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.

Conclusion

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?

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Discovering the Virtues of Documentation

Neglecting Documentation

During my early days at university I still held tight to the notion that it is best to focus and concentrate on what is being said during a lecture and not to bother writing it down. I thought that writing down what I was listening to would decrease my concentration and understanding of what was being said. My avoidance of documentation was not only for words spoken by others but even my own thoughts. I believed that since the thoughts have been produced by my own brain then my mind will be able to reproduce them again and I would never forget them. It was not until I started practicing shorthand during the second semester of my third year at university that I started realizing the true benefits of documentation.

Old Beliefs Shattered

I realized that writing each and every word the professor uttered during the lecture, in shorthand, actually helped me focus more on what he or she was saying and helped me understand the lecture more deeply. That was contrary to my previous belief where I thought that writing down what I was listening to would decrease my concentration and comprehension level of what was being said. Another limiting belief I had, which was also shattered, was the one about memory. As I reviewed the transcript of whole lectures before my exams I discovered that I would have forgotten so much of what had been mentioned in those lectures had I not written everything down in shorthand. Again this contrasted sharply with the belief I had been holding on to which made me think I would be able to recall most of what has been said during a lecture if I concentrated deeply enough on listening to what the professor was saying during the lecture.

Extreme Documentation

Shorthand helped me abolish my beliefs related to documentation of what others were saying. I also discovered the virtues of documenting my own thoughts. I was surprised to find that some of the ideas that were coming to my mind, and I thought them to be novel, actually had come to me years earlier. Had I not documented them by then I would have never realized that the same ideas keep reoccurring to me with me getting the impression each time that I have just managed to stumble upon novel ideas! This strong revelation made me appreciate the virtues of documenting my ideas. I even went to an extreme in such direction as I tried out the GTD (Getting Things Done) system in which I wrote down whatever I needed to do. I even took this a step further and tried out the PoIC (Pile of Index Cards) system to record all my thoughts! It was fun and useful to try out such interesting systems.

Keeping a Notebook

As I started delivering training, I kept a notebook in which I wrote down my observation including both positive and negative things I have observed after delivering each training course. This was the single most important activity in my training career that helped build my experience as a trainer. Each time before delivering a new training course I looked into my notebook revising the points I had written earlier in order to up my performance. I was being surprised by the points I found and how I would have forgotten them had I not written them down. Not having written them down would have made me rediscover many of those learnt lessons each time I delivered a new training program.

Conclusion

Changing my old negative beliefs about documentation has helped transform my life in a positive way. The quotation I had once read which spoke about the importance of documentation sums it all up. It says: “A short pencil is better than a long memory.

Have you ever tried looking through old notebooks of your writings and discovered interesting things in them or was surprised by your own earlier writing? Tell us about such experience of yours.

Visualization

Driving Lessons

My progress was slow after a couple of driving lessons. My driving instructor was simply unimpressed. I was still slow at shifting the gear correctly and often got confused on which way to move the gear stick. I was not happy about that. I still had more driving lessons to take though. For the sake of not embarrassing myself once again in front of the driving instructor, I decided to work on my gear shifting skills before the time for the following driving lesson came.

Visualizing

The interesting thing was that I had decided to practice gear shifting through visualization and not by actually getting into the car, holding the gear stick and moving it while holding down the clutch with my left foot. I had not heard before about visualization being used in practicing driving. Maybe it was, but I simply had never heard about it. I told myself to just give it a try and see the results. I did not expect much but thought to just give it a try.

Stunning Progress

Time for my following driving lesson came. I was stunned by my performance. I was able to make gear shifts rapidly and correctly without any hesitation or mistakes! I managed to surprise myself and my driving instructor who was impressed after having almost lost hope due to my poor performance and slow progress during the preceding driving lessons.

Visualization Technique

The way I had been practicing driving just before that lesson was by closing my eyes, imagining that my right hand was holding the gear stick and giving myself instructions on which gear to shift to by simply giving myself a number. So for instance I said to myself “first” and started to visualize myself moving my right hand while holding the gear stick to the place for the first gear. Then I said to myself “second” and visualized myself shifting the gear stick to the position of the second gear. Then I said “first” then “second” then “third” then “second” and so on each time visualizing myself making a gear shift. I did all that while closing my eyes in the comfort and safety of my own home. The results of such practice far exceeded my expectations as I have mentioned above.

Training of Trainers

Visualization can also be used by a trainer to prepare for a training session before actually delivering it. This technique can be used by experienced as well as novice trainers alike. It can be used more thoroughly by novice trainers though to help them overcome their fear of facing a live audience. The beauty of such technique is that it allows you to practice in a protected safe environment. Any mistakes you will make will not have negative consequences. This very concept of zero negative consequences gives you the courage and confidence to go in full force and perform superbly well during visualization. When the time comes for the real thing you feel as if you have done it before while in fact you had only been visualizing doing it.

Doing Vs. Visualizing

It makes almost no difference to the brain whether you are actually doing something or visualizing doing it. For the brain, the two have the same effect. Let’s say someone remembers a sad incident. This memory might cause him to cry. Or someone thinks about the negative possibilities of something bad happening, this can cause his whole physical body to be disturbed. A person who is afraid from heights might experience strong negative signs in his physical body just by visualizing himself getting close to the edge of a high building and falling. the physical body reacts to all such visualizations in a similar fashion to its reaction to them had they been actually happening in real life.

Your Turn

Visualization is a very powerful technique that can be used to practice just about almost anything within a comfortable, protected and safe environment. So next time you are working on improving a skill why not try having part of your practice in the form of visualization? You might just surprise yourself with the results in the same way I have during the time I was taking driving lessons.

Have you ever tried to practice something through visualization? If so, tell use about it.

Learning from my Mistakes as a Trainer

My First PowerPoint Presentation

I was not yet used to using PowerPoint presentations in my training, in fact it was my first time to create a PowerPoint presentation for a training session and use it during the session. I was volunteering to deliver such a session at some local place in my hometown. At first I was not planning to use a PowerPoint presentation for the session but the team organizing the training requested that I use one. I huddled and assembled a group of slides in which I kept listing points in bullet form in one slide after the other.

Saving the Day

During the training itself, I experimented by using the think and listen technique. It was my first time to use it after reading about it online. I had not even experienced it in any training I had attended before. Although the elements of interactivity I have used combined with my confidence in speaking to an audience helped save the day for that training session, which I was delivering for the first time, yet the dry sequence of bulleted slides I had been using was poor enough to reduce the overall quality of the training. The PowerPoint slides I had prepared contained no images, graphs or photos at all! My slides consisted of nothing but bare text in bullet form.

Poor Evaluation

The average evaluation of the training session as per the training evaluation forms for the trainer performance section was “good”. Compared to other trainers who had been getting “excellent” for their performance at that place my performance was considered pretty modest.

Feedback from Organizers

I remember those organizing the training politely suggesting to me, after the training session was over, that I add some images to the PowerPoint presentation to give it some visual appeal. They noted, however, that participants were “happy,” which seemed to surprise the organizers in light of my bland PowerPoint presentation.

Photo Slides

This experience I had gone through preparing and using my first PowerPoint presentation during a training session was enlightening and resulted in a powerful transformation of my skills later on. As I prepared PowerPoint presentations after that incident I started including some photos to provide visual appeal. This kept developing till my PowerPoint presentations were largely nothing but a sequence of full size photo slides with a few captions and minimal bulleted text which I found to be way more effective than cramming lots of text in bulleted form into the heads of participants.

Learning from Mistakes

Without having gone through the difficult and stressful experience of presenting my first bare PowerPoint presentation I would probably not have learned in such a powerful way the importance of using images and visual appeal in a PowerPoint presentation and would not have had the strong energy propelling me towards creating highly visual PowerPoint presentations later on.

Lessons Learned

Although a trainer should prepare well for the training program he is about to deliver and should practice before actually delivering it to participants yet poor performance and mistakes a trainer makes during the training itself can be a powerful way by which he learns and transforms his skills from a mediocre state to an exceptionally effective one.

So next time you make an embarrassing mistake while delivering a training program do not dwell on it, just use such force to fuel your efforts in developing your skills further in order to avoid such an embarrassing mistake or such poor performance from taking place once again. You will be surprised at the great positive transformation that can result in yourself after going through such an initially stressful situation.

Is there a difficult or embarrassing situation that you have been through which has helped transform the way you see things and has resulted in a positive transformation in your skills? Share your it with us.

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?

Role of Training

Solving Problems

Effective training must effect positive change in trainees on the knowledge, skills and behavioral levels in a way that completely or partially solves problems faced by those trainees, their organizations or their communities. If a training program does not lead to positive change in trainees attending it then such training is of little value. Even if a training program does happen to make some changes in trainees, let’s say on the knowledge level and even on the skills level too, yet fails to help in solving any real problem or fulfill any strong need then such training as well is not very useful. The role of training is to problem solve through effective positive change in participants on various levels.

Transformational

Highly successful training transforms individuals completely by making them have a paradigm shift thus changing their behavior by changing their beliefs in addition to developing their skills. Such transformational training does not have to be long. It should focus on experiential learning, total immersion training, powerful story telling, lots of visuals and videos as well as informational stats to support and effect belief change and thus a powerful and sustained positive change in behavior.

Story of a Mind Maps Workshop

I once attended a training session about brainstorming using mind maps. The session was largely nothing but a PowerPoint presentation that had lovely illustrations of colorful mind maps while the ‘trainer’ or presenter set about to speak about the history of mind maps, their uses and how they can be constructed. He even asked us to each draw a mind map on paper for how we see ourselves in 5 years. I admit that the visuals were good, his explanation was clear and his providing of an activity was a good idea yet by the end of the training we did not really grasp how to use mind maps to problem solve.

The session was also a bit too boring with me wanting so much to leave. The person next to me actually left early in the session telling me he found it boring. The most astonishing part to note here was the big smile on the face of the trainer by the end of the session and his sense of pride and happiness thinking that he had done an amazing job in that session! I believe if evaluation forms have been provided to participants and in particular questions about practicality of the training and its usefulness in real life were included the trainer would have known better about his real performance. The session was largely information based with lots of visuals but with no focus on actually using mind maps to solve problems.

Conclusion

Effective training is that which leads to positive change in the behavior, skills and knowledge of participants attending it in a way that helps solve pressing problems and fulfill strong needs. A training program that fails to problem solve or achieve a positive change in trainees is of little or no value at all.

Have you ever attended a training program only to find that it was completely worthless and useless? Tell us why you found it as so.

My Story with Uncovering Client Training Needs

Requirements Email

A few days ago I received an email containing the training requirements of a client. The email was forwarded to me by the training company. The requirements were too much to include in a single training session. The training company then negotiated reducing those requirements with the client. Again I was forwarded another email containing a  shorter list of the client’s requirements. They were still too many to jam into one training day but I believed I could still manage.

Analyzing the Written Requirements

I had a deep look at the client requirements, they were written as a set of points in bullet form. I tried to read between the lines and understand the real reasons behind those requirements. The requirements were too specific and set about to decide on how to solve some of the problems the company was facing with regards to its employees. I would have preferred to have them written in the form of problems then I would have had the freedom to decide what specific training solutions would have helped remedy such problems.

Clarification from Training Company

I called the training company to ask for more details on the requirements and which ones were the more important to stress on. I received some answer that satisfied me yet still I wanted to get a feel for the requirements by meeting directly with the client.

Experiencing the Problems Firsthand

As I traveled to the location of the client for my training assignment I observed a few issues that such client could be suffering from. I observed this through my direct interactions with several of the employees there as I had arrived one day prior to the actual day of the training.

Interviewing HR

In the evening of the day prior to the training I met with the key HR person in the company and asked more about their requirements. I pulled out the original longer list of requirements and went through it one by one with the key HR person. The picture became mush clearer for me now as I got to know which points they need the most and have the most difficulty in facing and which points were of lesser importance.

After listening attentively to the key HR person at the company, I then set about to suggest an approach for solving such problems through the training and my thoughts about the followup process. It is important to listen attentively to the client first and take notes while listening then provide your suggestions and view at the end.

Adjusting the Training Program

Although the outline as well as the content of the training session had already been set by the training company based on the written requirements of the client yet I set about to customize the training program so that it would better fit the real needs of the client as I understood them more clearly after my fact to face meeting with the key HR person at the client company.

Best Practice

One of the lessons learnt from this story is that face to face interviewing of the client can be essential and could help in clarifying the true needs of the company. It is best to understand the client needs and requirements in terms of problems the client is facing rather than what training solutions your client believes would be the answer for such problems. This approach of specifying the problems gives you, the trainer, the freedom to decide on the training solutions yourself based on your knowledge and experience as a trainer.

Conclusion

Although there could be more formal approaches for determining the training needs of an organization, such as training needs analysis (TNA), yet a simple even informal meeting with the HR of such organization could tell you a great deal about employee related problems they are facing which helps you determine their training needs and thus be able to design an effective training program that caters for their real needs.

Have you ever attended a training program only to find that it does not cater for your real needs and is thus not of real practical use for you? Tell us about it.