A Word For Presenters

Whenever you’re learning something new, you can no doubt find many people who having already learned the basics, are able to share with you what they know. As you learn what they know, you sometimes seek others with even more information, until you get to the point where you know all you want.  At this point, you may just know enough that you can discover what remains to be known by yourself.

When you’re on the other side, possessing knowledge of a subject and sharing that knowledge with those who seek it, just knowing what they don’t know isn’t good enough. No, it takes someone with both the knowledge and the knack for communicating that knowledge. I’ve known way too many people through the course of my life who, while very intelligent and educated on subjects, fail miserably when it comes to communicating that information in such a way that their audience learns what’s being taught.

Lest you think this is confined to a classroom in the conventional student/teacher relationship, while it’s true that failing to communicate occurs here, it is by no means confined to the classroom. Think about when you were learning to drive and how your father got so exasperated trying to teach you. As you struggled to change gears, or took far too long for their liking as you attempted to parallel park the car, their patience lowered as their voice raised. When you continued to grind gears and jerked the car forward a few feet at a time, their tolerance eroded and your ability to learn was hampered by your increasing stress. In short, they weren’t the best teacher, and you in their mind, just weren’t getting it. You were failing to learn in their mind, and in yours,  you realized you needed a better communicator.

As a Workshop Facilitator, I find myself each and every day having to modify how I communicate to my audience. Sometimes, being direct and straightforward is the way someone learns. At other times, being so direct might shatter what’s left of a fragile self-esteem, and extreme patience and words of encouragement go a lot further.

If you facilitate workshops, lead seminars or teach any subject matter, I wonder how you go about communicating what you know to your audience. I’ve been to some events where the presenter failed to make a connection with their audience and just droned on reading their slides as they came up on the screen. They may have just as well emailed us the presentation and stayed home. But this is an example of where their teaching style and my learning style didn’t jive. No, I like more dialogue, more interaction, question and answers, activities, humour, a lively and animated speaker.

When I first started as a Facilitator, I likely thought I was pretty good. I mean, it’s only natural to think we’re doing okay when we get started, even though we know we have much to learn. I probably wasn’t as good as I thought I was though. That too only makes sense. The more you work at communicating a topic to others, the better you get at communicating period.

In short, you get – I got – better at reading your audience. Looking out at those faces, you can pick up the quizzical look that really says, “I don’t understand”. You can see the glazed over eyes that say, “I’m tuned out” or the tilted head that says, “I hadn’t thought of that before and I’m taking a moment to process what I just learned.” If you read your audience well, you adjust your communication to get more of what you’re after, smiling faces that say, “I understand, my knowledge is increasing and I feel good.” When you fail to read your audience or don’t even try, you’ll have people take extended washroom breaks, leave and not return, or sometimes actually cut you off and say, “What are you talking about?” Of course, you won’t see any of these if you aren’t engaged yourself as presenter.

The people in an audience are most probable to have different learning styles. Each brings their past knowledge in your subject, from absolute novice to those with some familiarity and of course those who may actually know as much or more than you. Good presenters touch everyone and their message resonates with each person in the audience so all leave feeling they got something out of the time they invested.

I know when I’m at the front of a room, I’m scanning faces all the time, watching the body language, checking levels of engagement and I try to get to people quickly who may be struggling to keep up, grasp a concept or have a question. It may be someone needs an analogy to something they already know and comprehend completely that makes learning something new relatable. For some, they might need a comical moment of entertainment, some visual or audio enhancement of what’s being shared. When I see those, “Oh, now I understand!” faces, I know that the message I’ve been communicating has been received as I intended.

This is the objective and responsibility of any presenter; communicate your message so that your audience receives it as you intended. If you succeed then great. If you fail to communicate your message, it’s not your audience; look in the mirror. And yes, I’ve looked in the mirror. A lot. That’s how to improve.


That Negative Attitude In The Audience

If you’ve ever run a workshop, taught a class, or led a project, I think you’ll agree that one of your hopes is that all the members of your audience actually want to be in attendance and hear what you’ve got to say. After all, when you’ve put a lot of preparation in ahead of time, you’re hoping it will be appreciated.

So perhaps you can identify with the situation I found myself in yesterday. There I was standing before 16 people, just about to welcome them formally and kick off a 7 day Career Exploration workshop. My audience consisted of unemployed people choosing (for the most part) to take this free course and learn not only what jobs or careers might be the best personally fit, but a lot about themselves in the process.

Just as I was about to begin, one person said, “How long is this? I don’t want to be here but my worker is making me. And are you paying for childcare because it’s a PA day today and that’s the only way I could come today.” Now if it were you, what would you say? There’s a few different ways you could respond; kick them out, tell them that’s too bad, maybe even take them aside and tell them you don’t appreciate their attitude. I rejected all of these; none of them actually fit with my style.

I was sad of course, because this overtly negative attitude had the possibility of spreading and infecting others, and what she didn’t know – and still doesn’t – is that she had opted to sit herself down immediately beside a gentleman with phobia’s and severe anxiety. I was sad also to think that this negative attitude was also preventing herself from benefitting from being present. However, things had to be nipped in the bud.

I’ve done workshops and presentations for a long time now, and one of the things I know is that every person in the room starts forming an opinion of the presenter right away. Just like seeing someone for the first time in an interview, or any social situation, we start sizing other people up. So heads turned to me to see how I would respond to this person and what I would say and do. Not the way I would choose to start but a good challenge nonetheless.

“You don’t have to be here; none of you do in fact. You can get up now and walk out the door and miss the extra money, gift card and certificate for attending. You only have to attend one workshop and this isn’t it; it’s optional. If you choose to stay, you’ll not only get extra money, you’ll learn a lot about yourself that you don’t know and you’ll be better prepared to talk about the strengths you’ve got. We’re talking 7 days out of your entire life, and the thing is, it will be fun. So leave now or stay, but if you stay, why not choose to be more positive? You’ll have a better time and so will everyone else.”

She didn’t get up to go. But if you think that her attitude switched immediately, you’re wrong. It did however improve slightly. When I asked people to put their names on both sides of the tent cards in front of them, she put her name on the side facing her and on the other she wrote, “No Name.” Yeah, that wasn’t going to work. So I asked her politely to not fight things all the way, and she relented and switched it around. Oh well, name projecting out and to her, a little hold on her feisty attitude; a compromise. It’s not about wining her over by completely defeating her spirit.

We did an exercise yesterday where everyone developed a personal motto or slogan based on their beliefs and things they hold important. When invited to share her own, she did so, dropping an f-bomb and expressing how the world will mess you up. I decided not to take the offered bait and just thanked her and moved on to the next person.

Later in the day when each person was adding another bit of information to their summary page, I noticed her Motto section was blank. Questioning her, I asked why she hadn’t filled it in. She replied, “I want to take it home and think about it and come up with something better.” To me, this was a breakthrough moment. She was actually investing in the process – in herself really. “Good for you. I really appreciate you deciding to stay and with a positive attitude. Thanks for that”, I replied.

You know, a lot of people have multiple barriers and want their lives to improve. They want better futures for their children and some of the good things in life that they see on television, the movies or in watching other people. I don’t know what this young woman has gone through to get where she is now, nor do I know the effort that is required just to get to class. I hope she sticks out the 7 days and makes it back in today.

Sometimes the people who present with the most overt negative attitudes are the ones who later will appreciate most the help offered them. I hope this is the case here. I also hope the way I’ve handled things is a learning moment for others in the class.

Professional Development Days

Today and tomorrow my employer is conducting some in-house professional development for all the employees across our Social Services department. It’s split over the two days so that we can continue to offer front-line services to our users, while at the same time giving staff the opportunity to take part and learn.

Staff react to these training opportunities in various ways, as I suspect they do in other organizations; perhaps yours. There are those who will be resistant to training; they feel they’ve got better things to do and a day away from doing their job just has them falling further behind. There’s the staff who are apathetic; not really caring one way or the other. Then there’s those who enjoy the day away from the daily routine but aren’t sure what they’ll benefit from. You’ll also find there are those who truly embrace training; the chance to learn something new and they’ll show enthusiasm and gratitude for the personal development training provides.

Good organizations develop their staff, as they recognize the benefits to continually providing upgrading opportunities. Better trained staff keep up with best practices, learn new techniques and strategies so they can do better on the job, and employees tend to return benefits to the employer through working more efficiently.

Training is an organizations way of investing in their most precious asset; their employees. Off-site training is often favoured by most; the chance to get away from the physical office or work place, where the distraction of nipping back to check emails and answer a few calls isn’t present. This way employees can relax more, immerse themselves in the content and network with their peers better.

I’m so looking forward to today because I’m co-presenting with 4 other employees; 3 of whom are from other offices and who up until recently, I have had almost no interaction with. It’s been really good to get this group together, plan out our topic and content, divide up who will speak to what and pull everything together. As a training facilitator, I’ve had the chance to mentor my colleagues, and I’m really excited for them as they are each getting a little out of their comfort zones and standing up in front of their co-workers. That takes some bravery the first time your name is called and up you get. I’m so excited for them.

Our presentation is called, “Making the Most of the Meeting”. You see there is a shift going on where I work in how some of us go about doing our jobs. We work in the field of Social Services, and many of our staff have front-line contact with recipients of social assistance. With each meeting of those recipients, there’s an opportunity to support forward movement; sometimes towards a job of course, but there are other goals people move toward that are required before realizing a sustainable job and the financial freedom it will bring.

Looking at things holistically, it could be a person first needs basic supports like food and housing or help with an addiction issue. Maybe the thing they are focused on is completing an education, a better relationship with a family member or getting connected to the community in which they’ve recently moved to. Focusing solely on a job search is missing the chance to lay the groundwork required to successfully reach that long-term goal. Of course if they are looking for work and can do so with the focus required, that’s great.

Our presentation is all about opening up that dialogue, establishing some trust and finding a way to connect with the person where they are at. We’ve got 4 specific resources to distribute; simple to use, and while by no means mandatory, it is hoped that by providing every attendee with something to take away, they’ll be equipped to try things out and see if they help move the discussion. Leaving with something in hand that is tried and works hopefully inspires staff to pull them out as they feel the timing is right.

If you’ve ever had your job undergo a shift in the job description, you probably had some new training and coaching to increase the odds of success. Without that support, you’d likely fail more than succeed; it would take longer to change over and some would resist the change with all the energy they could muster.

Where I work, such a shift is occurring and will continue to do so as we respond to changes in the needs of those we serve. Our front-line staff will focus more on helping people move forward (whatever ‘forward’ means to each person) themselves rather than exclusively referring them on to others for specific help – say with resume writing. While it’s great having a team of ‘resume experts’, if everyone knows enough of best practices out there to make a few good suggestions, the person receiving help gets help in a time-sensitive way.

Training shares skills; it equips staff with more tools which they can then draw on when appropriate, which makes the experience better for the client, customer, end-user etc. When the person you are designing for benefits, the ripple effect carries over to the person delivery the service, the organization and the larger community.

Wish us the best today. Here’s to hoping we impart our knowledge well enough to inspire our colleagues. I expect a great day ahead!

When Sharing A Skill

Whether you’re a newbie or a long-time, seasoned veteran, you could be guilty of making a rookie mistake; sharing a skill and assuming the other person can do it without actually observing them try it on their own.

Now it’s not that you’re smarter than the people you’re sharing what you know with. No, it’s more than that. It’s that you’ve had practice over time and have come to master or improve what you once found new and they haven’t. If you make the assumption that someone who is nodding their head in the affirmative can do for themselves what you are instructing them on, you’ll be surprised to find they often can’t. The danger here is that when you do discover they can’t perform up to your – or their – expectations, you might actually even set them back further than when you started, as they wrestle with a drop in self-esteem and question their abilities.

Case in point, the dreaded resume. I know, I know, why that! Ah but it’s true my readers. Yes, as an Employment Counsellor I help many people daily and one of the most common things I’m passing on to those I help is how to craft a winning resume. This is something many people think is pretty simple to put together; they believe anybody can make one. On the one hand, this belief is absolutely true; however, not many can make an effective one, and that’s the difference. I regularly see people genuinely show they understand the suggestions I’m passing on, and most importantly, the reason behind those suggestions. Yet, if they sit down on their own to implement those ideas and suggestions, there’s often a gulf between what they understand and what they produce.

So may I suggest that when passing on a skill, do more than just tell someone how. Perhaps for the auditory learner; those who just need to be told how to do something, this might work. However, the majority of learners I’ve found need to not only hear what you’re passing on, they need to also see it done and then have the opportunity to try it themselves under some watchful guidance.

Again, it’s not that the learner is inferior to the teacher but rather, the teacher has had more experience learning a new skill, practicing it repeatedly and mastering the subject. A new learner has neither the practice doing what you’re passing on, or the time to have mastered what you impart.

A trap you also want to avoid is feeling somewhat smug about your superior knowledge in whatever you’re teaching and then making the leap to feeling superior as a person overall. Whomever you’re sharing your skill with is without question the expert in other areas; certainly better skilled say in what they do for a living than you are at the moment. So a trained and experienced Office Administrative professional might not be able to market themselves in a résumé as well as you, but they may well have superior knowledge about keyboarding skills, shortcut keys, use of tabs etc.. if you’ve never had formal training in Office Administration and everything you know on a keyboard has been self-taught, they just might be able to share a few things with you!

As I say, the majority of people I’ve come into contact with as an Employment Counsellor, Trainer and Facilitator learn best by being given the opportunity to practice newly learned skills. A tremendously good thing to do during this learning period is to give encouragement and recognize the skill development so watch your words. If they hold you in high esteem and value your opinion, they’ll be greatly influenced by both your praise and your corrective criticism.

I have found that taking a few minutes while sharing what I know, to learn something from those I’m working with does us both a lot of good. First of all, I learn and appreciate what this person can do; a little insight into a job perhaps that I only have a basic understanding of. More importantly by far however, the person I’m helping feels good that I’m both interested enough to want to know, and they experience some measure of improved self-worth in knowing what I do not. We are after all, two people with skills in different areas, both having strengths and areas to improve upon. We just happen to be in a situation where my strengths are being showcased and drawn upon. This however, doesn’t make me better overall, or in any way superior.

It is also of critical importance to recognize just how much a person can take in during your time together. If you’re working together for 2 or 3 weeks, you can pass on much more than telling them everything you’d like them to know when you’ve only got 30 minutes together. Your expectations of what you can share and what they can grasp and retain must adjust to the circumstances.

So share what you know while checking both the learners comprehension and ability to do for themselves what you’re sharing. Share to the ability of the learner in a partnership model; working together to pass on a skill or series of skills and not the model where one is the, “Wise One” and the other an empty vessel to be instructed. See if this makes a difference.

Sharing Skills With Your Co-Workers

I sent an email out to my co-workers just yesterday, asking if they’d be interested in a lunch and learn session next week on the subject of social media and LinkedIn specifically. Lunch and learn for those of you that don’t already know is literally where you bring your lunch and eat while someone is making a presentation.

It is known to me that at least some of my co-workers are skeptical of social media, a little gun-shy about putting their personal information out there, and others who do get it might still have reservations about what it can do for our clientele; many of whom are not technologically savvy.

This kind of volunteerism, sharing a skill you have with your co-workers so that they personally and ultimately their clients can benefit has a huge upside. For starters, if you are trying to get noticed in your organization, standing up in front of your peers and facilitating a session gives others a chance to see you in what could be a new role. Speak well, answer questions with intelligence and provide a safe room for questions and you may get a few folks thinking of you in ways they didn’t before.

Another benefit is that in sharing your skills, you upgrade the knowledge and ultimately skills of others. With a shared understanding of the subject matter, you’ll be undermined less. Undermined? Definitely. Suppose for example I was in this case extolling the virtues of social media for a job seeker and one of my peers chirped in by saying that they personally don’t think it’s all that necessary and just a fad for upper level business professionals. Now they haven’t ever done this just to be clear, but as an example it works. All of a sudden the job seeker might not want to put forth the effort required to take my advice, and I sure wouldn’t appreciate having my suggestions cut out from beneath me. Intentional or unintentional, that remark may come out of ignorance of social media itself and how to best exploit it.

Another benefit is that the employer need not incur the cost of bringing in some social media guru who in the end might not be as effective as you. After all, you know your business and if you know social media, you know best how to utilize it. Without knowing your business, clientele and their capabilities, no one from outside is as best positioned to maximize this tool as maybe you yourself.

Now think about your own business whatever that is. Surely there are people on your staffing body who have expertise and skills in certain areas which exceed those skills had by most others. Is there a person who is up on the latest trends, seems to be the go-to person when it comes to technology itself, or just knows how to use the advanced features on the photocopiers!

Instead of doing nothing at all which has the impact of keeping knowledge from being shared, or paying someone to come in and share knowledge but at a price, why not initiate your own lunch and learn activity? Now not everyone is going to jump at the chance to get up in front of their peers and lead a session. I get that. Some people would rather sign up for root canal.

Surely however, there are at least a few people who would be willing to speak with some of their co-workers (a voluntary participation over lunch, not mandatory) about something of interest to their co-workers on a topic they themselves know something about.

Take me now. In doing a short presentation on social media in general, and LinkedIn specifically, I’m hoping to demonstrate to my peers how best to help them help our clients. After all, if someone has heard of LinkedIn but doesn’t really understand it, they are not going to be able to sell it as an effective tool to be used in networking and job searching.

As the business my colleagues and I are in is helping others gain and sustain employment, we should be looking for tools to use that give them a competitive advantage. With social media being so prevalent and common these days, using it actually levels the playing field somewhat rather than giving them an advantage. The advantage is already being enjoyed by their competition!

Suppose however you are a clerk who knows how to add your digital signature to documents produced by the printer or the digital photocopiers. I would think that more people in your office would like to know how to do this too. Why not set aside 20 minutes of your lunch and gather those interested so you can walk them through how to do this. 20 minutes…no formal teaching role just standing at the photocopier…showing them what you know…that might be possible?

Again, think of your role in your present job. What do you know that others would benefit from knowing? If you are in Management why not float the idea of your talented workers sharing their knowledge with each other – say once every two weeks. Then step back and let it morph and grow on its own. Book the room, then sit at the table just as one of the gang and see what you can learn. You might be enthusiastically impressed. Skills on the front-line don’t always need to come from those at the top.

Always Look For Innovation And Creativity

I bet you can think back pretty easily and find someone in your past who appeared to be going through the motions in their job. Maybe a teacher for example who appeared to be on auto-pilot for an entire year, droning on and on without much enthusiasm for the subject matter. Looking back, it’s as if that person should have gave way to someone else who would have put more energy and enthusiasm into the job.

What I believe really is happening with such people is that they’ve lost the enthusiasm to innovate and make the subject matter they are teaching interesting – both for the students in their classes and more importantly for themselves. I feel for these people because they have rich backgrounds, know their subjects very well and at one time were probably held in high regard. The problem sometimes is stagnation; doing the same thing over and over without variety, an infusion of creativity and the result is a bland message without any passion for the subject matter.

Now you and I would do well to remember those folks from our past who got into those ruts. We can and should learn not make the same errors and become like them. Today is a good example in my own life of trying something different. I am hopeful of great success in what I’m starting today.

You see, I facilitate employment-related workshops for people in receipt of social assistance. Come the 19th of January, I’ll have 12 people hand-picked by my colleagues and pre-interviewed by myself who I will be helping to land job interviews and hopefully if all goes to plan, employment offers. I’ve been doing this workshop every couple of months since early 2011. Now that is not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, and every client present as a unique person with their own set of employment barriers. But I find great personal satisfaction in shaking things up a little, as it keeps things fresh for me, and hopefully improves the experience for participants.

This time around, I will have in my class a former participant who ended up gaining employment, then lost her job and returned to school. Now with school complete, she is again job searching, and both she and her Employment Placement Consultant think it would improve her chances of success in finding a job to go through the class a second time with me. What she’d get out of an intense job searching program a second time is the disciplined environment, the focus on job searching intensely for 10 consecutive days, and the support of an Employment Counsellor throughout.

So what is new and innovative? Where’s the creative part? Ah, well what I’ve proposed to do is allow this participant a chance to actually do some co-facilitation. The course she took back in school is some advocacy on behalf of others, and so it seems like a good fit to take someone who has gone through the course before and has chosen a career which might involve some leadership and group facilitation, and build-in the opportunity for her to lead a session under guidance and supervision.

What we’ll be doing later on this morning is meeting to go over the range of topics to be covered and find out which she might be able to take on a lead facilitation role. This not only gives her the chance to lead, but it puts a new skill on her resume in the future and equally importantly, 2015 experience on her resume. But personally, it also stretches me a tad more. You see now I’m involved in mentoring someone, preparing them to take charge, sitting back a bit when it would be natural for me to jump up and facilitate. I’ll have to help her prepare herself for this added role, yet remember too that she is job searching herself and not get her too much into the facilitation so that she has time to look for work herself. It’s finding the balance.

And on top of all this, I have to be prepared to take over and lead as I’ve always done, for what if she should get called out for an interview or get hired and not be there to lead a session we had agreed she would? Yes, being prepared for such an eventuality is critically important.

It’s a delicate balance in another respect too. One has to be cognizant of confidentiality concerns. Whereas I want to know the ins and outs of all the participants and their personal barriers, I can’t divulge this to her being a client herself. Is that important? It sure makes the learning more personal and beneficial if I can tailor the experience to someone or tread cautiously when discussing areas which might otherwise trigger strong reactions.

This is just a small example of thinking creatively and adding some innovation. Hopefully by implementing this idea, I provide greater buy-in from the client herself, give her new skills and experience to add to her resume, and still convey to the class participants the information originally intended. And of course, I personally develop a little in a new way which is good for me.

So my suggestion is to look for new ways to be creative and innovative in the work you do. Be aware of the pitfall of falling into what is easy and tried and true. Sometimes what’s easy isn’t always what we should do.

So Was It A Poor Or Good Use Of Staff Time?

Lest you think I don’t know the answer to the question above, I do; the time was well spend and I’d do it again exactly the same way.

So here was the situation yesterday at work. It was day 1 using a new computer system. There were additional staff in the workplace to help everyone adjust to the new technology, and there were some fun things going on to keep the mood positive when problems arose.

Of course from a clients point of view, the world doesn’t stop just because Social Service’s Staff have something new at their workplace. So the schedule called for myself and one of my colleagues to run workshop on interview skills. As it turns out, only two people turned up for the workshop; a workshop that typically would run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Now I’ve run this workshop many times, but the colleague of whom I speak has never done so. Given an opportunity to share how he’d like to proceed before we knew our numbers for the day, he opted to have me run the workshop and observe more than truly co-facilitate. With only two people attending, he first asked if we shouldn’t just take one each and work 1:1 with them. Then when I nixed that idea, he wondered if he shouldn’t skip it altogether and do something else for the day. After all, there’s only two people and I can comfortably handle a full class of up to 25 in that workshop should those numbers appear.

If you look at this day in isolation he’s correct. The salary of two staff working with two clients is a poor trade-off. However, factor in that this fellow has never ran the workshop before, doesn’t know the material covered etc. and it’s a different equation. So I ran the regular workshop and had the consent of both participants to do so. After all, in my opinion, aren’t the two who showed up entitled to our very best?

You see the way I look at things, I had two objectives for the day and three ‘students’. Objective one was to give each of the two participants all the help I could to better their interview skills through instruction and practice. But my second objective was to teach my colleague how to run the workshop; what’s covered, what’s handed out, what multi-media do I use etc. and experience it so he can then run it independently in the future and still cover the core content.

I was quite pleased with how the day played out. My colleague and teammate injected his own experiences and ideas throughout the day from time to time. And when it did come time to do a mock interview, it was his idea to have each of them interviewed by each of us one on one and then switch and do it again.

What I found most pleasing and satisfying is that when the workshop concluded, one of the two participants said, “Well I’ve got to tell you I’m impressed; quite impressed really.” And he was genuine. I think he got more out of that day than he ever expected. The other participant realized she needed to work on her stories; the examples she would draw upon during an interview to prove her stated skills and experience.

Now you’ve got to realize that voluntarily showing up for a day getting help with interview skills is not something a lot of people would do. As many people don’t enjoy interviews in the first place, why would they come by choice? So with only two people, I admire them even more because during the day, it’s not like they have anywhere in which to hide amongst a room full of people. Every time I’d ask for input, there would only be two of them to answer. Some other people would have walked out right off the bat if they were one of only two people there. But these two stayed and instead of leaving at 2:30 p.m., they stayed an additional 20 minutes because they wanted to and asked for more.

And here’s another thing I liked about the two of them. Given the option of an hour lunch or a half hour lunch, guess what they chose? 30 minutes. So while my colleague opted to take his full hour lunch, the two of them and myself reconvened after half an hour and resumed the session, with him joining us later. And that worked out well, because both him and them got what they needed over that period.

From a mentoring perspective, I really hope that my colleague got everything out of the day he needs to run this workshop competently and independently. He’s got experiences and skills accumulated from his past employment and volunteer background. He’s welcome as is every member of our team, to add to and delete some content in the workshop as long as the overall integrity and goals of the workshop are covered. The benefit is that he now knows what I personally do in the workshop. He’ll take what will work for him and add things that he’d like to incorporate to truly make the workshop his own. That’s expected.

Was it a good use of time to have us both there? I think so and so too does our mutual supervisor. He just became more valuable and the overall team stronger.

I Planned A Workshop…Nobody Came!

It happens from time to time and for me it was yesterday.

I was scheduled to facilitate a workshop on preparing for and practicing interview skills. Now many people don’t particularly look forward to job interviews, and as its human nature to avoid things we don’t like if we can, this workshop isn’t famous for having high numbers. However, there are typically a group of 5 – 10 people who recognize the importance of learning how to interview well, especially as the stakes are so high.

But like I said, nobody showed up. Registration for this workshop is on a drop-in basis, and it makes the planning interesting. If you’re a seasoned workshop facilitator, you already understand the planning that goes into workshops and presentations, and I imagine you’ve had your expectations exceeded or not met. But if you are new to facilitating and presenting, or possibly thinking about taking on this kind of employment, you’ll appreciate my experience perhaps as a learning opportunity.

Now right off the bat, I want to state that many of the workshops I run require pre-registration. When you have pre-registration you certainly know how many you need to prepare for, and you can get all your handouts ready etc. But some of the workshops I am asked to run are drop-in by nature, and the planning for these is very different.

The workshop yesterday was one I was really looking forward to as well, because I was including a student in it that’s with us over the summer, and giving her a chance to do some facilitating under a supportive eye is something she’s asked for. So we met two days ago and went over the agenda, what she might want to take on and lead, and what she would rather not do in case she became overwhelmed due to lack of experience.

So I showed her the flip charts I’d prepared, walked her through the process from the moment people start to arrive, how the set up of the room enhances or not the participation level of those in attendance. I explained how we’d start off just getting names and desired occupations, then list any questions they dread or fear in an interview, and how after getting their opinions, I’d share with them what I believe an interview actually is in fact.

Ah, it was magical. There I was, this seasoned Employment Counsellor all in my element. After all, I was talking to her about something I love doing, so I was confident, enthusiastic and glad to be sharing this. “It’s critical to be prepared”, I said, and pulled out one of the 10 folders I had constructed to give to participants. The contents of the folder were a pen, notepad, blank sheet for notes, one thank you card and envelope, and 15 pages of tips, suggestions, definitions, strategies, an interview format to follow and sample questions that might come up.

“Wow, they’ll get a lot of stuff!”, she said. I’ll admit when I heard and saw her reaction I was pleased. After all, I’m highly aware that this person is going to be potentially entering a career where she may be doing what I’m doing and reaching others. If I can get her to plan things out in detail ahead of time so the workshop flows smoothly, and take it this seriously ahead of people arriving, she’ll be in a position to be more comfortable, and that will translate into a better experience for clients who are nervous themselves.

So the morning came and the handouts were ready in the blue glossy folders. The flip charts sequentially ready to whip out as we progressed, and the attendance sheet ready for signing in. I opened the doors 30 minutes before we were due to start and waited. Even at the appointed start time with no one in the room I waited. Sometimes clients arrive 10 minutes late. But the dawning realization got more and more certain. Nobody was coming.

And this is a great lesson to learn. So I laughed with our student and told her that despite no one showing up, the advanced preparation should always be exactly the same. All those folders and flip charts can be used next time around and so they don’t go to waste. While disappointing, it’s also not doing any good to take things personally. After all, it’s not like we advertised, “Interview Workshop starring Kelly and Allana – come one come all!” Had we done this, it may have been a personal slight. Like I said earlier however, not many see a voluntary workshop on interviews as a must see event. For many, it’s like not thinking you need any dental work, but making an appointment just to see if they can find anything new.

Oh and lest you think the lesson ended there, it didn’t. What we did after cleaning up is talk with our colleagues and find out where we could help out. Unexpected help is always welcomed around here, and even if no one took up us on our offer of assistance, there would be other work to do. Sometimes just going up to a client in a drop-in resource centre and saying, “Hey I’ve got some time, anything I can help you out with?” gets you busy.

Failing anyone needing or wanting help, there’s always planning and revising existing presentations to be done. Good workers take initiate and keep busy. I learned that years ago.

We Who Facilitate Workshops and Presentations

Do you facilitate workshops or instruct groups of people? Do you coach others individually? And finally, have you ever caught yourself disappointed with someone because they make mistakes or errors after you’ve shared some technique or lesson?

Ah if learning was truly linear and everyone had the capacity to fully grasp everything they are taught; and this includes you and me by the way.

I had the occasion this week to start working with a fresh group of job seekers. My approach with them on a daily basis has and continues to be, that I facilitate a group instruction session at the start of a day, and again at its end. During the rest of the day, my time is spent going from person to person and providing individual help. On Tuesday of this week, I decided I’d give a refresher on the idea of targeting the resume to specific jobs, and how essential it is to first read a posting and then craft your resume to match the qualifications and skills required by the company in order to be asked to an interview.

The people I’m working on behalf this week and next are a bright group; they are truly wonderful people as individuals and I have tremendous confidence in them. It was the following day, when I sat down with one of them for the first time and reviewed his resume which by this time he had completed. Together we took a posting he was interested in and we massaged that resume to align itself with the stated needs of the employer. And all the while, working one on one, he had more and more light bulb moments.

You see what he didn’t grasp fully the first time around in a group setting, he did connect with when looking at things a second time while getting personal help. And here, although I know many of you who instruct others are equally or more qualified than myself, I want to provide a gentle reminder. Just because we share our knowledge it doesn’t mean it necessarily is learned and retained.

And it’s not because we aren’t good or even great at facilitation. No it could just be simply that a person needs to hear something more than once, and receive that information in different ways, in order for the information to be truly learned. The gratification I personally derived from those a-ha moments however was invaluable. And you know it as well as I do don’t you? Those moments when someone who really wants to learn something really does and you are there to witness it.

We all learn differently. Another participant in my group is a literal learner. Things shared verbally are heard, but in order to retain them, she often says, “Can you say that again, exactly like you just said it a moment ago?” I can sometimes, and other times I can’t say it exactly but it’s close. And close for her style of learning isn’t good enough. That’s not a problem of hers you understand, it just means she’s learning differently. Whereas I’m sharing something by way of example, and want a concept learned, she learns best by having the specific example repeated verbatim. I’m concentrating on one thing, her another, and it’s just different.

If you are new to the role of Facilitator, be aware of your own expectations and how often those in your audiences will nod their heads in apparent understanding, but will not be able to apply those ideas in practice immediately. You might find yourself frustrated and say to yourself or your colleagues, “Ugh! They just don’t get it! I taught them this and it’s like they aren’t even listening!” Sorry, but this actually says more about your style of teaching and patience than it does about your audience. And yes I’ve made this mistake too in the past.

When facilitating, it’s critical to remember people learn differently. Some folks are visual learners, and if your lesson includes slides, Prezi’s and PowerPoints, they get it. Some need to take notes, while others just sit back and absorb. Some look like they are sleeping or doodling, but they may be conceptualizing, imagining, and trying to connect the abstract to their reality.

I’d suggest you would do well to create a climate when facilitating, whereby your group is entirely comfortable and has your permission to interrupt, question, ask for the pace to be varied, points re-explained and have the patience to provide examples when you are asked for them. At the outset, it’s always a good idea to remind your audience that their fellow participants will almost always learn in different but equally valid ways. This respect for each other extends to their learning style and retention.

And selfishly, as a Facilitator, you will learn as do I with each and every group, where your teaching style can be improved. If you are consciously aware of it, you’ll discover how to reach someone with a specific learning style who previously wasn’t aware what their learning style was. You then become a better Facilitator because you adjust and connect better with your audience.

Remember therefore that when your audience has nodding heads but glazed over eyes, it may be time to pause and consider alternative methods of communicating your points. This will ultimately make you a strong Facilitator who connects with your audience!

Wish Me Luck At My Interview Today!

Today it’s my turn. After giving a great deal of advice and sharing my thoughts on the job interview process, today I get to put myself up for judgement when I have an interview for a Customer Service Representative job with Target. I sure do hope it goes well!

Actually, what is really happening is this. I am nearing the end of facilitating a two-week intensive job searching group. During this workshop, I’ve had the opportunity to do a mock interview with each one of the participants 1:1 and in each case, they have had to tell me the position they are going for and the company they are being interviewed by. Then I get into the role of an interviewer from that company and we go from there. Today, I offer myself up to the group as a whole, and they will conduct an interview with myself as the applicant.

Here is how it works. I’ve told the group that collectively they must decide what questions to ask me, in what order, and that they will be in full control of the process. I will wait outside the classroom until one of them comes out to introduce themself and  bring me into the room. How they set up the room for the interview is up to them. I’ve asked them to pose questions to me that they might have difficulty answering in order to see how I might respond. They are to watch my non-verbal behaviour, check out my posture, what I bring to the interview, how I make a first impression and a lasting impression.

What I am hoping to do is show them how to react to a panel interview, which is very different from an interview with a single interviewer. All of the groups I’ve done this exercise with in the past enjoy this day. It gives them a chance to be off the hook and get me into the hot seat as far as they are concerned. What it does for me though is create a situation where they have to dialogue with each other, work cooperatively, still be part of an interview process but with some new insight. They have to record notes of some kind to give me feedback after just like I do with them. The entire time, they have to conduct themselves with some professionalism too.

Now, not every Facilitator wants to expose themself to judgement in this kind of process I guess, but I relish the interview. I figure if I’m giving all this great advice and making many suggestions, they should expect me to be able to put it all into action. It is also a great stress reliever for the group and they usually get a kick out of it. Every now and then someone tries to give me a tough question to stick it to me, but I always tell the group beforehand that while this might be worthwhile as a learning opportunity for them, they have to consider what value they will personally get out of any question posed and answered.

I’ll be hoping I get offered a job. It will be a nice way to conclude our afternoon – after I get feedback from the group and we discuss my performance and how a panel interview differs from the one-on-one interview style. If you are a Facilitator and haven’t used this idea, go ahead and steal it. If you yourself are a participant in a similar class, you might suggest this as a learning opportunity.

I’d be very interested to hear from any other Facilitator who uses something similar, or who has other ideas to share that work for you in your groups. By sharing together, we stay relevant and learning helps stimulate the little grey cells.