Seating Layout

Too Active

I remember once delivering training to a group of employees and removing all the tables from in front of them. They were seated in a large U-shape all 25 of them. I had also given them plenty of fun ice breakers. The result was that they became extremely active to the extent that they eventually broke out of control.

Inactive

During a different training program I had trainees all sitting behind a large oval table. Their participation was relatively limited, they were not very active nor lively during the training session. Seating layout and how chairs and tables are arranged in a training room have a strong influence on the performance of training.

Perfect Circle

During group work, when trainees are divided into a number of groups, to reflect on a video they have just seen or discuss a topic specified by the trainer, the way each group arrange their seats has a noticeable impact on the performance of that group. If the group is sitting in a perfect circle this group will achieve superior performance. The circle layout allows every member of the group to participate equally and allows for a good deal of synergy to take place among all members of the team. You can almost sense the energy flowing unobstructed when passing next to such group.

If group members are instead arranging their seats in an imperfect circle with one of the members of the group sitting behind another member or more distanced than others then such an arrangement would break the harmonious flow of energy, not give each member of the group an equal opportunity to participate and drastically cut down on synergy among members of the group thus greatly reducing their performance.The lower performance of such group would be quite evident. As a trainer, you should go to such a group and ask them to arrange their seats in a perfect circle. You should do so early on in the activity so that they would have enough time to carry out the group activity with high performance.

Tables Reduce Activity Level

Generally speaking, having tables in front of participants shielding them from the trainer dramatically reduces their level of activity. Having participants face the trainer directly without any obstructions, by removing any tables in front of them, allows them to be way more active. The decision of chair and table layout is for the trainer to make. The trainer can control the amount of activity of trainees through making changes to seating layout. A trainer may start the training for instance with tables placed in front of participants then decide to remove them completely during the second half of the training day or during the second training day. This could provide variation and the right amount of activity from trainees.

U-Shape, Incomplete Circle and Crescents

Participant seats can be arranged in a large U-shape spanning the training room with the backs of the chairs towards the 3 walls of the training room leaving the fourth wall for the trainer to stand against. Another similar arrangement is to have seats arranged in an incomplete circle which provides the highest degree of synchronized and harmonized participant attention. A third variation is to have seats in a crescent shape. This arrangement is similar to that of the incomplete circle and has the advantage of allowing for several ‘waves’ of crescents to be arranged one after the other to allow for more seats to be used in the training room.

Conclusion

A competent trainer must be aware that seating layout in the training room is no trivial thing and that it should be taken seriously for it has a powerful impact on the performance of participants during the training.

What other seating layouts can be used in the training room?

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How I learned Personal Shorthand

Shorthand Textbook

My sister needed to use shorthand for her work. She kept looking for shorthand training courses at so many places but couldn’t find a single place offering shorthand courses. After a long search, she finally stumbled upon one place that offered shorthand courses. After she took the training course and brought the textbook with her, I got curious about shorthand. I was still studying at university by that time. I started looking through the shorthand textbook and my interest grew.

Practice

I then set about to learn shorthand from the textbook on my own. I used lectures I attended at university as an avenue for practicing my shorthand skills. It was not that I was learning shorthand so that it could help me write down lectures I am attending but it was actually the other way around. I was curious to learn shorthand so I used university lectures I was attending back then as an excellent opportunity for practice.

Personal Shorthand

I remember I started on that journey during the second semester of my third year at Cairo University. The type of shorthand I was learning is called Personal Shorthand or PS for short. It is a renaming of what had been known before as briefhand. What distinguishes PS from other types of shorthand, such as Pitman shorthand, is that it relies solely on the 26 letters of the alphabet and therefore is very easy to learn compared to most other shorthand methods and can even be typed on a computer since it contains no special symbols and relies only on letters of the alphabet.

Full Lecture Transcription

I started reading in the personal shorthand textbook and doing the exercises it had. I started practicing during all lectures I attended at university. It was a lot of fun. By the second semester on my fourth year at university I was able to write down every single word the lecturer was uttering during the lecture. I no longer needed to rewrite my shorthand notes into longhand as I came back home. I just kept the shorthand sheets I had written during the lectures as they are and studied from them directly.

Tools

When I went to university I did not need to take any notebook with me, all I needed was a few folded foolscap folios and a pen. A whole 2 hour long lecture could be transcribed in full in just 2 foolscap folios since I wrote on both the front and back sides of each folio.

Exams

As the time for the final exam came at the end of the semester, I used the transcripts of the 12 or so lectures that I had stapled together as a way to revise all lectures before taking the exam. I was surprised at the amount of information they contained most of which I would have totally forgotten had I been attending the lectures without caring to take notes during the lectures.

Lessons Learned

There are many lessons to be learnt from this story. One of them is that a new skill can help you do better in life. Another lesson is that lots of practice is required to master a new skill. Practicing in a real life context also proved more effective. A third lesson is that one can learn some skills from a book plus practice without the need for external help.

Have you ever thought about learning shorthand? If so, what might you be using it for?

Peer Feedback Boosts Performance

Feedback and Performance

One powerful means for improving one’s performance and learning is getting feedback on his current performance in order to be able to act upon such feedback and improve his performance. During a training session it is crucial that the trainer provides useful and balanced feedback to trainees as he observes their performance as they go through various training activities completing numerous tasks. In addition to receiving feedback from the trainer, it is highly useful that a trainee receives feedback from his colleagues as well.

Mutual Benefit

When the trainer asks trainees to provide feedback to each other both the receiver and the provider of the feedback benefit a lot. The provider of the feedback gets a chance to carefully examine the performance of his partner and come up with conclusions in addition to communicating such conclusions to his partner. This makes him see clearly how good performance can be like and what to avoid. The trainee on the receiving end of course benefits from the feedback given to him by his partner in seeing his performance more clearly through the eyes of someone else which helps him further improve his performance next time he is carrying out a similar activity.

Positive Language

When providing feedback one has to be positive and use positive language. If the provider of feedback tries to show off his superiority by attempting to find all large and small mistakes in the performance of a trainee and expresses them in a strong negative language this may overwhelm the person receiving the feedback and totally shatter any kind of self confidence he might have had to the extent of disabling him completely from improving at all in the future in some cases. Feedback therefore must be balanced and the wording of the feedback itself should be all positive.

Graphic Facilitation

During a graphic facilitation workshop I had attended, the trainers asked participants to pair up and provide one another with feedback about their drawings. We were asked to first list 3 positive aspects of the drawings then after that mention 3 improvements that can be made. We notice here that one should always start first with the positive when providing feedback. Even when the time comes for pointing out the negative this should be done using positive words such as labeling them as “suggested improvements” rather than “mistakes” or “negative points.” Such feedback that uses all positive language not only informs the feedback receiver but also boosts his self confidence and enables him to drastically improve his performance.

Training of Trainers

When delivering training of trainers (TOT) workshops I ask participants to first list the positive points they see in demos of their colleagues then suggest improvements after that. Sometimes if the main aim is to boost trainee confidence one can ask for positive feedback only and prohibit any feedback on negative points for the time being.

Conclusion

Although receiving feedback from the trainer can be highly useful yet having trainees exchange feedback can be more so. Peer feedback also allows lots of feedback to be provided simultaneously in a short period of time in the case of pairing trainees with one another or dividing them into groups.

Changing Behavior through Switching Beliefs

One Coin, Two Sides

A change in someone’s beliefs can lead to a change in his behavior. In order to influence and change the behavior of participants you should attempt to influence and change their beliefs. Beliefs and behavior are two sides of the same coin. If behavior of a person does not mirror a belief he claims to be holding then he is not truly holding such belief he is claiming to be holding.

The 3 Elements

Behavior or attitude is one of the 3 main elements a trainer attempts to make positive change in besides skills and knowledge of trainees. In fact, changing behavior is the most difficult of the three and has the strongest and most lasting effect. But how can the trainer influence trainees so as to change their behavior? Here I will show you a powerful method for changing participant beliefs and thus in effect changing their behavior.

Logic

Some may think that providing logical explanations and guiding trainees to logical deductions and conclusions can be the right way to influence and change their beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Such method may indeed silence participants and prevent them from arguing yet it will not shake off the original belief they are holding to.

Storytelling

A much more effective method and a really powerful one is to provide real stories of actual cases that attest to the validity of the belief you want trainees to be holding.

The strongest type of story would be one that you have gone through yourself and in which you have gone through the journey of holding the wrong belief followed by going through a personal experience that made you lay down such wrong belief and hold a new one. This is the most powerful type of story that creates instant belief switching in the minds and hearts of participants.

If you do not have a personal story of such a belief change you may narrate the story of someone else who had such a belief change after going through some personal experience. If still such a change-of-belief story is not available then you can narrate a true story the events of which attest to the validity of the new belief you want participants to be holding.

Quitting Smoking

Let’s take an example to make this method clearer. Let us say there is a group of participants who are carrying out the harmful behavior of smoking. Let us assume that their subconscious minds are holding twisted beliefs that smoking might not be very harmful due to seeing many people around them who smoke yet are not greatly suffering health wise. If the trainer attempts to give hard facts about how smoking has been scientifically proven to harm the body, such numbers and logical explanations may still not effect change in the behavior of participants.

If rather than that a trainer narrates his own true story in which he had been a smoker not really believing so much in the harmful effect of smoking then going through a difficult experience of sharply deteriorated health resulting in a change in his beliefs about smoking consequently resulting in a change in his behavior then such a story can be a real influencer and would probably have a strong and powerful effect on participants making many of them change their beliefs about smoking and probably changing their behavior as well in the form of attempting to cut down on smoking or quit smoking altogether.

Conclusion

So, next time you are trying to convince someone with something do not try and argue using hard facts but use a true story to get your point through. This could lead to a change in his beliefs leading to a change in his behavior.

How else can you influence the behavior of a smoker to help him quit smoking?

Lecturing During Training

Can Lectures be Good?

I used to hate lectures. As a response to finding so many trainers using lecturing in all or most of the time of their training sessions, I developed an inclination to jam pack my training with training activities and to avoid using lecturing altogether in all training sessions I was delivering. Despite finding the all-activities training to be highly successful, enjoyable and engaging yet as I gained more experience in delivering training I started to realize that lecturing does indeed have a place within the training session and can even improve the overall effectiveness of a training program if used appropriately.

Activities Saturation

The first insight about the importance of injecting some lecturing in a training program came to me after delivering a training session in which I led participants into repeatedly carrying out a number of group activities in a row. I observed that participants just got fed up from the repeated group activities they were asked to do after having to do them for several times. The final time they were doing the group work they seamed reluctant and went through the activity with low energy.

Lecturing Appreciation

The second incident that helped me change my mind about the all-activities no-lecturing approach I once clung strongly to was when I attended a training program by some senior trainer. He used very few activities during his full-day training sessions and did not provide for a lot of interactivity. On the contrary, he spoke a lot and lectured for long during the sessions. At the end of that two-day training program I was surprised to find most participants giving him the highest score in the training evaluation forms! Many of them came to greet him and thank him heartedly for the training. They even clapped with enthusiasm and appreciation for him as he closed the training program. This experience had me rethink my earlier beliefs and start appreciating the concept of lecturing once again.

Some Like Lectures

I also remember a third incident where one of the trainees spoke up during the first half of the training session I was delivering and said to me: “Now we want to hear you speak.” I attempted to explain to him that the training program was based on activities rather than on lecturing yet I did realize that for many people they have been conditioned to listen to lectures and expect to find one during the training program they are attending.

Mixing Lecturing and Activities

After such revelation I had I started injecting mini lectures or lecturettes in between activities during training sessions I delivered. I noticed that providing such mini-lectures made participants very eager to carry out activities when the time for activities comes. I also noticed that giving several activities to trainees makes them very attentive to the trainer when the time comes for him to speak and give a mini-lecture or short presentation. Alternation between training activities and short lectures seemed to provide the best effect in a training program. Nevertheless, I still believe that time provided for activities should still be more than that given to lecturing perhaps its double.

Lively Lecturing

In order to make lecturettes interesting and effective it is best to fill them up with storytelling and perhaps accompany them with drawing or charting on the flip chart. This would help make them the more engaging and impactful.

Conclusion

So whenever designing for a training program remember to include a combination of many activities and a few mini-lectures in order to get the best of both worlds and achieve the highest impact.

When do you think is it not appropriate at all to use even mini-lectures during a training program?

Group Work Activities for Training Workshops

Interactive training workshops are more engaging than boring lectures and are more effective than mere presentations done by a trainer. Group work is one of the main kinds of activities that can make a training session highly interactive and engaging and thus enjoyable and of high impact.

Single Presenter

Here is basically how group work works:

  1. Trainer divides participants into groups.
  2. Trainer asks each group to discuss a specific topic and write down their thoughts in points.
  3. Trainer then asks each team to nominate one of its members to come and present the points of his team in front of all participants.

Multiple Presenters

A variation would be to ask each team to send 2 or even 3 of its members to present the points written by the team. This is helpful in team building training where you want participants to practice collaboration and cooperation. In such  cases, you must clearly state that both participants sharing the presentation have to share equally in presenting their team’s points. It is not acceptable that one participant goes ahead reading and explaining all the points while forgetting all about his colleague who is standing next to him and not leaving any points for that colleague to cover. The trainer must clearly state that this is not allowed. The trainer must state this before the teams start their presentations.

Time Stretching

The time it takes each team to present their points is proportional to the number of team members giving the presentation. If you ask each team to send 2 of its team members to give the presentation this would take them more time than if you had asked them to send only one team member to do the presentation. Similarly, 3 members would take a longer time in presenting than 2 members even though they have the same number of points to present. This phenomenon can be used by the trainer to reduce or expand the time of the group work activity in order to manage the training session time.

Sheets

Before the teams start their discussions, you can provide them with flip chart sheets to use for writing their points. You may even ask them to cut the sheets themselves from the flip chart and divide a single sheet into 2 or 3 parts and divide it on the other teams.

Seating

It is of great value that you ask the teams to site in circles. As they start their discussions, if you find one of the teams not arranging their chairs in a proper circle go to them and guide them to do so. The seating positions during this activity have a very high and noticeable effect on the performance of a team. Sitting in a perfect circle makes it possible for everyone to participate and boosts synergy among team members creating what might seem like a sort of resonance.

Getting Creative

I remember once that one of the teams got creative during their presentation and threw in a mini-play instead of a mere reading and explaining of the points they have written. A trainer should praise and encourage such creative initiatives.

Topic

The topic of discussion can be to reflect on a video just viewed by participants or to try and find answers for a question or solutions for a problem or just to list any kind of information the trainer asks them to list.

Conclusion

Group work is an activity that participants usually enjoy greatly and benefit from. Nevertheless, the trainer should take care to alternate between it and other forms of training so that participants do not get over-exhausted. Group work is usually a fundamental part of every interactive training workshop.

What kind of training program do you think group work would not be appropriate to use in?

Boosting Reading and Speaking Skills

Explaining Training Method

It is important to make trainees aware of the training style you are using. Explaining it to them makes them trust you the more since it makes them aware that you know what you are doing. By understanding why a particular style of training is used and why it works and is effective trainees give it their full attention, effort and focus thus benefiting from the training the most. In addition to establishing trust in the trainer and boosting the amount of benefit trainees get from the training, understanding the training style being used makes trainees better able to practice on their own and keep improving their skills even long after the training program has ended.

Second Language Learning

When delivering training to improve the second language of trainees it is of great importance to tell them about the training style you will be using during the training. Not only will they appreciate this and perform better and follow your instructions more closely but it will help them further develop their language skills on their own.

Contrasting Learning Methods

Two of the main skills required to master a language are reading and speaking skills. The method by which the learner practices each of those two skills contrast sharply with one another.

Reading Skills

In order to improve reading skills one should practice by reading correctly and accurately. The learner should attempt to read everything without making any mistakes in reading even if this means reading at an extremely slow rate. the focus here is on correctness and not on speed. Focusing instead on speed of reading will never get the learner anywhere. Attempting to strike a balance between reading speed and correctness while practicing is also wrong and would lead to poor results on the long run. Only by focusing totally on accuracy and correctness and completely ignoring speed would a learner be able to improve his reading skills in a second (or first) language. By repeating what one is reading for so many times speed will eventually come on its own without forcing it.

Speaking Skills

As for speaking skills, the exact opposite is required to successfully practice them. A learner should focus on attempting to communicate meaning while practicing to speak using a second language. Here speed while practicing is required and even essential. If the learner slows down in an attempt to get every grammatical rule correct and search for the perfect vocabulary to use this could break the flow of communication. If he focuses just on communicating meaning, the inaccuracy in grammar and/or vocabulary will tend to vanish in the future as he keeps on practicing his speaking skills.

Conclusion

The methods for improving reading and speaking skills contrast sharply with one another. By making trainees aware of such methods they tend to trust the trainer more, follow his directions more closely and willingly during the training and be able to practice and improve their skills on their own even long after the training program is over.

What about writing and listening skills? What could be good methods for practicing any of those?