The Vocation to Train

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Training wasn’t my first choice. I spent much of my youth collecting heroes and role models; Salvador Dalí featured prominently, so I pursued a life in the arts. I loved, and love creating and pursuing art. When it comes to Business Communication Training, I’m a legacy. My parents are excellent trainers. I also belong to a family of great educators and communicators. I mention this, because part of my adolescent rebellion was moving away from this world. Something changed in Mexico.

During my four years at Parsons, I would mostly spend September-May in New York and May-September in Caracas; where ERC, my parents’ company generously supplied me with summer work as a graphic designer for their training material. Early on, I approached my work with the ignorance and arrogance of youth.

The summer after my junior year, my father invited me to join him on a training trip to Guadalajara, Mexico. My job was to film participant videos and to assist him. He was delivering our presentation skills program. It was a two-day course. By the time we took a lunch break on day one, I was shocked. I had witnessed changes that I hadn’t expected to see at the end of the program, a quarter of the way through.

Education equips you with new lenses to observe the world. I remember that after one of my first drawing classes, I was never able to see the horizon the same way again. I always looked for the curving at the edges, observed what was above and below it and connected my fingers in L-shapes to frame what I saw. After Guadalajara, I observed my teachers, looking for their strategies to maintain focus and inspire action. How would they present? What role did anecdotes play? Would they show their own work or other artists’ work? Why? Drawings, quotes and notes on education were filling my sketchbooks.

I have worked full-time in training for 13 years. One of my favorite jobs is developing new colleagues; training trainers. My guiding philosophy is defined by a simple statement: It’s not about me. My success is defined by my participants’ experience and success.

Delivering training is an easy way to pad your ego. Great presentation skills, results and applause can go to your head. But, just like when you’re a presenter, the audience is the star (hat tip to Nancy Duarte) — when you’re a trainer each participant is the star.

Its wonderful when I see the vocation take hold in a new trainer’s eyes. I’m inspired by the skill, confidence, sensitivity and passion that I see in people who are prepared to change lives, through teaching new skills and giving participants new lenses to experience their world.

From Business Book to Training Program (Part 1)

When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.
— Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym

Five years ago, I embraced a challenge that changed my professional life.

I received a PowerPoint deck that our friend Andréa had presented to a Professional Women's association in Brazil. She shared stories and case studies that were at the heart of her book: Valor Feminino (Published in Portuguese – translates to "Female Value").

The deck was filled with interesting insights and detailed facts; but, it took me a few views to understand what the presentation was about.

My initial assignment was to redesign the presentation, so that she could deliver it in other venues. I had been doing a lot of this kind of work, taking an "okay" presentation and making it look better. This project required a different approach – This presentation wanted to be a training program.

Structuring the presentation like a course would support the publication of the book, empower the author and give actionable life lessons to the audience.

 

Step 1 – Active Listening

Listening to understand is not easy. It's a skill that requires curiosity, concentration and self control. It's difficult to turn off the part of your brain that wants to interrupt, add your two cents or make a proposal.

Listening leads to good work, by reducing the time and energy that is wasted in correcting misunderstandings, especially when they are revealed late in a project and require big changes.

We made listening and exploring Andréa's needs for her program a team effort. We knew we had to align our results to her goals.

We used verbal probes to align our efforts to:

  • Her Objective: Share powerful tools for Brazilian women to succeed in business
  • Her Audience: Brazilian women

This meant boiling the message, the case studies and the stories to specific skills that she could teach and that they could make a part of their lives.

 

We will publish part two of "Turning your Business Book into a Training Program" Wednesday, May 20.

Communication and Leadership

Transient

I am often approached by clients requesting leadership training programs. When I probe them to be more specific, they don't always know exactly what they want. They tell me, "We need to develop better leaders at all levels". 

There are many factors that impact leadership. In addition to basic knowledge and general (and emotional) intelligence, here are a few key leadership traits: 

  • Leaders understand the past and focus on the future
  • Leaders exude confidence and energy
  • Leaders have a positive attitude
  • Leaders are good problem solvers
  • Leaders are great communicators

Many of these traits are innate, others can be taught. For example, to teach someone to have the right attitude is extremely difficult, not impossible but quite challenging. However, my message is this: If you have potential leaders who are smart, capable, confident and possess the right attitude, invest in improving their communication skills.  Communication- public speaking, listening, writing, influencing- can be greatly improved in a short time and taken to new heights. It will make an immediate impact. Potential leaders will gain confidence, see themselves in a stronger leadership role and be perceived as leaders by others.

 

On the Value of Proof in Adult Education

Sometimes a teacher speaks to your spirit and brings light to blind spots obscured by fear. This darkness often serves your comfort, efficiency and emotional stability, but creates little of real value. As educators, it's our job to tear down the curtains, knock down the walls and turn on the lights. Every class is a hypothesis we prove at the end.

A solid proof hits you intellectually and emotionally. Here's one that changed my life:

I was an illustration major, well into my college career, when I entered a drawing class unlike any I had ever taken. Things began conventionally enough: I found a surface, set up my supplies, the model posed and for five minutes I drew a reasonable facsimile. I followed the art school formula: A little charcoal, a little time and a lot of nudity. However, after the five minutes ended, everything changed.

Our professor collected every student's first drawing and boldly promised that when the course was over, our one-minute drawings would be measurably better than the five-minute piece we had just completed. This statement was followed by a colorful assortment of doubtful noises.

It was easy to be skeptical. Our class objectives were often built into personal anecdotes that to my short life and narrow experience gave my teacher a folk hero's stature. It all seemed too grandiose, hyperbolic, every tale felt a little too tall. But when the course was over, I looked down at that first drawing, and in the light of better, quicker pieces; I shed my skepticism. Proof.

I was primed to look for a structure that could produce that result when I joined ERC. Thankfully, I found it. Whether we are listing, then surpassing, your goals or documenting your progress on video, we believe in practice and proof. You test every idea we share and measure it next to your own "five-minute drawing."

How else could we expect you to make it a part of your life?