Monday, 11 June 2012

Delivering a better presentation / training course. No. 11. Respect your delegates.

This is the eleventh in a series of posts where I plan to discuss my ideas, tips and best practices for delivering a great presentation / training course.  Respect your delegates.

Have you ever sat across from a jaded teacher in a bar or restaurant. After listening to half an hour of whining and slagging off (it's in the Oxford Dictionary - I checked) pupils, I want to say to them "Get another job!".

On my travels, I have met many trainers and presenters. Some of them enjoy sharing anecdotes about delegates who said this or did that. I have noticed their attitude when responding to a dumb (in their opinion) question.

Trainers should show as much respect to their delegates as teachers should to their pupils. I would hate to think that any of my delegates from the past 25 years went away with (or possibly still harbour) feelings of resentment to me due to my manner towards them in the training room. There are certainly teachers that I can recall from over 40 years ago that deserve a place on my dart board.

Actually, I needn't look that far back. For the past three years, I have been studying part time for my Masters degree in Agile Software projects at the University of Central Lancashire - UCLAN.

The way some of the academics behave (i.e. treat students) is a disgrace.

Now granted, some delegates do come out and say or do the 'dumbest' things sometimes. But then again, so do you.

It's like the time I went to America on business with some colleagues and we (in a very superior way) decided to award points for "Dumb things an American has said to me". It was all great fun and kept us entertained all week.

In fact. I was awarded an unthinkable 100 points for the following exchange:

American: "So when do you head back to England?"

Me: "On Saturday"

American: "Oh no. That will mean you'll miss the 4th!" (The Saturday was to be 4th July)

Me: "Not to worry."

American: "Well hey. I guess you guys can celebrate it when you get back huh?"

Me: "No. I don't think so. We wouldn't would we?"

American: "Why not?"

Me: "Well we lost."

Now let's see if you can guess what the American said to me?

Are you ready?
Did you guess?
American: "Lost what?"
Priceless. And yes we loved it. It was perhaps the funniest thing I had heard in ages.

It wasn't a fair game though. If you spend long enough in anyone's company, they are eventually going to say something that you think is dumb.

It is only now as I write some 18 years later after, having told that anecdote (in a superior way) countless times, that whilst searching for a nice self-deprecating counterpoint that I realised that I need look no further than two days earlier.

The four of us arrived in Austin - Texas on a Saturday evening and asked the cab driver who picked us up to take us to a hotel. It hadn't occurred to us to book one. We were going to be staying with an American colleague from the Monday but we had two days to kill.

The taxi driver said that all of the hotels would be full as it was Saturday Night! but drove around several to make sure. After the fourth hotel, she said that we could sleep on her floor for $50. We said "Sure!".

We soon discovered that she was quite the one for taking in strays. Three cats, two homeless drug addicts, and now four stupid Englishmen who didn't think to organise a hotel room before leaving home.

Did I mention the two drug addicts? So there we were sitting on the floor of her apartment trying to make polite conversation with addict #1 who is totally freaked out because he is convinced that it is Wednesday (because Scooby Doo is always on the TV on Wednesday) but these four strange Brits keep saying that it's Saturday. Suggesting that he might be viewing a channel that shows Scooby Doo on a Saturday didn't help.

So anyway, after half an hour we thought we would go out and find a bar in town. We took our money (because we were not completely stupid) and left our bags, cameras, video camera and PASSPORTS in the apartment with the drug addict.

Luckily addict #1 was too busy watching Scooby Doo to notice that we had left our valuables behind.  It was when addict #2 (the scary one) came in at about 5am that we thought it best to grab our bags and go wander the streets until the sun came up.

Now, I could regale you with several hilarious things that delegates have done or said in the past but I won't. I don't talk about it with colleagues and so I'm not about to tell you.

That's not I route I want to go down and nor should you. If you keep amassing these anecdotes you will begin to develop a low level contempt for your delegates and the look on your face when they eventually say or do something (that you think is) dumb  will tell them all they need to know about you. They are likely to be quite uncomfortable for the remainder of the course. And if you were really obvious, so will the rest of the delegates. They can really get quite partisan you know!

Now it's only a theory but it's MY theory. And what's more, it is MY blog post so that makes it valid.
So. Tip # 11? Develop a healthy respect for delegates.

See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"


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