Don't Stop Train - Pull Chain!
I DO A GOOD bit of training for schools, colleges and corporate houses, and the colleagues at work seem to think it's a cakewalk for me. They feel they go about busting their guts to rake in the profits while I merely stand around in front of captive audiences and jaw on about what the matter is with them. Which leads me to think if I am indeed such a charlatan as they think of me. My feedback is uniformly encouraging and there must be something I am doing right. So, I began to list down the qualities that are most appreciated by learners across the globe. There is no single quality that raises the trainer from zero to hero. It's a string of variables that contributes to the success (or failure) of a trainer, but among them all there are certain necessary attributes that have been demonstratively more effective than other methods to make training the success it should be.
I make it a point to arrive at training venues more than half an hour before the scheduled start of the session. In the first few minutes, I set up my presentation or the material I would consider using. Having done this, I try and get a `feel' of the place, learn where important switches are and locate the toilets. Silly? Not really, and you'll soon see why. In the meanwhile, the participants are dribbling in, in ones and twos and I sit with them and put them at their ease. I talk to them informally, finding out a little about them and the functions they represent, what interests them and so on. Often I don't even tell them that I will be the resource that will be talking to them that day. They think that I am, like them, another participant. Our conversation generally centres on the expectations from the programme and the desired outcome. We might even talk about the facilities and that's where my `insider' knowledge of the venue stands me in good stead. By this time several participants would have come and the people I have already met would, in all probability, introduce me to them. When the appointed hour strikes, I stand up and greet them all as an old acquaintance if not a friend and keeping in mind what they have shared with me, adapt my presentation to their needs, thereby giving them what they actually want. By using the information I have discovered, I can relate to several individuals immediately. I'd then use the first break to meet those I had not met earlier.
I have found bald lectures crashingly boring. These are occasions where a speaker drones on and on endlessly, and participants doodle rather than take notes. The words "Thank you" sound the sweetest when heard during such sessions as it generally signalled the need to applaud and file out decorously. I swore to myself that if the occasion ever arose for me to teach or train, I'd never stun my audience into a deep stupor. With this in mind, I invariably plan in several activities designed to make certain that somnolence is the last thing on their minds. These often take the form of short activities, exercises and sometimes even an experiment to prove the point I might have made. Apparently, this is highly recommended since it has been discovered that two weeks after a lecture-type training session, participants remember less than two percent of what they were told. So, conducting video sessions, role-plays and injecting humorous interludes serve to anchor the learning. On the other hand, perhaps I haven't been too wise, since organisers routinely slot me into the horrible post-lunch sessions that trainers generally shun, only because I keep the participants gainfully awake.
One of the best ways I have found to keep my audiences involved is the sharing of experiences I have had. Perhaps the kind of life I have led and the very many countries I have visited helps me in this because I find I have very little trouble in finding experiences that are of interest to the participants and I often advise my team of trainers to do likewise. While their age inhibits the experience of so many events, they certainly have things to share, and when customised to the needed illustration, it makes the event so much more relevant to the needs of the participants. Such sharing often strikes a chord with the participants and serves often as a trigger to a transformation of their outlook and attitudes. Such high-impact presentations work because participants are moved to see the parallels between their own experience and those of the trainer. I think that the several participants that still write to me after a decade since the training feel particularly effected and have found a satisfying solution to the issues they might have had so many years ago. Occasionally, I even encourage a participant to take up cudgels against me so that others can have a point illustrated for their benefit as well as that of the participant that indulges me in my little game.
Train for Tomorrow
Most participants `turn off' if trainers start telling them what they already know. To me there appears to be a great deal of initial resistance when I do workshops on communication that almost everybody thinks they know all about. They start with the rather disgruntled feeling that their organisation thinks so little of their skill in this area and greet the trainer with something that borders on hostility. If you've `made friends', perhaps this hostility bit is reduced, but there is resistance to the subject. Your initial conversation with them should reveal their gaps, so launch forth on this so that a need is immediately met. I generally start with a really tricky extract from a book everybody has heard of (but have rarely read) and tell them how little we really know about a subject. This gives them the feeling that you are about to tell them something they didn't know. I ask them to share experiences where people misunderstood them, and perhaps show a film on bloomers in the subject. Once people begin to laugh, they are readier to learn. Telling participants what they could do in the future is far better than telling them what they have been doing wrong. That is for them to realise, not for any good trainer to point out. I also subject myself to training programmes by other trainers so that I can learn the latest in effective techniques, as indeed I am aware of several professional trainers that attend my programmes to check my style and see if they can use it at their programme. The important thing is to stay contemporary.
To make a trainer effective, you have to make the training exciting. I always make it a point to tell the organisers never to share the training schedule with the participants and allow it to unfold, as I intend it. An element of surprise serves well to energise participants. At a recent workshop, one of the participants said that none of them knew what was coming next and were always waiting for the next surprise. Since he said it with some pleasure, I felt it was a good thing. Some effective trainers hand out sweets and chocolates, I think it's a great idea though I never do it myself because I generally eat the goodies before I can give them away. I have tried giving away key-chains and little torches and things and they have been enthusiastically received. Some trainers do this about once every hour, I stagger it to anchor a point that I may have made or as a reward for getting a snap quiz right.
Anything haphazard defeats the purpose of training, so notwithstanding the surprise element, the inherent structure of the workshop should be apparent to the participants. It helps to remember that it's wise to keep reminding the audience what you have told them in case they have missed noting down a point you might have made. The old idea that you spend 10% of the time telling them what you are going to tell them and then 80% of the time telling them what you have to and the balance 10% of your time telling them what you have told them stands every trainer in good stead. It acts as an aide memoir, and making the structure clear to the participants. The logic of the presentation is bound to appeal - even to the most disorganised person.
Training is a lot of fun for me. The magic is in making it fun for the participants. Fun need not mean ha-ha fun, it could be mentally challenging and physically demanding, the completion of which leads to considerable satisfaction and a sense of personal achievement. It works for me, and it should for everyone that wants to become an effective trainer who enjoys what he (or she) does.
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