Sometimes the best way to teach is to not play the expert, but rather to disguise your expertise—to let participants learn lessons through your guidance rather than through your lectures. This approach can increase group involvement, spawn curiosity, and encourage attendees’ creativity.
But it requires careful positioning on the instructor’s part. You need to retain your leadership while loosening the reins of authority. The more we take on the role of an expert or authority, the less likely people are to seek their own answers or solve their own problems. To remind myself that I should be more of a facilitator or coordinator than an expert, I keep this axiom in front of me and communicate it to participants: Life is a do-it-to-yourself project.
The instructor-led, participant-centered approach should mirror that axiom. It is designed to allow participants to gain insight into how they learn, solve problems, and find their own answers.
The Do-It-Yourself Project
For your own benefit and for the benefit of your participants, it is important to be clear from the outset that you are guide, but not a subject matter authority—even though you actually may be an authority.
If training is designed as a do-it-to-yourself project, participants must put in the effort themselves to get a return. The insights, discoveries, and decisions they make will be theirs, not yours.
That will increase participants’ ownership of solutions they help identify in the classroom, and may contribute to implementation of ideas later on. The method takes greater self-discipline on your part. It’s not easy to subdue the ego and hold your tongue when a ready answer evades your audience.
But by exercising discipline, you will help participants gain valuable skills in self-discovery that they cannot obtain any other way. Don’t fall prey to the fear that you’re a less valuable contributor than you might be if you shared your years of insight. Your visibility may not be as great as it could be, but the effect will be greater.
You may, however, face some problems. Some participants may not cooperate. They may seem indifferent, make critical comments, or show up late for class. That’s part of the process.
If you’re patient, participants will resolve problems themselves. That’s part of the chemistry of small group interaction. Group members are accountable to one another, sometimes without realizing it.
The behavior of one member reflects on the behavior of others. Each person, then, becomes part of the change process for every other person. Be careful not to abdicate your leadership. Maintain control in a low-key way, by directing the ebb and flow of the session and enforcing agreed-upon guidelines firmly. Show your interest by being available to talk with students for at least 15 minutes before and after each class.
Make your planning and preparation evident. Doing so will create a strong program and will emphasize the point that training is a do-it-to-yourself project for attendees.
Empower, Inspire, and Equip People to Be Their Best
Our purpose as trainers is not primarily to counsel, interpret, or instruct—or to lead people to believe we are going to answer all their questions. It is to empower, inspire, and equip them to be their best. Let the seminar, the instruments, the projects, the case studies, the other materials, and the students themselves serve as resources participants can draw upon to solve their problems and develop plans of action. You may be surprised how much expertise is in the room—even if you never show your own.
Until next month—add value and make a difference!