“The key to success if often the ability to adapt” – Confucius
In a workshop we conducted in 2021, we delved into the idea and importance of how we project ourselves as trainers and facilitator.
Delivering training virtually and face to face, have some elements in common, and a lot of elements which are unique to each platform. Virtual training delivery comes with its own challenges, including how you’re coming across in the virtual space.
Is it important how we project ourselves to our audience members? Most of our participants agreed that it was – for without being able to gain and build trust with our audience, especially in a virtual environment, we’re unable to “light their candle” as one participant explained, to better show them their own reality. We also all have blind spots, being aware of our presence as facilitators allows us to develop and grow where we might be weaker. Going to the gym and doing the same workout, day in and day out, will probably keep you fit, but will also keep you at a plateau. Sometimes we need to increase our weights or run for longer, maybe even get a trainer to show us how much more we could be doing, or a better way to train.
Our presence also determines the environment we foster for our audience. Is it conducive to their ability to learn and retain the information we’re providing? Are we creating a safe space for them to flex their presence as learners?
Are you a car or a monkey?
To start the workshop, we did a quick activity. Displaying 2 images on the screen, one of a car and one of a monkey, we ask our participants which they would identify their trainer presence with and what the image portrayed about them.
Our co-founder Melanie describes herself as a monkey, because she is quite energetic and dynamic in her presence, using more pronounced body movement and arm gestures when she talks. A participant described himself as an elephant with a curious but gentle nose for learning, but an often-unintentional ability to stomp on someone’s feeling with the way he says things.
Another participant associated with the car, a Lego car to be specific, operating in a fixed way, but liking the ability to create and recreate herself like building with Lego. Another person who identified with the car image described herself as a convertible car, able to feel the sensations of not just speed and the wind in her hair, but also the environment, as she sees herself as an experiential learner and tries to create that experiential environment for her audience too.
This is an interesting activity to conduct with trainers and facilitators, to help them identify and describe their presence as trainers, maybe for the first time ever.
Unboxing The Facilitator in You
As trainers and facilitators, we bring a lot of our natural strengths to the training mix, but at the same time our perception has an ‘invisible boundary’ that might limit our abilities. Think of this as “The Box”. The box is on our heads and its impacting what we can see and hear. To put it simply, the box contains all our thinking, reasoning, and judgements. With the help of the concept of the box, you can understand what your ‘current facilitators box’ looks or feels like by exploring your filters, and then work towards creating an ‘ideal box’ for yourself – one that will not limit your thinking. We encourage you to be Thinking in and Out of the Box!
It is assumed that our natural approach is the most suited, but situations may arise wherein we need to make conscious adjustments to rebuild ourselves by adopting different tactics and approaches. It is important to note that not only the design and activities we choose impact the outcome of our training sessions, but we as trainers have a great impact as well. How we make our learners feel, the environment we create can be either conducive for learning or distracting. That is the very reason why we must constantly evaluate and be aware of our approach. Is it working for our learners or not? If it isn’t, we need to pause and recalibrate.
At the Learning Gym, our focus has been to help trainers and facilitators ‘unbox’ their training style and work on how to tweak them to different situations. While delivering their lessons we help them recognize their ‘natural facilitator presence’ and discover what they can do to create a far more powerful impact in the room.
In our endeavor to support learning professionals in their journey to discover their ‘true’ facilitator box or style, our methodology focuses on two key concepts: Prominence and Gravitas (P&G), the two dials we can play with to change our present approach or image based on the different situations before us.
Prominence is defined as how much or how little you are noticed. Some of us, by our very nature, have high levels of prominence, while some of us have low levels of prominence.
Depending on the type of situation before us, we can dial up or dial down our prominence levels. For instance, as a trainer if you want to be at the center of attention, then you can dial up your prominence and spotlight yourself in a virtual setting. Everyone on the session then only sees you and isn’t distracted by other members. On the other hand, if you want to create space for your participants to create their own experiences, then you will have to dial down your prominence. At all times, it is important to assess and reflect on your natural levels of prominence. Firstly, what are your natural strengths that might come from your visible looks, your gestures, your body language or even from your voice and secondly; what are the possible blind spots you need to be careful about.
During one of the breakout sessions, a question posed – “how does one manage one’s presence when you have a co-facilitator?”. Indeed, a very valid concern when you are sharing space with another person, especially if you and your co-facilitator both naturally have a high or low level of prominence. It comes down to adjusting. For that, we need to be self-aware. We need to be ready to acknowledge and embrace our default dial settings.
For instance, it may be brought to your attention that you have a very loud voice, or you are highly animated. Your audience may hint to this high-octane energy that you bring to the table and you must be aware that at times this can overpowering and at other times it can be energizing. So, in such a situation what can you do? To steer focus away from you, you can have more breakout sessions, taking yourself out of the mix and allowing group work instead. Or you can use this high energy to pump up the room and get people switched on and ready to learn. There is no right or wrong way, but it is important to experiment. Co-facilitators shouldn’t compete or create issues for each other or the participants. Contracting out their respective roles, prior to the session, can enable both facilitators and audience to understand the roles you play in the session.
Like Prominence, Gravitas also impacts the way we are perceived and in turn how we are responded to. Gravitas is about how much or how little weight, power, and authority you speak or act with. For instance, a higher level of gravitas adds a certain amount of seriousness and focus, while a lower level of gravitas is about lightening the environment and the mood. It has been observed that gender biases come to the fore many a time as far as gravitas is concerned, wherein woman must work harder to establish their credibility to exact certain amount of seriousness, while men by virtue of being men, have far fewer issues in this area.
During another breakout session we asked participants to access where they were on the Prominence and Gravitas scales. What were their strengths as a trainer and what did they need to be mindful of or need to develop, in terms of their presence as trainers?
It is important to be aware enough to read the room – What exactly do I need right now? Do I need to dial up my gravitas because they aren’t taking me seriously or do I need to dial down my prominence because I am not creating space for people to express themselves?
To influence how high or low your P&G is, one can play around with visual, vocal and verbal cues in our training rooms. Visually, we can play with our background, clothing, gestures, facial expressions, movement, eye contact, distance to camera, technology functions and platforms used. On the vocal aspects, we can play with tone, volume, speed, pause and intonation. While the verbal aspects are determined by the choices of terminology, formal or causal language and fillers.
By default, we all have a ‘presence’, however the key is to understand your natural presence and how to dial up or down as required with agility to create the optimal impact for your participants.