Friday, 19 September 2008

The Measure of Your Communication

If, like me, you train regularly, you'll know how easy it is to put your foot in it.

I was reminded of this training truth recently when I read the obituary of one of the UK's finest support comedians, John Junkin.

Junkin had been a schoolmaster before treading the boards. The story goes that one day while taking a class of particularly uninspired fourth formers, Junkin had spotted a boy at the back of the room chewing gum.

Summoning him to the front, Junkin stretched out a finger and pointed at the wastepaper basket where he expected the boy to spit out the gum.

The crestfallen boy walked over to the basket and, completely misunderstanding the silent instruction, obediently if sullenly, climbed in to take his punishment.

History does not record the reaction of the class and Junkin himself. My guess is, he would have laughed his head off.

The same thing, of course, happens every day in the training room.

I can't recall the number of times I've placed a set of handouts in front of the nearest person with the instruction, "Please pass these round", only to look up a moment or two later to see all the handouts being passed from person to person and ending up in a pile in front of the person at the back of the room. I now suspect that trainees see that one coming and just play along for laughs.

Because laughs is what it is all about, as I'm sure John Junkin would have acknowledged.

Comedy is always about mis-communication. When it's between authority figures, like trainers and managers, and those in their charge, it's even funnier.

For example, how could you possibly keep a straight face if you heard this one from the vicar in the pulpit: "As this is Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Lewis to come forward and lay an egg on the altar."

Or this from a serious politician: "The car is killing 50 people a day across our nation. Let's resolve to do better."

Or this from an old radio advertisement: "When you're thirsty, try 7-Up, the refreshing drink with the big 7 on it and u-p after it."

I sometimes hope that my communications training only achieves a 90% success rate. Because that would leave a good 10% for some great bloopers and some great laughs!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Bonk Approach to Testing

Hi everyone,

I have 2 rules for assessing my trainees at the end of a course.

The first is: test them on what they already know. If they get the test right, which they should if I've taught them well, they'll feel good with themselves but not particularly motivated to learn any further.

The second is: test them on something they've still got to learn. That brings them back down to earth and reminds them that they don't know it all.

I call this the Bonk approach to testing and learnt about it from Harvey Mackay. Let me explain some more.

Professor Bonk is professor of Introductory Chemistry at Duke University in the United States. His course has been taught for years and is affectionately known as "Bonkistry".

One year, two male students were taking chemistry on Professor Bonk's course. They were doing very well as they came up to the final exams and both were predicted to earn "A" grades.

They were so confident that the two of them decided to escape for the weekend before the finals and party with friends at the University of Virginia.

The party was so good that they both had hangovers on the Sunday, slept all day and didn't make it back to Duke until early on the Monday morning.

Rather than taking the final then, they explained to Professor Bonk that they had driven up to the University of Virginia for the weekend and had planned to come back in time to study but they had a flat tyre on the way back and didn't have a spare, so they didn't get back to campus until late Sunday night.

Professor Bonk thought this over and then agreed that they could take the final exams the following day. The two friends were elated and relieved. They studied hard that night and went in the next day. Professor Bonk placed them in separate rooms, handed them each a test booklet, looked at his watch and told them to begin. They looked at the first problem, which was something simple about molarity and solutions and was worth 5 points.

"Cool," each of them thought. "This is going to be easy." They did that problem and then turned the page.

They were unprepared, however, for what they saw on the next page. It simply said: "Which tyre? (95 points)"

Happy training and happy testing!

Make Me Feel Wanted

Have you ever been on one of those courses where the trainer stood at the front, told you how fantastic they were, showed endless slides to prove it... and never mentioned your name once?

I have and I hated it. I don't know about you, but a day on a course like that turns me into a demoralized wreck. I know it shouldn't affect me... and it's probably got something to do with whether I was breast-fed or not (I was, by the way!)... but these kind of experiences pull my self-esteem down to zero.

So now I'm going to have my say. If you do any kind of training, coaching, or managing, listen up.

Whenever I go on a course, I want all of the following things to happen to me...

  • I want you to acknowledge me. Please, if you ask me for my name up front, use it at least once during the day, don't tell me you've forgotten it, and don't get it wrong.
  • I want to feel as important as anyone else on the course, even if my natural inclination is to say nothing until you've made the climate safe enough for me to do so. I don't want to feel that the only ones you care about are the ones that talk loudest and most.
  • I want you to excite me with possibilities not dampen my enthusiasm with silly rules. I don't want a string of "musts", "shoulds" and "oughts". I want to know all about the wonderful things that I can do when I've learnt what you're helping me to learn.
  • I want you to inspire me by telling me how fantastic the subject is and how much I'm going to enjoy learning it. By the way, you do that by telling me how much you enjoy it.
  • I want you to be my role model. OK, I know I shouldn't expect perfection, but on a time management course, is it too much to ask that you turn up on time and run the course to schedule? Or on an assertiveness course, that you sort out the mess over lunch in a confident manner? Remember, we're all watching you and learning from you.
  • I want you to have a bit of empathy with me and the uphill road I've got to climb, rather than not mentioning it at all. After all, you may not be bothered what happens to me after the course, but I've got to somehow go away and make some kind of sense of it. A little support in that direction would certainly not come amiss.

Phew! I'm glad I got that off my chest.

In all seriousness, you should think carefully about your trainees' needs and put them ahead of your own. And, in short, their needs are: to feel needed, appreciated, and noticed; to learn something new, to enjoy themselves, and to feel safe; to feel empowered, at ease and valued.

If you can do all that, you'll be touching their very souls.

Now, go for it!