I spend a lot of time on the road, leading workshops.
I often work alone — it’s a one-person business. But over the years I’ve built a pretty diverse network of professional peers: trainers, consultants, facilitators, and practitioners of “nonprofit therapy.”
This network has been crucial to my success, self-confidence, stamina, and sanity.
Your Biggest Challenges as a Trainer
From time to time, we professionals play an informal game called, “What’s the most challenging experience you’ve ever had?”
This game includes a few sub-categories:
- Worst equipment malfunction
- Most annoying participant (who won’t stop talking)
- Travel horror stories
- The day your voice gave out
- Weirdest venue
- Etcetera, etcetera (you get the idea)
I’ve worked through power outages, a tornado warning — we all went into the basement and continued the conversation — and far too many hours in windowless hotel meeting rooms.
Once I handed out markers and flip chart paper, and encouraged each person to draw a window with their favorite view. We posted them on the walls.
You know what? It helped.
Overcoming Adversity: The Stepmother of Invention
I remember a photo of my colleague, Baird, out in a field. He’s standing behind a Suburban SUV with the rear doors flung open and large sheets of paper taped to the doors. The wind is blowing and he’s doing his damnedest to facilitate a workshop.
He looks pretty happy in that picture.
These stories are always about overcoming adversity: making do with what you have and giving it your best shot.
Going to Plan B — in an airport
My personal contest entry: sitting in a phone booth in O’Hare airport — this was before the era of cell phones and Skype — facilitating a workshop in a distant city.
Two people present had been to one of my workshops a few months earlier, so I drafted them to help: taking notes on the flip chart, drawing diagrams as requested, sharing success stories, and encouraging everyone to talk loudly enough so we could all hear.
Not my favorite day at work, but somehow it worked.
The best part: two people were thrust into leadership roles with no warning — “My flight was cancelled, can you help me lead this workshop?” — and they stepped up.
Leadership means empowering others
If you’re a beginning facilitator or trainer, every session might feel like a tornado warning or an impending power outage. Take heart — you will learn very quickly to trust the group, to rely on their support, and to engage them in problem-solving.
If you’re asked a question you can’t answer, use this old trick: kick it back to the group. “Great question, Serena. I’m not sure I know the answer — can anyone help?”
Good fundraising trainers understand that every workshop is an opportunity for leadership development.
Try it — Watch What Happens
If you try some of the exercises in our book, you’ll see that the trainer sets up the exercise, then steps back and lets the participants do the work.
When the exercise is complete, the trainer’s role is to ask questions and help everyone make meaning from what they have just experienced.
Breathe easy. Becoming a great trainer is much less stressful than facing a tornado or three days in a windowless hotel room.