Maybe you’ve been there: You are delivering a new training program on management, leadership, or some other topic. At the outset, you notice some people seem to be keenly interested and others are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Hmm, this isn’t good. What’s happening?
You probably have a group of people possessing differing degrees of knowledge, experience, and expertise. Some people are happy to be there, others are wondering why they are there, and others are ready to leave at their earliest opportunity. This happens a lot when no one takes time to consider the audience.
If you did what you’re supposed to have done at the beginning, you included something about experience and skills in the course description. Something such as: “This course is for new employees with less than one year of experience doing ‘x.’” Or “This is a course for highly experienced professionals with more than five years of experience doing ‘x.’” That helps eliminate mixed groupings.
But sometimes you don’t have that luxury. Somebody in power decided to send “everyone” to the training. Great, so now what? Well, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to modify your content to meet the varying needs of your audience.
ADJUSTING TO YOUR AUDIENCE ON THE FLY
You need to find a way to leverage the varying degrees of expertise so everyone can benefit from it. Here are four simple steps to do that:
1. Take time to learn the extent of the varying degrees of experience and expertise. Ask participants, “How many have been doing this for less than a year (Group A), one to two years (Group B), three to five years or longer (Group C)?” Once you have a good idea of the varying experience levels, you can create two different groupings: one based on experience (As, Bs, and Cs separately) and a second grouping that is a mixture of varying years of experience (As, Bs, and Cs together).
2. Assign roles to the various groups. Assign the role of “reality checkers” to the Cs. They’ve been around the longest and probably have a good idea of what it’s really like on the job. Their role is to share their views, making the content more relevant and applicable. The As’ role is to ask questions as they probably will have the most. The Bs’ role is to be “progress experts.” Their role is to share their experiences about moving from novices to becoming more experienced. The objective of these groupings is to acknowledge and honor the various levels of experience and knowledge.
3. Once roles are assigned, modify how you present the workshop. Present one or two key learning points or skill practices to the entire group, then break the whole group into one of the two sub-groups, alternating the groupings throughout the course. The sub-groups discuss the presented topic among themselves and then share their thoughts, findings, etc., with the whole group. During the whole group sharing, ask the As to ask questions and the Bs and Cs to share their thoughts.
4. Share your opinions or the concepts you want to reinforce during the sharing with the whole group. That allows you to present “the preferred” way of doing things. Facilitating workshops in this manner teaches you a lot. You can learn what really happens from the Cs, what new people know and want to know from the As, and how people’s levels of knowledge and experience grow from the Bs. The more you do this, the more effective a trainer you’ll become.
Alan Landers is CEO of FirstStep Communications, LLC, and BPO with operations in Islamabad, Pakistan. He is an executive-level organizational development (OD) consultant with more than 35 years of experience. He also serves as president of FirstStep OD & Training.