Last month, I traveled to Quebec City to facilitate a fundraising workshop for the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. The event was organized by my colleagues at the Institute for Conservation Leadership.
Nearly everyone in the room – except me – had French as their first language, with a varying range of comfort with English. I don’t speak French, so I was to train in English with the understanding that most of the side conversations would take place in French.
The Group’s Needs Come First
The workshop began well enough. People were engaged, asked good questions, and clearly understood the material I presented, even though it was in English.
But the difference between the two languages was striking. When the group spoke English, the conversation was a bit slow and labored. But when they switched to French, their speed picked up and their energy filled the room.
So I encouraged them do their work in whatever language was most comfortable for them, regardless of whether I could understand.
A Trainer Doesn’t Need to Understand Everything
The agenda included several small group conversations. These discussions, all in French, were loud and lively. I was encouraged, even though I had no idea what they were saying.
Instead of my usual drifting around to check with the groups, I just stood back and let them do their work.
When the group reconvened for report-backs, they chatted away in French, bringing me into the conversation only when they wanted my input.
Trust the Group
Because significant portions of the day were beyond my control. I had no choice but to trust the group. I literally could not understand much of what they said. I didn’t know if they were learning what I wanted them to learn, or taking the material in a different direction.
This was a bit scary, but more than that, it was liberating.
This experience reinforced an important lesson about being a great trainer — give your trainees the best tools you can offer, then trust them to do the work they need to do.
Empowerment: The Same Thing in Any Language
To wrap up the day, I asked each person to say, in one word, how they were feeling about raising money for their organization.
Though much of what they said was in French, I could tell, from the excitement in their voices and satisfied looks on their faces, that the day had been a success. They had taken the material and created the first draft of a practical, ambitious fundraising plan.
Minute by minute, I hadn’t understood much of what happened during the day – but they were happy, and so was I.
The more you empower your workshop participants to do what they need to do, the better the result.