Most of what I know about learning and development, I learned from 10th graders

March 5, 2015 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation, Meetings, Preparation, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

A_TEACHER_TALKS_TO_HIS_STUDENTS_IN_A_CLASSROOM_AT_CATHEDRAL_HIGH_SCHOOL_IN_NEW_ULM,_MINNESOTA._THE_TOWN_IS_A_COUNTY..._-_NARA_-_558210I often make the comment in workshops—especially when the class is for internal trainers or SMEs preparing to lead their own workshops—that the best teacher-training I ever received occurred at my first job, the three years I worked as a high school English teacher. No group of learners of any age or occupation is more brutally honest. No group has been more willing to tell me exactly what I was doing wrong in the moment as a classroom full of 15-year-olds. It was a humbling and great experience.

I know the Learning and Development field makes a clear distinction between child learners and adult learners (pedagogy vs. andragogy), and I won’t go into my concerns about those distinctions here. But I will say that what I learned in the high school classroom about what learners want and need from teachers is absolutely relevant for adults.

Here’s a breakdown.

1. They don’t want to be there.
High school English students don’t care about what you are there to teach, and they have no problem letting you know it. Some might acknowledge the benefit of knowing how to write clearly. Some might like to read. Some of them might even like to write. But from their perspective, those activities aren’t what sitting in class every day is about. Being in class every day was about the drudgery of secondary education.

I learned to respect this attitude as an honest, reasonable response to their circumstance. To do otherwise would be to assume that every student walked into my classroom ready, willing, and excited to learn. Which is absurd.

Business application: Business people are in a similar situation. Sometimes this has to do with questioning the need for what they are about to learn or the manner in which it is going to be delivered. It’s important to remember that they are also being taken away from their regular jobs to participate in training. As learning and development professionals, we must anticipate resistance and do all we can to be as efficient and relevant as possible. Remember: training is not a gift everyone wants. It’s work that takes people away from what they consider their real work.

2. Be very careful when asking for any type of activity or interaction.
I learned very quickly that the variety of teaching methods I had been taught to use—group activities, games, any type of self-directed work, all meant to enhance learning—were land mines. Sometimes this simply meant the students refused to take the exercise seriously. At other times, the class exploded in fits of reckless disregard for whatever I was asking them to do.

I learned that there are two reasons for this.

“Why should I bother?”
It is best to assume that asking students to participate directly in any way—from answering a question to participating in an activity—is an infringement on what they consider their right to sit silently at their desks. Active participation is work. Recognizing this is essential. There must always be a benefit for participation that is relevant for them.

“Is this going to put me at risk in front of my peers?”
For a 15-year-old, the biggest risk they face is embarrassment in front of peers. Think back to when you were that age. Most of your energy was probably channeled toward keeping up whatever appearance you chose to project. So anything you ask students to do in class that will set them apart, embarrass them, or make them look bad to others must be avoided.

Business application: When it comes to the things we ask learners to do in a workshop, are adults any different from the 10th graders? As we age do we somehow become more willing to suck it up and make the effort in the classroom? More willing to face embarrassment? I don’t think so. We’re just better at hiding our frustration and fear. Again, it comes down to relevance and efficiency. Will this activity, from an icebreaker to a table discussion, help me do my job? Will it be an efficient use of my time? If not, throw it out.

3. They expect you to be in charge and do your job.
Needless to say, the relationship between teacher and student is complicated. On one hand, sophomores want to be treated fairly and with respect. At 15, they are the center of each of their universes, so it’s important to keep their perspective in mind. On the other hand, they want you to lead them. They know that you are the one in charge, and they want you to act like it. This doesn’t mean that the teacher should rule with an iron fist, of course. It means that students know that things will go a lot more smoothly for them if you take the reins.

This was one of the most difficult things I had to learn because it involves an unspoken agreement. No student will ever say, “Please take charge. Please be the manager and leader this class needs.” But if they feel you have dropped the ball, you will know it. Every day in every class I learned that the first thing my students wanted me to do was take control—in spite of the fact that they themselves were the ones always struggling for control themselves.

Business application: For learning and development professionals this has to do with communicating that whatever you are about to do in the classroom is going to be managed well–you are not going to waste their time and you are not going to make them work harder than they have to. This is the “process goal” we talk about in our presentation skills workshops. When we apply it to trainers, it means that learners are more likely to buy into the training you’re delivering if they feel they can trust you. When they do, you will create the conditions for learning to take place.

[Tweet “Learners are more likely to buy into the training if they feel they can trust you”]

dale_ludwig_hi-res_colorI didn’t last very long in the high school classroom. Leaving, though, was not about the students or their attitudes. Working with them was the best part of the job, and what they taught me has served me well ever since.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

More About When and How to Ask Questions During Your Presentations

April 1, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Introduction, Meetings, Presentation, Training

The article we shared on Facebook last week, Do you really expect me to respond to that?, sparked a question from Barbara.

Hey Dale, could we have a post soon on questions that aren’t manipulative? That is, how/when to place a question that helps you gauge your audience and gather information? For example, “How many of you switched to the new software at least a year ago? Within the last six months? Haven’t switched yet?” I can see that the information could be useful to the presenter in tailoring their talking points, but I can also see it as kind of annoying. So, best practices?

Barbara’s question is a good one for anyone who has ever gathered—or attempted to gather—information from audience members during a presentation or training session. As she points out, learning more about your audience’s knowledge or perspective really does help you tailor the information you’re delivering to their needs.

The challenge is to gather information in a way that doesn’t squander the audience’s good will.dale_ludwig_hi-res_color

Before I list a few best practices for this type of interaction, let me emphasize the fundamental issue involved: when you ask your audience to take an active role in the conversation, by answering a question or participating in a discussion, you are asking them to do you a favor.

In some situations, you are also asking them to take a risk. For example, “How many of you are struggling with the new software?” may be a question people may not want to respond to in public. They may fear they are the only person struggling or maybe they have been avoiding the new software for months and would rather not admit it.

Gathering information, then, needs to be managed in a way that makes the audience feel they are participating in a safe, necessary, and fruitful discussion. They need to believe you have done your homework, there is a reason they should respond, and you respect their time and effort.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Earn the right to ask for participation. As I said in my previous post, don’t begin with a question. Create context and establish the right tone first.
  • Explain why you need information from them. Will it make the conversation better? More efficient? Quicker?
  • Acknowledge that by responding to you, the group is helping you do your job. Just because they came to the meeting doesn’t mean they are ready to respond to your questions. Make it easy for them and be genuinely appreciative.
  • Don’t condescend. If all you’re doing is fishing for the “right” answer to a question, you’re misusing the interactive process and treating adults like children. This often happens during training sessions. The questions you ask should not feel like a test. Instead, they should lead to deeper understanding. For example, instead of saying, “Okay, so we’ve gone over the four steps necessary for this process to work. Who can remind the group what they are?” it’s better to say, “Does everyone feel comfortable with these four steps? If so, we’ll move on. If not, how can I help you be more comfortable?”
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, use the information you gather to shape the rest of the conversation. If you don’t, you’re not only wasting an opportunity, but you’re also disrespecting the effort the audience made to participate.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Wearing Two Hats: Facilitating Successful Meetings When You’re the Boss

August 19, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation

This article was originally published on MondoSpective.

Facilitating a group discussion always brings with it a unique set of challenges. Every group involves different personalities, perspectives, and needs. Facilitators have to work hard to create an environment in which a productive conversation can take place.

When the facilitator is also the boss, the process gets even more complicated. The atmosphere in the room will be affected by who you are. Inevitably, the people reporting to you will feel their response is being evaluated—even if you set up the discussion as a judgment-free brainstorming session. This will affect both how they respond and their willingness to participate.

While you can’t change who you are or your role in the organization, you can facilitate discussions with your team successfully. You just have to remind yourself that your responsibilities as facilitator are different than your responsibilities as manager.

Process vs. Content. The facilitator’s role is all about process. It’s not their job to add to or comment on that content. But it is their job to encourage participation and control the direction of the conversation. That requires two things: demonstrating trust in the individuals in the group and showing respect for their needs.

Demonstrating trust. A successful facilitator creates an environment in which information and ideas can be freely exchanged. That means that the individuals in the group need to feel their questions and comments are welcome. The level of participation from individuals in the audience will vary, of course. But what’s important is not equal participation from everyone, but equal opportunity for participation. So as a facilitator, you need to:

  • Be patient, curious, and unafraid to listen. Don’t waste the good will of the group by not listening, or glossing over nuance.
  • Demonstrate through your actions that all input can be useful. As a leader and manager, it’s often important to assess situations quickly. This is an asset in your daily responsibilities, but it can be a liability when facilitating. During a discussion it’s important to let ideas percolate a little.
  • Level the playing field by allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Remember, you’re the only person in the room who doesn’t feel a little vulnerable already.

Showing respect. The discussion you lead needs to be as efficient as possible. While the group wants to feel that they are free to contribute, they also want the conversation to achieve something. Because you are their manager, individuals might be reluctant to challenge your decisions as facilitator or point out that a topic has run its course. Here are some recommendations.

  • Do your homework. Respect the group’s time and energy by doing the work that’s required beforehand. This involves creating a framework for the conversation that communicates your goal, the problem you’re trying to solve, and what you expect from your reports during the discussion. This framework should be strong enough to keep things on track, but flexible enough to include unexpected turns in the conversation.
  • Remember that the framework exists to make participation easier for everyone. It should serve the conversation, not dominate it.
  • Appreciate the work the group is doing and the risks they’re taking.

Because you are the group’s manager as well as the meeting’s facilitator, there will be times when you’ll want to contribute to the content of the discussion as well. When you do, just acknowledge that you’ve taken your facilitator hat off. Say things like, “I can clear up that question for you, so allow me to speak now as your manager.”  When you’re finished contributing your manager perspective, put your facilitator hat back on.

Remember that the people involved in the discussion are your resource, just as they are when they’re going about their everyday responsibilities. When you’re facilitating, give them a safe, productive environment and the time they need to work through the ideas they’re sharing.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

They Won’t Speak if You Don’t Listen

April 16, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation, Preparation

One of the biggest problems facilitators have is very basic: failure to stay in the moment to listen and respond to what people have to say.

When we work with facilitators in our workshops, we always say that there are two primary goals in every discussion. (1) Facilitators need to encourage the conversation. They need to get people talking about the topic at hand. (2) They need to control the discussion once it begins. They need to be good managers and as efficient as possible.

What often happens is that facilitators spend too much of their energy on the second and not nearly enough on the first. The result is that the people in the group don’t really feel heard. This discourages participation. Individuals won’t exert the effort required to say anything—or anything substantial—if they feel the facilitator isn’t genuinely interested. If you’ve ever lead a discussion that never really got off the ground, this could be the reason.

Good listening requires giving the person you’re listening to your full, un-preoccupied attention. That person needs to feel not only heard, but that what they’re saying has the power to influence the discussion as a whole. If that doesn’t happen, sooner or later, they’ll shut down.

How can you prevent this from happening?

  • Be patient. Don’t interrupt. Look interested. Think about what people say.
  • Probe beneath the surface and be interested in nuance.
  • Don’t listen for simply the “correct” response, the one you expected or hoped to get. This turns the discussion into an exercise that’s all about you.
  • Your plan is not the most important part of the discussion. Be flexible.

Facilitating a discussion is an act of faith. Facilitators need to trust the people in the group and the process of interacting with them. Successful facilitators expect things to get complicated and to go off track. And they also trust themselves to be able to manage the process when that happens.

Read the follow-up to this blog at Encouraging Discussion.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Do you really expect me to respond to that?

March 26, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Introduction, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation

Maybe it’s just me or maybe it’s because of the work I do, but one thing that bugs me is a presenter who expects active participation from an audience without earning it. This can take many forms, but I’ll talk about a couple of really obvious ones.

First, the obvious opening question. It might sound like this, “Good morning everyone, before I begin let me just ask you to raise your hands if you’ve ever…” This is usually followed by something that few could disagree with, like “… been frustrated by inefficient processes?” Some of the people in the room politely raise their hands, but if you’re like me you’re a little annoyed.

The second example is the demand for an enthusiastic greeting from the audience. This is the “Good morning, everyone!” from the presenter followed by a polite “Good morning” from a few of the people in the room. Then the presenter says, “Oh, you can do better than that … I said GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE!” The group’s response is usually louder the second time around. Not necessarily enthusiastic, just louder.

In the first example, the presenter’s goal is to get a response from the audience to kick off the presentation. We all know, though, that the presenter isn’t really interested in what we think because the question has only one answer. In the second situation, the presenter expects the audience to be enthusiastic simply because he or she asks them to be.

In both of these situations, the presenter is shirking his or her responsibility to begin the presentation in a way that (1) sets the appropriate tone and (2) provides context. Instead of doing what’s necessary to earn the audience’s attention and enthusiasm, they expect the audience to make the first move, to respond before there’s anything substantive to respond to.

Remember, presentations are work for everyone involved, including the audience. If you want people to make the effort to participate in the presentation—fully participate, in a thoughtful way—presenters need to show that they’re willing to work for it. So the next time you’re delivering a presentation, take responsibility for setting the right tone and provide context for the discussion before asking your audience to actively participate.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

A reader’s question about this topic led to another article; read it here: More About When and How to Ask Questions During Your Presentations