About Ashraf Al Shafaki

Ashraf Al Shafaki is a Design Thinking Trainer and Consultant. He has a deep interest in sustainable projects.

Saving your Voice

Have you been conducting training lately only to find that your throat hurts and your focal chords are ailing? This is a common symptom that trainers who speak for hours get, specially if they are forced to speak at the top of their lungs so as to make every participant in the training hear them clearly and to grab everyone’s attention. Here is how to save your voice and in the process save your training career.

Cut Down on Speaking

Some trainers think that their job during a training session is to speak, speak and speak. This cannot be further from the truth. A trainer’s role is to help participants engaged by several different methods and not to bore them to death by speaking on and on for hours. I used to make the terrible mistake of speaking at the top of my lungs thinking that that is a sign of a good trainer. I even admit that I took pride in it! It was through repeated harsh feedback I received from participants that I realized my load voice was actually irritating their ear drums! I did not stop even then, it took me quite a while to realize how harmful that was not only to the trainer, as he gets a sore throat, but also to participants as they feel pain as if someone was hammering on their nerves!

I used to speak load to hold everyone’s attention. It did work, but the side effects were just too huge to make it worthwhile. An alternative way to hold their attention as you speak is to speak softly, they then will keep silent in order to be able to hear you. This is a technique I remember my math teacher at high school used to use. The class was so silent, everyone was listening attentively to him as he spoke, he spoke softly with a relatively low voice, he used pauses at appropriate moments to hold everyone’s attention. He spoke slowly too.

Use Activities

Another useful strategy I found was to increase the amount of activities during training and reduce the time the trainer speaks. This might sound like the trainer does not want to exert as much effort, yet in fact participants are happier like that as they get to do something and their learning experience is much better. The best approach is to alternative between having participants carry out training activities and speaking to them as a trainer explaining something. A 50/50% approach might be a good rule of thumb to aim for. For younger participants the ration of activities can even be more than that in which the trainer speaks. For older participants, in their 40s their 50s and beyond, the trainer might have to decrease the ration of activities a bit as they tend to like to listen more than do, particularly if they are employees and you are conducting corporate training, but even in public training courses as well age does matter.

Drink Warm Liquids

Having reduced the volume of your voice and amount of time in which you speak, you then have to take care of your vocals by consuming liquids as they help hydrate them. It is like a car motor which needs cooling using  water circuit as it works heavily. Consuming warm drinks is an even greater idea. In the absence of warm drinks, just drinking water at room temperature will do, it is way better than letting your throat dry up. Avoid at all cost having cold drinks during or after the training. Drinking something cold after speaking for long during a training session might harm your throat so heavily that it might bleed! I learned it the hard way! Repeatedly! It is as if a glass containing boiling water is suddenly emptied and filled with cold water, the glass might just chatter! It might be easy to get rid of the broken glass and just go get a new one, not so with your precious throat, you only have one. Save your throat, save your career!

By cutting down on the time in which you speak through increasing the amount of engaging activities, and by avoiding speaking in a load voice in addition to consuming warm drinks during and after the training you get a better chance of saving yourself and your career as a trainer for years and years to come.


Physical Activity During Training

Sitting still on a chair for an extended period of time in front of a lecturer or a presenter produces boredom, fatigue and even sleepiness. No wonder we find the occasional sleeping attendee during a lecture or meeting. In training, it is crucial to avoid such situations by getting trainees to move from time to time in order to revitalize their energies.

One way of achieving this is by providing trainees with breaks. During breaks, trainees can get out of their seats to have some coffee and speak with one another. This simple motion out from their seats and to the coffee table helps revitalize their energies. If some participants decide to keep to their chairs during the break the trainer can encourage them to get up for a cup of coffee or so.

Another great way to get participants moving is to provide them with an icebreaker. This usually takes place at the beginning of the training session. Some even like to call it an energizer. It can also be used at other times during the training program such as right after the lunch break. Icebreakers at the beginning of the first training session can come right after the trainer introduces himself, the training program and the training style he will be using. It is best to select an icebreaker that is fun and that includes, some physical activity. The physical activity may range from just standing up, perhaps in a circle to more vigorous ones including throwing balls and walking up to other colleagues. When participants get seated once again after such an energizer, they feel happy, exhilarated and energized. Their body cells are now ready to relax down while their brain cells fire up providing their full attention and focus to what the trainer has got to say. Engagement level of trainees is boosted.

Games can also be another opportunity for providing physical activity to participants besides breaks and energizers. It is a good idea to select games that involve physical activity and movement. Participants enjoy games superbly, learn from them and get revitalized in a similar way to energizers and even better. Games can be followed by reflections. It is essential to remember that alternating between resting the body and providing it with opportunities for being active is what keeps a participant active and fresh throughout the training session. Asking participants to make too much physical activity would be exhaustive and counterproductive.

The simple act of asking a participant to change his place or having participants stand up to present their findings after group discussions are considered physical activities that do help in revitalizing trainees and keeping their energy levels high.

The trainer should pepper his training with plenty of physical activities through icebreakers, games, breaks and other methods in order to keep trainees constantly alert and fully focused throughout the training program.

Designing a Training Course

Here is how to design a training course:

Select Training Topic

Get out a piece of paper. Brainstorm topics for a training course. After a 5 minute brainstorming session, start crossing out topics you find less favorable such as ones you find unpractical, of low demand or those you find you are not very capable of delivering. This step would be even better of you do it together with someone else. He or she can provide you with an additional perspective in which topics can be of interest.

After narrowing down the brainstormed topics to a list of 2 or 3 topics, select one of them to design a training course around.

Set Training Objectives

After selecting a topic for your training course, write down a list of objectives you want participants of such future training course to be able to accomplish. To help you out, write 3 subheadings to group the objectives under. These 3 subheadings are as follows:

  1. Information: List essential pieces of information that you would like participants to learn.
  2. Skills: List the various skills you would like participants to gain or improve.
  3. Behavior/Beliefs: List the behaviors you would like to change in participants and which beliefs you would attempt to change in order for such behavioral patterns to change.

For more information on coming up with training objectives check out Developing Training Objectives. When setting training objectives, make sure also to keep in mind The 3 Core Objectives of Training. If you are designing a training course for a specific corporate client you may also like to learn how to uncover training needs.

Develop Training Elements

After writing down a list of training objectives, be they informational, skills based or a set of behavioral changes you would like to make in participants, now you would have to decide on how to accomplish each of those objectives through the training.

  1. Information objectives can be achieved through storytelling, slides, direct instruction, as well as group activities.
  2. Skills based objectives can usually best be achieved by solo exercises, pair work and group activities.
  3. As for behavior changes, they can be made by changing participant beliefs through storytelling, reflection, showing a video as well as group activities.
designing a training course

Designing a training course

For each training objective, it is a good idea to list one or more elements to accomplish it. It is also worth mentioning that every training element (video, group activities, storytelling …) may have more than one function at the same time and help achieve more than one training objective simultaneously.


By deciding on a training topic for your training course, setting objectives that cover the 3 categories of information, skills and behavior related to the topic of your training course then deciding on one or more training elements to achieve each of those training objectives you have listed, you now have a training program designed to achieve specific results. Make sure you also achieve The 3 Core Objectives of Training through icebreakers, recap, breaks and other activities.

After completing the design of a training course with all its objectives and training elements, give the training course a spin by actually delivering it and getting feedback from participants. The feedback and your own reflection on the training course after delivering it will help you further hone the training program by adding new elements, removing other elements and modifying yet others. The loop keeps repeating as you go ahead in deliver your training course and rising in a continuous upward spiral towards a better designed training program that has real impact on participants and is fun to attend at the same time.

Lessons from The Karate Kid Movie

In the movie The Karate Kid when the karate kid goes to the Japanese karate guy and asks him to train him on karate, the wise experienced Japanese man asks the karate kid to paint his fence, wax his car and scrub his roof. He asks him to do one such task after the other. Each task involves so many repetitions of the same action and is exhausting. The karate kid then reaches a point where he gets fed up from all that and refuses to do any more ‘work’ for Miyagi, the Japanese guy, telling him that he has been using him to work for him and has not taught him karate. It is at this moment that Miyagi reveals the real reason behind such exercises he had tasked the karate kid with. He shows him how to use the moves that he has been practicing while painting the fence, waxing the car and scrubbing the roof in blocking attacks. It is then and only then that the karate kid starts realizing the true benefits of the exercises he had been tasked with carrying out and appreciates what Miyagi has done.

Similarly, a trainer may occasionally decide to temporarily hide the real reasons behind an exercise or activity and reveal them only after such activity is complete. This can allow trainees to focus on carrying out the activity and not let their minds go astray or be burdened or overwhelmed knowing they are attempting to achieve a particular thing they may consider perhaps as too difficult.

On other occasions however, the trainer may decide to reveal the real reasons behind an exercise or activity before trainees start carrying it out. And he may also explain to them why it works and how it would help them achieve the desired goals. This allows trainees to appreciate the activity they are about to get involved in and makes them exert more focused effort while carrying it out. They become more motivated as they keep the goal in front of them exerting their utmost in the hope of achieving it. When I used to deliver English language training I noticed that trainees exert way more focused effort in following my instructions and attempting to read slowly but correctly, when I have first explained to them why such method works and its effectiveness. Prior to that, when I just used to instruct trainees to attempt to read slowly but correctly they did not attempt to follow my instructions closely and usually didn’t mind making many reading mistakes while focusing more on reading fast.

A competent trainer would be able to use both methods well to provide the best training experience. He would explain in detail how and why a specific activity produces superior results when he needs to motivate trainees and have them follow his instructions to the letter. He would also be able to keep the real reasons behind some activities hidden and reveal them only after trainees have completed it in order to avoid overburdening their minds. It is up to the trainer to decide which approach to use. Sometimes a trainer may decide to reveal part of the reasons behind an activity or exercise while not revealing the rest of the reasons. Some such reasons may be discovered by the trainee himself long after the training is over as he witnesses striking improvements in his performance.

My Stories with Difficult Participants

Sensing and Preventing Trouble

As I entered the training room, and before starting the training session, I noticed that one of the participants who was seated third on my right side was speaking a bit heatedly with the colleagues sitting next to him. It seemed he was dissatisfied, perhaps about work, and I sensed he would be a troublemaker and could disrupt the training session when it starts.

Right before the training session started, and before even introducing myself or anything, I slowly stepped forward towards that slightly agitated participant who seemed like one waiting for an opportunity to pour out his anger and agitation in the form of negative words or actions. Once I reached him I stopped. I then looked to him with a smile and extended my hand towards him for a handshake while greeting him. He was taken by my unexpected behavior and suddenly smiled back and shook my hand while returning my greeting. He was surprised and flattered that I went to him in particular to greet and shake hands with him while skipping his other colleagues.

His state was instantly transformed.  He became calm and pleasant. He simply got all the attention he craved not only from me, the trainer, but also from his colleagues who witnessed the trainer shaking hands with him and greeting him exclusively even before the training started. That participant gave me no trouble at all throughout the training program. It was a simple preventative approach that helped keep the training session running smoothly and protected it from disruption from attention-seeking participants. That training program was for a group of employees of a corporate client.

I Asked Him to Leave the Room

I remember another story of another participant who was also calling for trouble from the time he entered the training room. It was during my early days in my training career. He came a bit late for the first training day. He missed the initial part where I had set the tone for the training and started to build a warm and informal relationship with participants. He acted in the peculiar way of a difficult student totally closing his ears to what the trainer is saying and pretending not to comprehend instructions given by the trainer. I kept using a flexible approach with him during the training days. It was a computer programming course I was delivering and participants were fresh university graduates.

One day despite my clear instructions not to do so, I found him indulging in playing a computer game at the back of the training room while the rest of his colleagues were focused on the training. I asked him quietly to leave the room. He was astonished as this contrasted sharply with my previous lenient behavior. He resisted at first, but then I calmly asked him if he had resigned from his job to attend this lengthy training program and he said yes. I told him that he is now neither working nor benefiting from the training so there is no reason for him to remain in class. He left the class embarrassed. I had kept my words to him private.

During the remaining days of the training program his behavior was transformed 180 degrees. He came on time, was not late after breaks and was well behaved throughout the training session. It is a rare thing that I would ask a participant to leave, but it might be necessary to take such an extreme measure if the situation calls for it.


A competent trainer must have a variety of methods to help him handle difficult participants preventing their negative behavior before it happens or dealing with it effectively if ever it takes place.

In what other ways can a trainer handle difficult participants?

Graphic Facilitation

What is Graphic Facilitation?

Graphic facilitation (GF) is the use of rapid drawing to communicate ideas visually to a group of people or to record ideas that a group of people are creating in a visual form. What makes visual communication superior is that it sticks to the mind more strongly, packs a lot of information into one single entity that can be absorbed by the mind in one go and that it creates connections between elements easily and clearly. Using drawings also makes concepts much clearer and reduces ambiguity.

Coffee Making Process

When I attended a 3-day graphic facilitation workshop the trainers asked each of us to draw the process of making coffee on an A3 piece of paper. After completing this activity we found out that each of us had a different view of the coffee making process. It meant something different to each one of us. From this simple activity we realized that such a simple concept as coffee making could have a different meaning to each of us. Putting it in drawing helped us realize that. Similarly, when graphic facilitation is used in meetings it helps clarify what the speaker means by his words instead of having each attendee in the meeting interpreting those words in a different way which can cause misunderstanding resulting in bad communication.

GF During Workshops

Likewise, graphic facilitation can also be used during workshops to boost communication, improve retention and enhance engagement. The trainer or facilitator uses rapid drawing while he is explaining concepts in order to make them clearer and easier to digest. The trainer may even encourage participants to use drawings themselves during activities such as group work presentations.

Graphic facilitation can also be used during conferences or unconferences to keep a visual record of what is being said during the conference sessions.

Visual Language


Graphic facilitation has its own visual language which is composed of a number of elements. Those elements attempt to answer the 5 basic wh-questions: who; where/ when; what ; how and why. Each of those questions has a specific set of drawings to answer it.


In addition to those 5 basic sets of drawings which answer the 5 main wh-questions, graphic facilitation also employs icons heavily. Again icons are drawn rapidly in order to communicate universal things such as “cell phone,” “laptop,” “Internet,” “Wi-Fi” and even abstract concepts such as “peace,” and “love.”


Moreover, visual metaphor can also be used in a drawing in order to enhance communication of meaning instantly as one takes a first look at the drawing. Finally, graphic facilitation employs the use of templates in order to make graphic recording faster and easier.


Graphic facilitation and graphic recording are techniques that can help boost communication among people during meetings, conferences and training workshops. If graphic facilitation was to spread among people and businesses a lot of deep problems that are rooted into bad communication would be greatly reduced.

Where else do you think graphic facilitation can be used?

Optimize Last

Drowning Students in an Ocean of Alternatives

When I started delivering computer training I used to provide students with several methods by which they can accomplish one task right from the start. For instance, when I was teaching them Microsoft Word I told them that they can perform the cut and past operation through the Edit menu or through right clicking on the selected text and using the context menu or through the shortcut keys Ctrl+X and Ctr+V. I thought back then that providing studetns with a lot of information was a good thing. I thought that providing them with all the alternative methods for accomplishing the same task was clever. After all, it helped show off my knowledge as an instructor. Most of all, I thought that providing them with the shortest and fastest method was a good thing that they needed and liked. It was not until later that I discovered that all those beliefs I used to hold on to were totally baseless.

Taking the Long Road

I noticed later on through observation that when you start teaching someone something new, he does not mind to learn the lengthy multi-step method of performing it. He will have patience in carrying out multiple steps and performing the action slowly as long as he manages to accomplish it at the end. His focus at that time is on being able to accomplish the task and not on how to accomplish it in the fastest way possible. For instance, if we go back to our cut and paste example, a new learner would be satisfied to learn the Edit menu method for performing cut and paste even though it is not the fastest method available for carrying out such an action. He will not mind the slowness of the process nor the multiple steps involved in doing it as long as he will eventually be able to accomplish this task which he did not know how to accomplish before learning the long method.

Sense of Achievement

When he actually manages to accomplish it with his own hands he becomes really excited and greatly satisfied even though an experienced user may look at such action as trivial and not deserving such heightened feelings of satisfaction and sense of achievement. At such stage, the new learner will not be interested in learning the many other methods to accomplish the same task, and even if he was, it is not a good strategy to bombard him with the other methods right from the start. Using Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V shortcut keys to perform cut and paste may be quicker and more handy yet using the Edit menu is easier on the new learner’s brain and his memory. The instructor should choose the easy-to-remember method to teach at the beginning and not the one that provides the highest performance.

Parallel Parking

Although the example I have given here is about cut and paste yet the optimize-last concept should be used when teaching just about anything and not just things in the realm of computers. Let’s say you are teaching someone how to drive. When teaching him how to park the car parallel to the pavement it is best to teach him at first one method only for accomplishing this task and to select the method which is clearest and easiest to follow not the one which is fastest and shortest.

Optimize Last

The other methods by which a task can be accomplished may be mentioned by the instructor later but not before the student has achieved mastery of the first slow method through lots of repetition. At that time only can he be appreciative of the time savings the shorter method can provide and the fewer steps it involves.

What examples other than learning to use computer programs and learning how to drive a car do you think the optimize-last method can be applied to?