, and breakout sessions).

A sample functionality overview has been provided to you. This sample is specific to the WebEx environment.

Ensure that participants are aware that they may be asked to share their screens or cameras as part of the exercises and activities during the workshop.

8:10 a.m.

(15 min)

Slide 2

Learning Activity 1: Objective Decision

•  Handout 1a: Objective Decision

•  Poll: Objectives

This activity provides an innovative way to facilitate the discussion about session objectives rather than simply reading them to the participants.

Ask participants to follow the instructions in the handout. When they are finished ask them to select the objective in the poll that corresponds to the one they highlighted.

Share poll results with all.

8:25 a.m.

(10 min)

Slide 3

Ground Rules and Expectations

Facilitate the discussion about ground rules and expectations for the course. Adjust times for starting, breaks, and lunches as needed to accommodate your environmental factors. It is important to establish a positive learning environment.

Ask participants to give you a green check if they are in agreement with the ground rules for the session.

8:35 a.m.

(15 min)


Who is the most difficult person in the world?

Learning Activity 2: The Most Difficult Person

•  Handout 2: The Most Difficult Person in the World

Get participants thinking by using Handout 2.

Debrief the questions using any method you wish (for example, the chat pane or raise hand). Capture responses on the whiteboard so all can see.

How Do I Use This Book?

If you’ve ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you will recognize that this book follows a similar principle. Think back to the self-assessment at the beginning of this introduction:

•  If you chose training expert, you can get right to work preparing one of the workshops in Section I. Use Section II as a reference. Each chapter features a sidebar or other information written by the author, who has much experience in the topic under consideration. This advice can help guide your preparation, delivery, and evaluation of training.

•  If you chose topic expert, read Section II in depth, and skim the topic content.

•  If you chose novice at training and the topic, then spend some serious time familiarizing yourself with both Sections I and II.

Once you have a general sense of the material, assemble your workshop. Select the appropriate agenda and then modify the times and training activities as needed and desired. Assemble the materials and familiarize yourself with the topic, the activities, and presentation media.

Key Points

•  Oral and written communication skills are essential to individual and organizational success.

•  Effective listening skills help build positive relationships.

•  The workshops in this book are designed to be effective at all levels of trainer expertise.

•  Good training requires an investment of time.

•  The book contains everything you need to create a workshop, including agendas, learning activities, presentation media, assessments, handouts, and tools.

What to Do Next

•  Make yourself familiar with the functionality, both as a facilitator and as a participant, of the platform that you will use to host the training program.

•  Review the agendas presented in Section I and select the best fit for your requirements, time constraints, and budget.

•  Based on your level of expertise, skim or read in-depth the chapters in Section II.

•  Consider what kind of follow-up learning activities you will want to include with the workshop by reviewing Section III.

Additional Resources

Biech, E. (2008). 10 Steps to Successful Training. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Biech, E., ed. (2014). ASTD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development, 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Emerson, T., and M. Stewart. (2011). The Learning and Development Book. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

McCain, D.V., and D.D. Tobey. (2004). Facilitation Basics. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Piskurich, G. (2003). Trainer Basics. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

Stolovitch, H.D., and E.J. Keeps. (2011). Telling Ain’t Training, 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

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