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6 Feb

Brainstorming v storming the brain.

brainstorm v storming the brainBrainstorming has long been a feature of interactive sessions and while it certainly has its uses, it is often used for the wrong purpose. I’m grateful for an article in Silas Amos’s excellent Design Gazzette blog, where he takes a wry and sceptical look at brainstorming. He endorsed my view that brainstorming is not a useful technique for coming up with creative ideas. It can be very useful in selection and development, identifying routes and approaches and building processes. Creativity is in individual activity – people come up with original ideas, not groups. Creative concepts need a ‘Eureka moment’.  Of course, an individual may come up with an idea in a brainstorming session, Eureka moment can happen anywhere, but a brainstorm can often work against that idea even seeing the light of day.

The problem with brainstorming is that it is at the mercy of group dynamics. We all know the mantra that, ‘Thers is no such thing as a bad idea, and all ideas are equal.’ Unfortunately all groups are not equal. Often teams within companies come with a lot of baggage. Powerful personalities and hierarchies can hold sway and personal prejudices prevent great ideas from being voiced – or worse, they are voiced and then fail to be recognised. Even with groups of individuals who have never met before, positions are negotiated and personality defines people’s roles.

It’s not all bad news, however, because brainstorming groups can be very good at the next stage in the innovation process. Innovation = creativity + application. Application, like brainstorming is process-based. Brainstorms are great for selection, opportunity recognition, development action points and commercialization identification.

When we need creative ideas, we need the opposite of brainstorming – it can be useful to storm the brain. It may appear counter-intuitive, but the brain is actually very good at dealing with lots of problems at the same time. We may have a single issue in conscious focus, but the subconscious brain is working on dozens if not hundreds of tasks. In fact, the subconscious activity is far more powerful than the bit we are aware of. Just think of how many times you have been wrestling with a problem only to have to give up and go and do something else and later when focusing on a totally different task, the answer to the first pops into your mind. How often have you been working into the evening and finally admit ‘defeat’ and go to bed, then the following morning a clear answer comes into your mind while in the shower or driving to work?

Taking a break to allow the brain to run ‘off-line’ is a great technique for facilitators and seemingly un-related games or tasks. Synectics, the problem-solving methodology developed by George M. Prince, uses what it calls ‘excursion’, time spent on totally different activities to allow brains to work on solutions in the background. In the same way, it is natural for the brain to work on multiple problems, we do it all the time, we’re just not aware.

By all means use brainstorming for commercialising and exploiting ideas, but for creativity, leave it to problem solving power of the individual brain. Given the right environment creativity will flourish.

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11 Apr

Training, coaching and the need for a business case.

Think like an FD or CEO

We have all been there, I guess: we create a great programme that will tick all the boxes and deliver the results our client contact outlined in the brief – then it does not go ahead. ‘Budget issues; finance is tight… maybe next financial year.’ Training is one of those subjects that everyone acknowledges its importance, but in the heat of competitive demands, it seems to have the weakest case – even when a budget has been earmarked.

It is easy for us trainers and coaches to wring our hands and blame the short-sighted bean-counters, but that is not going to help us make our case for expenditure. When putting together a programme, as well as detailing the operational deliverables we must also put forward a sound business case. If we see a significant obstacle being the FD or CFO, we should not be looking to fight them, but think like them. You may be working on a course or workshop for a manager or department head, but if that project depends upon a CEO or CFO to sign it off, you need to make a compelling reason for them to do so. Think like a CEO rather than a trainer for a while.

Those top-level directors, the ones with the power of life or death over your project, are busy people. Make sure your project proposal has a short, executive summary right at the start. And focus upon the benefits, the real business benefits that will accrue from the training project. Most importantly, try to quantify the results. You may need the help of your client contact who raised the brief. Will the desired improvements increase efficiency, save time, reduce waste, expand capabilities? Try to put some figures against it. If they are not directly available from your client, perhaps make industry comparisons, or look at competitors; maybe trade bodies have figures you can use to build your case. There is nothing like pound note or dollar signs to grab the attention of people who spend all day staring at the bottom line.

So, next time you are working up a proposal, as well as looking at the benefits for the delegates, spend time also underlining the benefits to the organisation.

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27 Mar

Creativity and innovation – look at the environment before the training and coaching.

In this competitive business world, CEO’s, directors and senior managers are only too aware of the need for creativity and innovation, and original thinking to maintain their organization’s competitive edge. Innovation training courses and coaching sessions can be very effective, but in themselves they are rarely sufficient to develop sustainable innovative thinking. What managers are really looking for is an on-going stream of innovation, not a single flash-in-the-pan. For that there needs to be understanding that the business environment may need to change quite significantly.

The innovative environment

Innovation requires two elements: creativity and application. Creativity does not come out of the blue, but depends upon a body of specific knowledge and expertise within the business’s sphere of operations. That knowledge requires training and experience, but the development of new and original ideas requires inspiration. The inspiration may be the product of necessity, direction, ‘nudges’ or thinking techniques. But fundamentally, creativity cannot be summoned to order. You cannot sit somebody down and say, ‘Come up with something good.’ Inspiration comes from people being motivated and enthusiastic; it comes from the right environment. When asked to train or coach staff in a company or department to be innovative or creative, we will often ask the organisation to take a step back and look at itself and the environment it has created. Often there is already a mass of creative energy already within the business, and all it needs is encouragement and direction.

There are many questions an organisation needs to ask of itself if it is to build a sustainable creative culture, but here are just a few:

  • Are staff encouraged to take time to think rather than just ‘do’?
  • Are people encouraged to run with their ideas, or do they first have to seek approval?
  • Are staff allowed to make mistakes?
  • Are concepts and ideas valued as much as hard facts?
  • Are staff encouraged to talk, share and test ideas with colleagues?
  • Do staff bring their managers problems or solutions?

And don’t forget to look at the physical environment – answer honestly, is it the sort of place where great ideas can be born? It’s amazing how moving around a few desks and chairs can dramatically improve the creative culture.

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14 Mar

What are your favourite ways of opening and closing workshops?

Like a good book, a great workshop needs a well-considered opening and a fulfilling ending. How we open and close can have great impact upon the success of the workshop, how well objectives are achieved and the effectiveness of the lessons taken away.

I was very impressed by a discussion started by Dr. Preeti Vats in the ‘Trainers Network’ LinkedIn group.

She asked, “What is your most favourite way of opening a training session? Do share with examples and scenarios. “ There were so many interesting answers that I then asked a similar question about favourite ways of CLOSING a session.

There were so many useful and varied tips that I have selected some of my favourites from both discussions and copied them below. I’m not saying I agree with them all, or suggesting they would work for everybody, but hopefully they will spark some great ideas for all you trainers and coaches to develop your own.

My grateful thanks to Dr Preeti and all the contributors.


Dr. Preeti Vats What is your most favourite way of opening a training session? Do share with examples and scenarios.

Every trainer has his/her signature style of opening a session. What’s yours and how did you find it. 🙂

Matthew Page-Hanify • I like to start training sessions by getting people up out of their chair and doing something physical for 10-15 seconds. This generally makes people smile and gets the blood flowing so they are less sleepy. I also do this in the middle of the sessions so that again they have a moment to refresh and re-focus.

Shridhar Jahagirdar • One of my favourites is an icebreaker where each one in the group (including myself) draw a picture of an animal whose qualities resemble with mine and then show it to the group and talk about it for one minute.. It works as a real icebreaker!

Sylvia walker • I agree it depends very much on the subject, context, the group and the timing (what else is going on in their world?) Also did they volunteer for the training or where they sent by their manager? One exercise I have used successfully…you need a bit of time….ask them What sort of animal is X.?……….X being the subject of the session. Provide sticky notes, pens and work in small groups. This gets people engaged and using their right brain. They came up with an owl….. Very wise, a snake…. slippery, a chameleon changes from day to day!!!!!!!…the value is in the discussion…i.e. X meant different things to different people. I then went on to explain more about X

Sylvia walker • depending on numbers………a variation of the expectations / concerns exercise which challenges ‘passivity or reluctance and encourages ‘active learning’ by engaging people from the start involves more physicality which generates more energy and curiosity. Ask people to work in pairs, briefly introduce themselves & share expectations and concerns. Give them small sticky notes to record key points …it helps them to focus……. (Different colours for expectations and concerns?) Only give them a few minutes…….then go round asking them to introduce their partner…’post’ the sticky notes on 2 Flipcharts labelled Expectations and Concerns…… which involves them getting out of their seat / comfort zone etc……..remember to review these throughout the training

Ian West • As many of you have said, it depends upon the situation and the group. But the most important thing for any participatory workshop is giving ownership to the delegates, so I usually begin by asking the group a question that can get them talking and not me. Even something as basic as “Who has come the furthest today?” can start some debate with delegates trying to outdo each other.
For structured ice-breakers, I often say I want to learn as much as I can about the group so I give out cards with two different questions, (everybody’s card is different) to each delegate and ask them to go around the room and see how many ‘yes’ answers they get. Usually other cards are tailored to the subject of the course with one serious and one light-hearted question such as ‘Have you ever been arrested on a business trip?’
This gets them out of their seats, and makes sure they introduce themselves to the rest of the group.
After five to ten minutes I go around the room and ask them each to tell me what they have learned about the group, even asking who it was who answered yes to the light-hearted questions and asking them to tell us more.

Andrew Witsey • I will always try and use an icebreaker that is relevant to the topic being delivered. Usually I won’t explain why a particular ice breaker is used, relying on people to make the assumption that it’s just a “getting to know you” type exercise.

What generally happens is that at some point during delivery, a delegate will make the connection between the exercise I had them perform and the relevancy to the topic.

I find that by doing this, the concept that I am explaining takes hold much more dramatically and permanently in the consciousness of the delegates.

When delivering a train the trainer session, I always open with a scrambled word exercise, promoting it as a competition amongst the delegates. It works as follows.

I have prepared several slides containing a jumble of five words. Four of the words can be used to form a four word sentence. The other is discarded. I flash up the slides scoring the delegates a point for the first person to call out the complete sentence.

I also explain that I have randomly inserted several of these types of slide into the body of the course I am about to deliver with the same rules, i.e. first person to call out the sentence gets a point. This extends the “icebreaker” into the training session making it a little more fun.

A part of my train the trainer sessions involves explaining the concept of the trainer’s requirement to positive, upbeat and friendly language when conducting a training session, and the effect that the use of such language can have on delegates.

I explain the priming experiments conducted in 1979 by Srull and Wyre subjects were asked to read a list of words where certain key words were secreted within the list, and the emotional state of the subjects was observed to see if the “subliminal, priming” words had any effect. (It’s worth googling these experiments for a complete explanation and the results).

It’s at about this stage that one of the delegates will make the connection between my “icebreaker”, and the current topic being discussed. At which point I will revisit the original exercise and see if the group can spot the priming words.

This particular exercise has a brilliant effect on the group.

Marc Bueno • I usually open a training by saying: “I am not your trainer … I happen to be your trainer during this session. I’ll most likely be your student in a subject in which you guys are the SME … ‘cuz teaching-and learning are nothing else than 2 sides of the same coin” …

I am usually concerned about NOT conveying the (wrong) impression that I am a sage on the stage but rather a facilitator…I believe that this type of attitude / teaching style not only breaks the ice but also helps to remove learning barriers that could negatively affect the training sessions and the learning experience be it online or in-class. After that, I try to introduce myself, not focusing on my degrees or qualifications but rather on how I can help them achieve their goals through that course.

Riyaz Khan • Very interesting discussion and great Ideas…

The very purpose of ice breaker is to make the audience relax and the BIGGER purpose is for the trainer to get to know the audience better.
The methodology may differ from person to person or situation to situation.

However the need of the initial ritual can’t be done away with. I can never imagine a training session where i don’t know who the audience is and i straight away start discussing my content.

It would be quite similar to a patient going to a doctor who immediately prescribes medicines without speaking to the patient at all.

This initial bonding exercise between the trainer and trainee is very important for the flow of ideas in both directions.
If you feel that some icebreakers have been flogged to death, just use simple introductions. A warm smile and a heart to heart welcome can be the simplest and effective ice breaker.

Deepa Ramakrishnan • I think this discussion thread has some great ideas…thanks Dr. Preeti 🙂

My input –

If the participants don’t know each other, one of my objectives would be to get them acquainted, which will help them become comfortable and open up during the session.
So, as each participant enters the training room, I would tick his or her name off the list, but present them with a different person’s name tag. Each participant would then have to go “figure out” whose name tag they have, and also introduce themselves to other participants.

Ian West • One thing that has become clear, which should be borne in mind is the difference between internal and ‘public’ workshops. In internal workshops the delegates may already know each other and there may already be group dynamics in action and unspoken hierarchies or in-group/out-group actions. With ‘public’ workshops the delegates are likely to be from different organizations and part of the icebreaker objective may be to start the forming/norming/storming/performing process.
Another key difference is that in public workshops the delegates have almost certainly chosen to be there and have probably paid for the session. With internal workshops the delegates may have no choice and been instructed to be there. They have no automatic buy-in. The two dynamics are totally different and require very separate tactical approaches.

Rhett Farber • I have workshop participants come into room and write their name on sticky nametag, along with a word (or symbol) that best describes them. After introducing myself and our company, I Will Not Complain, I then introduce them to our contract for the workshop. This contract, the Hand of Trust, is something we all possess. I visually show them as I open up each finger from my “power fist”: pinkie finger represents Safety (Physical and Emotional), ring finger symbolizes Commitment, mid-finger is Respect for Each Other as well as Yourself (you must hold the top of this finger when flashing it to the group and let them know it’s ok as long as you hold the top of this finger!), forefinger is Communication (and more importantly Direct Communication), and thumb is Motivation/Encouragement. I get everyone to agree to this contract and let them know that we can stop the workshop at any time if someone feels someone in the group has broken the Contract and is not staying Committed or showing Respect to Others, etc.

I follow up by asking the group to what they want to Give/Receive from this workshop, write down on flipchart some of their responses…and then show them what the workshop objectives are (based on Needs Analysis conversation with workshop stakeholder(s)).

The workshop (1-2 days typically) then begins with an integration of experiential learning activities, facilitated discussion, assessments, and more…always keeping everyone engaged and focused with interactive solutions, and sprinkled with FUN.

I’ve been designing and delivering 100s of workshops for MNCs based in China for over 6 years.

Health and Happiness,


Colter Brinkley, MS @ • I have found great success by just asking, “What is the most important thing that you would like to learn today”? It is a great way to ignite interest, excitement and engagement!

Glenise Anderson • For smaller groups I also ask what they specifically want to walk away with from the session. I write on the board and we revisit at the end. I ask if it has been answered and what they will do now. On the rare time, they question hasn’t been answered, we brainstorm the question to come up with solutions. For larger groups a friend of mine gets them to write something at the back of their books and revisit at the end of the session.

Paul Boross • 1. Get rapport
2. Make them laugh
3. Explain that it is their job to question everything I say. If they think something I am saying is bullshit, it is their job to challenge me.

People learn in a variety of ways and there will be an element in the audience who will need to challenge in order to integrate the learning.
Also, from a personal perspective, if people challenge me then I will develop new arguments and grow as a trainer.

Elena Dolmat • What I like I call “Buried Problems”. You ask participants to write down their problems, which they have for the moment and they think about, on a piece of paper. Then you collect all the papers and put them into a box and say something like: now your problems are buried and you don’t have any of them. It makes people think about the training, make them get into a good mood and smiling 🙂

James Fisher • I always start my sessions the same way. I tell the story of a picture I have in my office. It is a picture of Alice in Wonderland talking to the Cheshire Cat. She arrives at a fork in the road and asks the Cat, which way should she go? The Cat asks her: Where do you want to go? She replies that she doesn’t know where she wants to go. The Cat then tells her: Then it really doesn’t matter which road you take. Alice tells the Cat: I want to end up “Somewhere”. The Cat replies: If you walk long enough, you will get there.
The moral of the story is that no one can help you unless you know where you are going, not even me. The first question to answer is why you are attending this session and the second question is what you expect to get out of this session. Then I help them achieve their goals.

Swati Arora • There are various things that one can do to start the session in a light and humorous mood. The icebreakers also depend on the maturity level of your audience; need to have some fun element as per the target audience.

One interesting icebreaker that I have tried with Sr. Mgmt teams & a couple of times in my TTT sessions is the “Celebrity Couple”. The game is pretty simple & brings about a fun element in the beginning of the session itself.

You need to prepare name tags with the names of celebrities on each of them making sure you have couples cut out for each participant. e.g.: “Bill Clinton” on one & “Hillary Clinton” on the other. Stick the name tags at the back of each participant & let them move around in the trg room. They need to ask questions to their fellow participants and find out who they are. Remember the questions need to be close ended only like “Am I a girl?”; “Am I related to the Film Industry?” etc. As soon as they locate which celebrity they represent, they need to then hunt for their partners. Then the two partners sit together and interview each other and introduce each other to the rest of the batch.
To make it more interesting and to boost their moment, one can also add a competition quotient to it – like the first 3 couples to come to the stage win a prize.

Sylvia walker • Yes not only do these engage people from the beginning and avoid them becoming passive, you can start your assessment right away…….by observing how people engage in the activities and with each other……this can help you decide who to put into subsequent groups……….e.g. to ensure an even spread of ‘activists’ and ‘reflectors’ etc.
If you walk around the groups you can also pick up on language which can tell you a lot

Kishor Shankaranarayan • Giving them a pleasant shock works for me always, they do remember you at a later stage of life 🙂

Kishor Shankaranarayan • Example: – you start as a delegate yourself and play a waiting game, start a general conversation to break the ice and then let them know you are the trainer

Paul Murphy • lateral thinking challenge

Start with a video clip of a famous interesting film playing….

That gets their attention, even as you are setting up your equipment etc. and you don’t even need to speak.

Then when you start… ask them what that film has got to do with the training content today…

If they are smart, using lateral thinking they can figure it out.


David Beckham football video – goal highlights.

Training topic is HR function.

“Out HR department is like a football team” an analogy.

This approach is interesting, doesn’t require you to actually speak at the start, and will challenge them also.

Glenise Anderson • I put two sentences on the white board before everyone arrives.

“Tell me & I will forget; Show me & I might remember; involve me and I will understand” and then give the explanation I would like them to participate so they will understand.

At the bottom of the whiteboard I write “I get it; I think I can do it & I’m willing to try it” and I explain that this is how I would like them to feel when they walk out of the room.


What is your favourite way of CLOSING a training session?

We have had some great input on ways of opening a training session, but perhaps you would like to share views on best ways of closing to ensure learning is retained, delegates are motivated, and lessons put into practice.

Bhaskar Babu Boda • It’s really very imp element of discussion. My methodology of closing any training session: 1. let all the participants form a circle.
2. As them to share the following one after another
a. One take away from the session
b. In which context he/she is going to implement it
3. Each one of them should say a new point and no repetitions are allowed
4. Trainer should also say those two points

This way of closing session is found to be more effective in recapitulation of all the main points of the training program and it helps all the participants to realize the outcomes of the training program.

Deepa Ramakrishnan • In addition to the above points made by Bhaskar I would also say at the end of the session all participants must make a written “start-stop-continue” agreement. I.e.
– what will they “start” doing after the session
– what will they “stop” doing after the session
– what will they “continue” doing after the session.
This also works as a follow up mechanism for the trainer (after a month or two) as this becomes a written commitment.

Anurag Sharma ( • I had stared this concept ‘contract with self’. All the participants would fill up a contract with self. On Continue – stop & start doing things. A copy would be given to them & 2nd copy was scanned &sent across as mail 2 weeks after the program. This mail was resent 2 weeks later. 2 more wks. later, this copy was ‘snail mailed’ to them.

Arthur O’Loan • A small addition to helping them ‘walk into the future facing the front’ – summary of the above insights- I give about a 2 minute explanation of how and why I put the program together the way I did.

Barbara Crockett • this works with a group of about 20 or less…it’s called a Sit Down Drill. Have everyone stand and think about something they can implement as a result of the training. Once they have identified something they say it out loud then they can be seated.

Nancy Claxton • for wrapping up a day of training, I like to show a slide of “What? So What? Now What?” I prompt the group to input what was learned (What?), why it was important or critical to their work (So what?) and how they will transfer the knowledge to their workplace (Now what?) Good stuff.

Quentin Emery • Great ideas above folks, it’s really good to see trainers thinking about how the learning will “stick”. A fun and quick technique I use is to state up front that any training course (or any other meeting for that matter) is only of use if something is going to change as a result of it. I then ask them to stand in a circle and state what they will change as a result of being on the event. It helps to have a koosh ball or similar which the speaker can hold and then pass/ throw to another member once they’ve finished talking (adds a bit of fun/ exercise to the activity).

Margaret Greenhall • I have a little pot of mini highlighters. I pass them round the room (I usually work with about 16 people). I ask everyone to share their most interesting or useful part of the session in return for their highlight they get to keep one of my highlighters (corny but gets a little giggle). A great way of getting a summary of the session without talking for ages yourself. It is a fun and light-hearted way to finish and they have great fun choosing their highlighter. To get them go to Asda (UK supermarket part of Wal-Mart) and they sell pots of 12 in the stationery aisle for about £1.50.

Gary Haseman • at the start of the session, even before the learning contract, I always on a flip collect a list of the delegates expectations. If possible I blue tack this to the door to the training room and say that before we leave we will check to see if these expectations have been met.

The acts as an excellent prompt for me to tailor the contents of the sessions to meet the exact perceived needs of the attendees.

I end by re-visiting the formal objectives and then revisiting this flip. If it is impossible to meet some of the expectations I facilitate a discussion as to how these can be met in the future and we agree whose responsibility this will be. Hopefully they have been met and the discussions can centre on how this has happened which results in an excellent summary of the event.

Manpreet Juneja • Wonderful ideas! Thanks everyone! Besides doing check-on-learning, I’ve lately started using an activity that complements it.

Make everyone stand together and give them some balloons to blow. At the same time, give few of the participants pins or pens (anything that can poke), BUT DO NOT instruct them to poke or burst the balloons, just tell them to be around. Keep prompting them though by saying – Hey, are you ready – You’ll notice that people who’ve pins in their hands are getting ready to burst the balloons and they all have mischievous smiles. On the other hand, people who’re busy blowing the balloons, prompt them saying – Are you ready? Do you need any help etc.?

Ask – Is everyone Ready? When they say ‘YES’, say ‘SAVE THE BALLOONS’ – Remember, this should be said softly with an intention that it creates little confusions.
As soon as people being to save or burst the balloons, start observing them. You can also assign few observers from amongst the participants.

When all the balloons are burst, go ahead with the de-briefing and focus on these observations:

– Even when you said ‘Save the balloons’, people even though they heard it, went ahead to burst the balloons – (Whenever we’re given a choice, our first thought is to be destructive)

– Most of the times, we try to use the POWER (here, pin is the power/post training – knowledge, skills gained would be the power) to harm or under-rate others.

and so on…

Relate such observations with Choices, Attitudes, Change etc… so that they realize the importance of having a choice to implement learnings post trainings.

Gaurav Sareen • my answer is going to be ‘out of left field’ to those already here & the others that will arrive later!

As a ‘rookie’ trainer in the years gone by (when I had no white hairs on my head), it was great fun (and serious business) to recap with the participants and engage them with similar tactics that the replies above detail so well. Obviously I had different games, exercises etc… but they all achieved the same aim. And, we all know what that aim is.

However, now, especially when I am taking leadership or any other PD courses with senior people (whether hierarchically or by life experience in an organisation), almost always, I end the course abruptly at the end of the discussion which follows the final module’s Q&A. I simply say ‘Thank you for coming. Training’s over. You know what to do. Just go do it. Bye bye. See you next time!’ or something on similar lines.

I know this is very unorthodox. But, let’s face it; senior people know why they are there. They have either got their money’s worth during the course or not. And, most importantly, the continuous interaction with them during the course is ample to gauge whether they & I have achieved what we stepped into each other’s lives for, or not.

Those of you who may be shocked by my strategy, that’s ok. I think I know why it works. I think it works mainly, because when a trainer trains senior persons or an organisation’s leadership, the training is always a 2-way street. There is no lecturing, instructing, leading etc… There is an amazing exchange of ideas, information and ‘war stories’ – structured and impromptu. The trainer’s role, at best, is that of a facilitator, and at times, of a mediator. Because, in that environment, we are all at even par. If, as a trainer, I think that I am ‘training’ senior persons or the organisational leadership, then I am deluding myself and will not be in business for much longer.

For those of you who do train senior people or the organisation’s leadership, try my strategy next time. Believe me, your participants will thank you for not indulging in the ‘standard training closing circus’ – this is one of the most frequent comments I get from my participants.

As for other sessions, it’s usually a mix of the abrupt ending mixed with the orthodox tactics.

Val Alexander • Love the balloons. Intrigued by the abrupt ending – I get the idea and will try it out for myself.
One other thing I sometimes do, especially after a challenging and thought provoking session where there have been differences of opinion or approach is to ask everyone to write their name on top of a sheet of paper and pass it to the person on their left. Each person then writes one thing that they have appreciated about the person named on the sheet. They then fold their entry over and pass the sheet to the person on their left and so on until the sheets come back to the named person. We all then read the comments about ourselves – I include myself in this. This then rebalances any residual emotions and leaves everyone on a high.

Ivie Cardinaels • I too follow this unorthodox tactic of Gaurav Sareen. The only thing I add for leadership trainings or senior participants is a ROI or ROO sheet (Return on investment / return on objectives). The participants are given this sheet at the beginning of the session. Those points shared during the training participants feel is an objective or expectation met, they can note on that sheet. This way they have an overview of their added value at the end of the session(s). On the back of the sheet there are some general tips written down on how to implement further their action points or changes they want to make.

Arthur O’Loan • … and if you really believed in the power of statistics, I’d head to the nearest bar and close the program there!!! Where else would everyone be!

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6 Feb

Roles people play and group dynamics

In participatory groups there is tremendous dynamic energy which, if properly recognised and harnessed can help achieve objectives for both the group and the individuals concerned. However, these same forces if uncontrolled can be equally destructive and tear the group apart.

One of the key dynamics relates to process and how the group gets things done. Anyone who has run a workshop will have recognised how people negotiate their roles as a group forms. Classically these roles may include:

  • Initiators
  • Information givers
  • Information seekers
  • Clarifiers
  • Reflectors and summarisers
  • Consensus seekers
  • Mediators and harmonisers
  • Encouragers
  • Gatekeepers

There are also some roles that can be defined as non-group roles which are usually taken by individuals as an indication that their personal objectives are not being met. These include:

  • Dominators
  • Blockers
  • Avoiders

It’s important to understand that individuals can play more than one role. In addition, they are not absolutes but relative roles, negotiated within the group.

One of the dangers is that group members become fixed in their roles which may block their own and the group’s effectiveness. In big groups (over say 12) you will also observe a breaking down into smaller groups each with members negotiating roles and with the groups themselves taking on rles within the workshop.

One of the most effective ways to manage this is work in sessions where the group is broken up into smaller groups, pairs, threes, fours etc. A good facilitator will manage this actively and not allow members to choose their own partners and teams. By this means you can mix the smaller groups, pairing people intelligently to allow them to explore new roles in each encounter and fulfil their objectives.

Active group management also avoids the emergence of in-groups and out-groups, and groups ‘ganging up’ upon or ostracizing difficult or non-conforming individuals. The facilitator can ensure the groups are inclusive.

It’s important to remember that this is a constantly changing landscape. As individuals interact, the roles people play and their relationships change. One of the most useful skills for a facilitator is to watch the body language in these smaller groups. It is usually easy to observe where people are positively engaged or not.

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9 Jan

Is ‘death by PowerPoint’ inevitable?

Death by PowerPointIt is common for trainers (and trainees!) to refer to ‘Death by Powerpoint’, and it is true that the presentation tool is most often wrongly used and rather than enhancing presentations, successfully ruins them. My preference is always to go for interactive and participatory workshops whenever possible, and the closest I ever get to didactic delivery is usually using a flip-chart and marker pen. However, there are occasions when a computer-based presentation is unavoidable and can be extremely useful, if used correctly.

When can Powerpoint*  be useful?

  • When working with big groups in lecture style format and theatre layout.
  • To display and demonstrate examples as part of a workshop – perhaps to show video clips or compare statistical data.
  • To quickly present  complex data.
  • To add variety and break up the pace of a workshop.
  • To bring in an additional level of information encoding to stimulate recall.

Do’s and Don’ts.


  1. Plan how and when you are going to use your slide-show.
  2. Take a leaf out of TV News or current affairs – The screen displays support graphics or images to set the scene and support what the presenter is saying. They don’t display the words that the presenter is saying.
  3. Think of you presentation as two complimentary elements – what you will be saying and what is appearing on the screen – make it a double act.
  4. Break up your presentation. If you are going to be standing up for say 40 minutes. don’t have 40 minutes of PowerPoint. Vary the pace: maybe 5 minutes introduction, then a 10 minute slide presentation, 15 minutes interactive question and answer, 5 minutes of information delivery by slide followed by a 10 minute quiz, then 5 minutes summary by slide and interaction.
  5. Integrate interaction. After delivering a batch of information, ask open-ended questions: ‘What do those figures suggest?’, ‘What strikes you about that scenario?’, ‘How would you respond?’ etc. Ask delegates to complete short questionnaires, quizzes or engage in creative note taking.
  6. Break up you presentation – mix text slides with image slides, audio and video clips, two or three word themes with charts and graphs.
  7. Make use of charts and graphs rather than columns of figures if possible.
  8. Provide handouts – don’t expect delegates to take in and remember masses of data.
  9. Theme your presentation – turn it into a narrative, a story with a beginning middle and an end. I have used themes of silent movies, a journey, exploration… I even used the Dick Whittington story to build an export presentation around. It makes your presentation more memorable and gives you a structure to hang it around.


  1. Don’t start by writing your entire presentation in PowerPoint – this is speaker support, you will be there making the presentation. You want your audience to be listening to you, not reading of the screen.  Plan your presentation on paper, decide what you wnat to say, and then, and only then decide if you need speaker support and how it will be most effective.
  2. Don’t use lots of words – see above.
  3. Don’t use too many slides – one of the most memorable presentations I ever saw was delivered by a speaker who spoke for an hour but used just six slides. She used the slides to highlight five major themes and one summary. They were images not words, put on the screen and left there while she talked.
  4. Don’t read off the screen – as I have already said, your presentation should NOT be the same words that you are saying, but do face your audience and at worst have a laptop screen in front of you for the comfort factor of ensuring the slide has changed, if you must.
  5. Don’t hide behind your laptop – it’s not a sheild. You want to connect with your audience – make eye contact and move around.
  6. Don’t expect people to take in a mass of detail off the screen. If you are delivering a complex of technical proposition, summarise information in charts or diagrams and let your audience know that; “The full data sheets (or whatever) are included in your information pack/handout…”
  7. Don’t forget your objectives – what does your audience want and what do you want them to take away from the presentation? Measure your success by this criteria.
  8. Don’t trust technology – it will come back and bite you one day. Be prepared, have your spare bulbs and data cables etc. Always have a ‘Plan-B’: what will you do if there is a power failure or your laptop is lost or stolen on the way to the lecture? Have you a backup on a memory stick? Have you a version of the presentation you can deliver without visual aids? Have printed out a hard copy?
  9. Don’t have tunnel vision – a slide presentation is not the only way to support your presentation. There are other alternatives – video is so easy these days and a DVD of half a dozen video clips can be far more memorable than fifty slides full of text. A simple slide-show of images can be very effective. You can always link up to examples from live websites or even a webcam demonstration by a colleague 100 miles away. Take a look at some alternative presentation media such as Prezi (, that get away from the slide format.
  10. Don’t forget to time your presentation – you don’t want to rush and you want to have time to be flexible, interact with your audience and make detours if necessary. Knowing that you have ample time will make you more relaxed and allow you to vary your pace.

* I have used the term PowerPoint throughout as a generic term, but this refers to all flavours of text-based slide presentation.

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3 Dec

Working with SMEs

Helping SMEs Plan

I find working with SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) especially rewarding: they are enthusiastic, energetic and very committed. Often the biggest problem is actually slowing them down a little: they are is such a hurry to get on with things that the planning stage is sometimes neglected. This is understandable, we’d all rather be doing than planning, but it’s important to see that all that energy an enthusiasm is properly directed. The most helpful approach I have found is streamlining the planning process to its simplest framework.

There are weighty books on business planning and sophisticated software packages, but all require a degree of time resource that is usually at a premium for small businesses.

Working with small businesses is usually done in one of three ways:

  1. One-to-one with the owner/CEO.
  2. With a small team from the same company.
  3. With a group of owners/senior managers from a number of companies.

The one-to-one basis allows a very tailored approach akin to coaching and mentoring. You can quickly assess strengths and weaknesses, understanding and attitude. You can also be more outspoken. It’s important to have done your homework before you meet. A long, drawn-out exploratory meeting is the last thing your client wants – indeed, it’s the last thing you want too as budgets are usually tight with small companies.

The most critical step, and often one that is the biggest stumbling block is setting objectives. It’s not to say that the client does not know his or her objective, just that they have not articulated it – it is something the just ‘know’. The other problem is that SMEs have very real issues to deal with that day, that week or that month. That can make it difficult to see the long term view and set an objective for where they want their business to be in say one, two or three years. I often use SMART objective setting, but leading them to think long term by saying something like; “In one years time…”, and letting them complete the objective statement.

Once you have the objective, I like to get the framework of the plan built right at that first session. That means you can’t begin with a blank sheet of paper, you need some pre-prepared material to work with. You can use a checklist, but I usually find that unsatisfactory as it lacks flexibility – there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution and you can try your client’s patience going through a list of irrelevant topics. You are not really interacting but more interrogating and it is difficult for the businessperson to take real ownership of their plan. That’s one reason why I am a fan of card-sorting. The client can build there own plan while interacting with you. They choose what topics are relevant for them and what they can discard: they decide upon their importance and where items should go in their plan. Importantly it shows the business plan as a process, a series of steps the order of which has a logic behind it that comes out of their own business requirements.

Working with a team within a business can follow a similar route, but you have to be very aware of the group dynamics. More junior members of the group may feel reticent about contributing and you also have to guard against it becoming a forum to deal with personality issues rather than the task in hand. If I’m working with a team of around equal seniority, the fastest and most effective route is to get them to collaborate on one sorting exercise. This usually stimulates a lot of debate and prompts some innovative thinking. Where there are members from various levels or departments it’s necessary to take a view as to whether the previous method will work. If it’s felt that it won’t generate the best result I use the following approach. If the group is small (two or three) I ask them each to prepare their own plan at the same time but in different parts of the room, then compare them and comment on each others’ hopefully moving towards a consensus. With a bigger group I would divide them into teams mixing each one carefully. With small groups you could use checklists, but card sorting is much more flexible and interactive.

With groups of business people from a number of companies the latter approach is usually very successful, but you must make sure that delegates have time and the materials to make notes of their outcomes.

With these approaches you can lay down the framework of a business plan within one reasonable length session. Additional branches, complexities and subordinate plans (financial plans, marketing plans, production plans etc.) being added to that framework as and when the client wishes or the need arises.

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3 Dec

Running digital workshops

Add value to digital workshopsBecause of the very nature of digital it’s all too easy to go for the ‘chalk and talk’ route. Produce a presentation, get your stats and screen grabs, or maybe go online in real time – we all know how it goes. For a big group, that lecture format may be all you can do, but for small audiences, participatory workshops where people really engage and look at their own issues can be far more fulfilling and relevant.

Digital, whether you are looking at digital marketing, social networking, ePR, search and optimization, mobile or any mix of topics – is complex and multi-faceted. Clients and delegates have varied needs and objectives, their businesses are of different sizes and stages of maturity, and their knowledge is sure to vary. In short, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. This is why workshop style can be ideal: it allows people to focus on their business needs and deal with topics relevant to themselves.

Dependent upon the size of the group, there are a variety of techniques that can be used – but the key word is ‘variety’. It keeps people interested and engaged, but above all, not everybody has the same learning style so with a good mix, all can be involved and catered for.

There will be need to present information, either on screen or using flip-charts, but I would break this up into small chunks and intersperse it with other activities. If you have a mass of detailed information and stats, put it in your handouts as takeaways. Don’t expect people to absorb or remember the broadband penetration across the major economies of the EU, for example..

Here are a few techniques you may consider using:

  • Pair-work and groups. Break people up into pairs and threes so they can test out ideas on each other. This kind of co-coaching allows them to deal with subjects in a relevant way. Mix them up too – everyone has something different to offer. Bigger teams or groups can work on bigger projects.
  • Set scenarios – this can be useful for groups and teams. Set a ‘what if’ scenario and see how different teams deal with it. A great one for ePR and social networking.
  • Paper exercises – often with digital projects people are used to just sitting at a keyboard and screen. This can get in the way of seeing the big picture. Give people big sheets of paper and big markers to free up their ideas.
  • Allow thinking time – after exercises, give  a few minutes to make notes.
  • Role play – not the most obvious choice for digital workshops, but very useful to remind people that at the end of that email, tweet, or e-commerce site is a real person. Ask someone to take on the persona of a particular target audience, then get somebody else to decide how they are going to communicate with them.
  • Brain-storming – a great way to start the workshop – gets people interacting from the start. It also is useful in setting objectives for the project or session.
  • Sorting exercises – use either pre-printed cards (for standard tasks) or get people to make their own, using cards or post it notes. Then have teams or groups use them to plan how they will attack a project. Really stimulates discussion. Great for marketing planning or website building.

Think carefully about your materials – active note-taking is great way to process information and embed it in memory. A useful way to construct you workshop is to break it into sessions: first you give information, then a small exercise, maybe a check list to tick off. Follow that with an interactive exercise, maybe in pairs or groups followed by open discussion and a little time to make notes on what they have learned. A good worksheet or workbook, well thought-out is so much more valuable than just giving a handout of your PowerPoint presentation.

With digital, a lot of what your delegates will be doing when they get back to work will actually be online, but online working is difficult to do in a training session or workshop. You will need to ensure that the materials you give them to take away are designed to enable them to carry their learning into their digital workplace.

Digital Strategy Planning Cards

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30 Nov

How valuable are evaluation sheets?

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