“Sorry, I don’t quite understand what you want us to do”

This picture was taken during the dessert safarai trip in Dubai last November. The trip turned out to be much more exciting (and tough!!) than I expected. Before the trip, I was expecting those kind of gentle safarai where you ‘cruise’ within a jungle and see some animals. But it was actually like sitting in a driving test for the Toyota Land Cruiser 4×4!! Well, despite all the ‘bumpy’ moments, the trip was nice – enjoying the sunset in the middle of the dessert was definitely a new experience to me!!

So much about the safarai – let me share with you some of my facilitation learnings in Dubai. I was in Dubai to deliver a SPIN class. I looked forward very much to this trip since it was the first I deliver a class outside Asia. And it did turn out to be an excellent learning experience for myself (and hopefully for the participants as well!) Let me tell you more.

There are a lot of activities in SPIN class (something which I like the class a lot), and of course I need to give lot of instructions. To my surprise, I received lot of puzzled faces and questions asking for clarification – much more than I expected. Whilst it was partly owing to the different accents, it was also partly because of clarity of my instruction.

I have been thinking that I was clear in telling. In the past, I have received various feedbacks that relative to the others I am structured, slow and sensitive enough to pass clear message. In the training context, for example, I believed that my instructions for class activities were clear enough. But I realised that I should do it better. The Dubai experience told me that I was sometimes too quick and brief in giving my instructions. I believe I did not realise such area for improvement before because my participants in Asia were more reserved in ‘challenging’ me.

Working under confusing instructions is frustrating. Remember the last time when you were a participant e.g. when the instructor said ‘We will now have a small group activity. Now form yourself into small groups with 3 people each.’ People then were left with silence. You will feel embarassed cos if you choose someone, you do not know whether they like it or not. And more importantly, it means you abandon someone else, especially those originially sitting next to you. Normally, what happened at the end was that the small groups composed those sitting next to each other.

Now, I always tell myself the following when I give instruction:

Specific – You really have to. Take the previous example, instead of forming the groups themselves, you better do a ‘1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3…’ or ‘month of birth’ kind of team allocation. In addition, you will tell each group where they will conduct their small group activities e.g. the small table over there!!

Another example – You want them to learn from their previous experience with good and bad presenters around them. Some instructors will say ‘Now, in your group, share with each other your experience with good and bad presenters’. A better instruction would be ‘Now, in your group, each of you will tell the others one good presenter and one bad presenter you have met. After telling the others about the occasion, tell also the others what the presenters have done or not done which make him / her a good / bad presenter’

Show them the sample deliverables – Even for simple exercise. Say, for the presentation exercise above, assuming that you want them to present group learning after small group discussion. Some instructors will say as well ‘…. after your sharing in the group, I will ask you to present with the bigger group.’ For a better instruction, you will draw on a flipchart the sample output you expected e.g. dividing the flipchart into 2 columns, for good and bad behavior respectively, and you will write an example under ‘good behavior’ e.g. eye contact. You will also say ‘this flipchart will be what you come up with at the end of your group discussion so that you can use as visual aid to present your sharing to the bigger group.’ And you will remind by saying ‘I however do not expect a laundry list of DO and DONT. Please thus do first tell the others your real experience, and then add on the flipchart about what the presenter has done / not done’.

Written instruction – Always help even for simple activities. For example, you run an energizer asking them to draw 4 consecutive straight lines to join 9 dots. Do write on the flipchart ‘4 consecutive straight lines’, cos there is always someone who did not listen to you as they are thinking about something else… their work, their kids, their dinner… or as they are ‘recovering ‘from lunch!!

Slowwwww – It also means you need to repeat it. If you feel that the participants are not listening enough, you should even ask someone to repeat your instruction!!! Telling slowing is especially when you are delivering outside your own countries – not everyone can follow your accent easily!!

So, thanks to the participants in Dubai which told me more about my instruction-giving capability. (And I did love the participants – very participative, lovely and friendly. I was a bit worried about outspoken participants in the beginning but it did turn to be a great experience. I even slightly thought of working there!!!). And my another learning is that facilitating in other countries will help you to sharpen your facilitation skills!!! It is like sports – you will know more about your strength and weakness as you play with different players!!

“What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand”

I conducted an one-day influencing skills course last week. The course is new to me and it contains a kind of communication model which is new to me as well. Before (and even during!!) the course, I have been thinking hard the best way for the participants to ‘absorb’ the model. I hate those training, or presentation, which you will forget 100% shortly after you attend it. It is a waste of time to the facilitator, participants and the company.

Well, the model is not complicated (the people-type kind of model). It will take less than 30 mins if you choose just to tell. In the end, what I did include:

Showing Visual – PPT;
Developing together – using a white board to develop the model with them line by line, word by word. And keeping the white board as anchor for following discussion;
Examples – especially on people around the participants. What can be more interesting to find out how to influence your boss better!! (well… in fact.. the answer should be their spouses!!… but these are not common figure);
Personal stories – people just like to hear stories, especially the real one. It also got me closer to them as well;
Asking questions – instead of telling them the different perspectives of the model e.g. how each style makes decision, I asked them to guess and tell the big group.

What was the most interesting is however an activity which I came up with on that day (I got to adopt something other than the original design to that particular group of participants). Well, it is not something new – in fact, I have done similar activity in another course. The important point is that this one day experience in struggling for the best delivery method helped realise the power of DOING.

Here is what I asked them to do – assign them into their own styles, assign a task, sell things to another style group, and rate the performance for each other at the end. In short, I learn the followings via facilitating this activity about the power of DOING:

Compel to think and review the learning – No one escapes. In fact, they will not choose to escape, assuming that you make it fun for them to DO the underlying task;
Contrast for them to observe – Whilst one group was selling, the others benefited from it as watching the role play. Of course, the facilitator got to ask the right questions (yes, not telling) to extract the learning points for them;
Fun – I always believe that fun is the integral part of learning. Not only for child, but also for adult.. in fact, I wonder fun is even more important for adult to learn;

So….. “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand”

Music as the powerful energizer

ttcd.jpgYes, the title above sounds obvious. But whether you will really use it or whether you can use it well in the learning environment is another thing. Here is my experience. I used music only a few months after I heard people saying that it is useful for learning. What stopped me are things like hesitation of whether the class will then look cheap, whether participants will be distracted at the end… etc. But today, after using it for a few months, I sincerely believe that it is very useful!!!

Music at the class start makes participants settle in the class more comfortably. Music (e.g. Disco / Hip Hop) charges participants with energy to conduct exercises, and keeps them awake especially after lunch. Music (e.g. soft ones) makes helps participants calm down after activities, and reflect themselves what they learnt from the activities. In addition, music can condition people, and one most useful application is to bring them back on time during break (assuming that they can hear the music in their break area). In particular, music will work well for you if you being to the aural learning style – a piece of music associated with your learning can trigger you to recall the learning more easily.

After all, participants enjoy themselves better with music, simply because people love music in general!!! I am using music all the time in my class. Well, apart from the above, music amuses me during the class as well!!

Most music work, and of course different types of music work better for different purpose. Among all the music I am using, the pieces in the “Tune for Trainers” CD (see the picture) are the best!! You can readily purchase it from Trainer’s Warehouse – a resourceful place to get your training gadget!! In the CD, you will find tailor-made music for class start, lunch, break, etc. In addition, there are a few 1-min long music which is great for you to mark the time during activities.


From the ‘Energy Level’ perspective

One of your jobs in a presentation or training environment is to energize your participants. Or I should say it is necessary to have a group of energized participants in order to put your message across in a presentation or class. You can always imagine that there is a devise in the room which can detect and show the ‘energy level’ in the room, like what the thermometer does to the room temperature. If the ‘energy level ‘ is low, the learning is slow (or even does not exist). Remember all the boring wordy product briefing!!

Two incidents these 2 days which make me think:

I sat in some of ex-participant’s presentation and class these 2 days. Having been a trainer for a while, I can feel very strongly the ‘low energy’ at the start – the silence, the dull face, the lack of response to the speakers’ questions. People (at least I do) felt odd, and the speakers are not sure whether the participants are getting the points. The question is to raise the ‘energy level’. Well, in short, this is the reason why ice-breakers exist. However, what should we do if the session is very brief e.g. 1 hour like the system briefing today? A thought we had in the post-briefing discussion is that we should have some easy-to-participate activities in the beginning. Asking question is one. Even better, we can ask some yes-and-no questions so that people can just respond by raising their hands, or even better by standing up (‘energy level’ always up when people stand up!!!). In addition, some visual aids will help e.g. circulating the fake bank-note if the topic is about bank fraud.

The another occasion is a conference call today. It was like the one I mentioned last time – global one, largely one-way, lot of people. However, the call facilitator was great. His voice is of ‘high energy’ (the golden rule – the participants will NEVER have a higher energy level than the presenter / facilitator / speaker!!!). More importantly, I believe he designed the call from the ‘energy level’ perspective!! Before each speakers started, he introduced each by telling what the speaker’s Chinese Zodiac animal symbols are!! It is quick, it is about the coming Chinese New Year. And people get excited – how old he / she is, whether he / she has the same symbols as mine….. Great stuff!!

What are the learning points? Think from the ‘energy level’ perspective when you plan, and prepare accordingly!! (yes…. It all relates back to preparation!!! Surprise!!?)

How prepared are you in using stories in presentation? And do you have the gut?

I attended a big conference call this week. Well, you know how boring conference call can be, especially those with over 10 people and wide spectrum of topics (Why is big conference call boring? I think it goes back to the essence of a good communication i.e. you need interaction. You simply do not have enough air time for all to speak, which is the only interaction medium in a conference call.)

Having said that, there was a UK lady in the call who gave an impressive briefing (almost a speech since it was so polished). She started with a story about her son, and then related it to her topics, and at last summarized with the same story. More importantly, she impressed me by finishing her entire briefing in 20 minutes, exactly the duration indicated in the agenda.

Let’s not think about what (whether too much) preparation she made, but focus on the effect. Her performance impressed me a lot, and I believe it also impressed to most (for those who was listening) in the call. In the future, I will associate her name with ‘preparedness’, ‘articulate’, ‘good communication’. A very effective way to perform and gain reputation in a community, which help gather collaboration and help our work)!!

I then think of her preparation (always the key in any form of presentation). She probably has scripted her speech, well, at least in bullet points. And she must have rehearsed as well in order to have such a good control in time. In addition, she really has spent time selected her stories and practiced telling it. Adding altogether, I guess it may take at least 30 minutes. Well, it may not worth the while for everyonel. But it is definitely worth us to keep it as an option – when you have to build reputation, or when the audience is very important.

And a question to me (or to you as well) – why haven’t I done it at all before?

Another thought out of this call is the gut in telling a story in such a high level conference call. Hey, everyone is so serious talking about business, with all those high-sounding jargons e.g. strength-based, retention, value-added, matrix…. Do you dare to tell a story relating to your son? I guess this all goes back to how much you believe the power of story, and how much you are willing to take risk. I think for me the latter question relates to me more. I do believe story help to draw attention and retain memory. And if I take some risk, give it a try though others may think otherwise, get used to it, it will be fine. Yes, it is the risk-averse attitude which is the obstacle.

As I shared with the others in the class, one can only acquire a skill if he / she takes the risk to use it. Open your mind, and do what you believe. Also, as Steve Job said, ‘Stay foolish, stay hungry!!’

Using the Speaking Note

The offsite went alright. The mat activity fitted well with the objective of the offsite, and the timing was good. More importantly, I do learnt something new (or I should say, I learnt an ‘area of improvement’ for myself!!) – about the use of speaking note.

I prepared speaking notes of palm-size, big font, bullet-points speaking notes. Well, very much the ‘correct’ design of speaking notes as what most will believe. However, the notes did not help much at the end. Why? Because I did not read it at all on the spot!!!

So many things were happening during that 45 mins, and thus I did not read the notes at all. What was the consequence? I missed to mention that there will be prize for the game, ask those who have played the game to come up, and more importantly invite the bosses for observation comment!! Yeah, not detrimental… but I wished I did not miss and could do it better….

My learning is that:

· I got to prepare more. More time to rehearse so that I can memorize the key points naturally, despite the chaos in the ‘real’ environment;

· I got to practice to use note. I got to conquer the “odd feeling” in taking time to read the notes. I should try to make note for the next class, and use it (even though I may not actually need it)

(The mountain on the picture is the 玉龙雪山. It was taken from a window in the hotel. Sadly, the offsite was so packed that I spent 98% of my time in the hotel.

Rehearsing for the LiJiang 丽江 off-site meeting

The offsite meeting next Mon and Tue will be the first occasion when I facilitate large scale team building activities. I have been asking around to gather thoughts and suggestions on which activities would be more applicable for the occasion – not easy. To prepare better, I had my colleagues done a trial run in the office today.

Whilst I thought I already had a pretty good idea of how to run the activities, I was quite surprised to realize all the ‘holes’ when I trial-ran today. My learning is:

· Always rehearse (always true) – especially the important occasion;

· During the de-brief, everyone will have the tendency to go too fast. I should leave longer “pause” to push for thinking, summarize the points raised by the others and asking more prompting questions. (These sound natural but when you have to do it on the foot…..you are just so wary of dead air.)

· Help them to imagine ‘back’ the real work. Give them a specific situation e.g. “imagine what will happen in the office on Wed – the 300 red emails on your laptop, the outstanding BCAs for you to read and support, the ……”

Good luck to me in Li-Jiang!!