I keep this quote on my office wall.
"When learning about life and people, make no more assumptions than are absolutely necessary. Ask and observe." William of Ockham, 1324
Over the years it reminded me time and time again, that no matter how prepared I can be to teach a specific topic, the most important component of that training is unknown until the class begins: the audience.
It's too easy to forget this when trainers and facilitators have been teaching a topic for a long time or leaders have become expert in their presentation material. Once we forget this simple rule, the lecture begins. Or, we roll out the same tired questions, expecting the same answers and we are fully prepared to respond to them, even before the question is complete. It is the stuff of deteriorating results in the classroom, and it can be deadly for our most seasoned trainers (myself included).
So, here are three tactics for keeping it fresh and different every time, based on who's in the room.
1. Take time to understand where people really are. Discussing the objectives presents a great opportunity to flesh out people's true perspectives. I've been guilty of trying to teach the class during the objectives section, and that is not helpful. However, rushing through this in order to capture objectives and "get on with it" isn't helpful either. Take time to ask clarifying and deeper questions as people produce objectives. Take the knowledge they give you and use it to go deeper during the program and reference back to the specifics they shared with you in the beginning.
2. Teach to the gaps (only). Make adjustments in your delivery that demonstrate you are really tailoring the program to the audience. The great part about your experience is that this shouldn't interfere with your flow at all. Toss out a section they seem to be knowledgeable about, and build in extra discussion time around a key challenge you haven't heard before. Pull from another area, if it's appropriate, for the topic and send them materials for it later. You'll be more engaged too and that can be an exciting dynamic for a group. Everyone wants to be the special group that challenges you to go deeper.
3. Rethink your questions. If you always ask the same questions the same way, you'll often get the same answers. This helps no one. It creates rote responses and even leads to the same punchlines you've used to get a laugh a million times before. Two things to consider:
- Open your questions more. It's ok to ask the occasional closed question to test for understanding, and to transition to another topic. But the vast majority of questions should be open and airy, as these are the question that really let us understand the participant’s true mind on a subject.
- Ask more follow-up questions. They force you to really listen and look for what you understand and where you need more content or discussion. As a facilitator, this is also where you must be scanning the room for others' comprehension as well. Even if we understand perfectly, we might see someone looking confused by their colleague’s words and call on them to engage. "Maria, it looks like you might have a question for Mark."
Your class or audience will know in an instant if your content or presentation is not engaging you. To feel that same exhilaration you feel when you do a program for the first time, make it your goal to cater to each new individual in the room.
Can you take their learning to a whole new place?
Can you balance the needs of a really diverse group?
Can you engage each and every person in the room (especially you)?
If you have other ideas for keeping programs fresh, please comment and let us know!