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ASK, NOT TELL

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The “Missing Piece” – The Learners

Updated: Mar 18


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The 5-day Shanghai workshop did turn out to be a great learning experience for me. I learnt a lot by observing my fellow facilitators in action. In particular, I had chance to be observed and thus receive feedback on my facilitation skills. And fortunately I did receive some encouraging feedback.


But I have to say that I was not satisfied with my performance, especially for the result on Day 1. I felt unsure. I felt a bit strange. I felt like something important was missing, and this made me feel that I was not good enough. But I was not sure what it was. I have comprehended the content reasonably well. I have designed and conducted a relevant ice-breaker… what did I miss?


I thought about it a lot in the last few days after the workshop was over. And subsequently I realised what the missing piece was. It is about the learners. During the workshop, I did not have the comfort that I know the learners well enough, and thus more importantly I was not sure about the WIIFM. I felt lost without these.


Only a few hours before the session started, I received the list of learners’ names. This was pretty much the only information I have on the learners. I did not know e.g. which countries they are from, which department they are in. Moreover, since most did not wear their name badges during the session, I could not call on names. In addition, I have not talked to them at all before the session. I did not feel connected with them. And looking backward now, I need the connection in order to facilitate well. More importantly, I need to convince myself that what I talk about is related to them.


The most interesting thing is that I knew this – the need to connect to the learners / participants. I even told the others about it in my facilitation skills / presentation skills course. But I did not do it in the workshop. Why? I cannot blame anyone but myself. I guess it is the reality-vs-theory thing. In theory, you have to do this and that. But in reality, you just have too much to do given limited time.


In my case, since I only got to know the course content and process 2 days before the session, I spent most of my preparation time familiarizing and thinking through them. In addition, what occupied my mind was the venue set-up, getting to know the fellow facilitators, cocktail the night before the session etc… I missed the equally (if not more) important factor – getting to know the learners.


This is a great lesson for me. It helps me clear all the ‘noise’ and focus on the real key thing in the future. When time is limited, I know better what the must-have and nice-to-have are. Taking this case as an example, I should have pursued hard to get the learner list well in advance. Though it will be at the expense of preparing for the content, I should spend time studying their profile or talking to them during the cocktail. Or I should at least get connected to those locally before the event. I should also find ways to match the names and faces.


After all, if learning is like filling water (knowledge and skills) from the jar (trainer) into empty glasses (learners). The better the water quality (trainer comprehending the content), the better the learning is. But it does not matter if we even do not know what the glasses look like….

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