There I stood, at the front of the room, introducing the workshop. After reviewing the agenda, and asking the group to suggest additions or changes, I offered the following.
“If you disagree with my advice, or any content in this workshop, please challenge me. It’s always a good session when somebody picks a fight, so bring it on.”
Everyone laughed, and the point was made. Smart people can disagree, and disagreement is good.
How do you feel about being challenged? How readily do you encourage disagreement? Do you embrace productive conflict? The answers to these questions will impact your effectiveness as a trainer.
The sage on the stage – or the facilitator with the accelerator?
Last month, I was talking with a friend who’s been in academia for decades – developing learning materials, helping in the classroom, serving on the board of his children’s school.
The traditional teaching model, he said, is “the sage on the stage.” The teacher doles out bits of wisdom while students write them down – and maybe remember a few.
This approach, he told me, is steadily being replaced by experiential models. Students create their own learning by working together to solve problems and generate new ideas. While subject expertise is helpful, the teacher serves more as a facilitator than an expert.
To which I murmured, “Amen!”
Good teaching is good facilitation. When you train effectively, you accelerate learning by sharing tools and creating opportunities for participants to try these tools. This is the opposite of droning your way through a slide deck.
How can you encourage participants to take a critical look at received wisdom, to test it out and make it their own?
An exercise that challenges what people think they know
Ten fundraising strategies are listed in random order. Participants assemble into small groups and work through the list, trying to sort these strategies into the proper order, from most efficient and effective to least efficient/effective. (People can take the quiz individually, but the small group quiz conversations are always pretty animated.)
I’ve used this exercise at least a hundred times and it’s very rare to see a perfect score. In many cases, six out of ten correct answers is the best result in the room.
It’s also a great door-opener to constructive disagreement. For example, somebody always wants to debate why fundraising events are ranked eight out of ten. This is a useful conversation for both event-diehards and the event-phobic.
Fundraising is a data-driven enterprise, and everyone can learn from that, even when you (or your students) disagree with the data. If this provokes debate, so much the better.
Challenge yourself to be wrong
When designing your next class or training session, add a piece or two that you want to learn more about, but haven’t mastered yet.
For example, I’m working on a train-the-trainer curriculum. I tested an exercise a few weeks ago and it pretty much bombed. That’s OK. It took only ten minutes out of a full-day workshop, and I received really useful input from the participants.
Give yourself the chance to try something new, succeed a little, fail a little, ask the group for feedback, and learn from you experience.