Tip #137: Don’t Make Assumptions About Your Effectiveness

I am a highly interactive facilitator. This means that if the folks in my training session don’t actively participate, my goose is generally cooked. And, by active participation, I mean being verbally rather than telepathically responsive.

A number of years ago, I was asked to conduct a workshop on different personality types for a conference of certified public accountants. There were probably 150 folks in the workshop. Now, this was a great topic, wonderfully interesting and engaging, and lots of fun for the participants and for me! I began by asking them to think about someone with whom they have terrible difficulty communicating. I cautioned them that hopefully this person was not a boss, a spouse or a significant other. That comment typically gets at least a titter, but I got NOTHING! There was absolute silence…

So, I tried harder! I began to explain the four different personality types and how they perceived each other. I used humorous anecdotes, drew on people in the audience (by using their names from their name tags) for mock role plays, and showed funny cartoons. Still NOTHING. The group was completely quiet. However, the good news was that they were all still looking at me. This told me either that they must be interested -or they had all learned how to sleep with their eyes open!

By the time the workshop was done, I was completely wiped out. I didn’t have another ounce of energy, enthusiasm, or humor left. The woman who had hired me came up to me with a huge smile on her face. She told me that the group had LOVED me and would I come back the next year and do another workshop for them? I was absolutely stunned. Luckily, I restrained myself from asking her –How could you tell they were alive?”

I learned (again the hard way!) that folks can be totally interested in a topic, feel that they are learning a lot, and truly enjoy the experience, even if they don’t show it. I slammed headfirst into the reality of different learning styles. Now, these days if I have a very quiet group, I draw a few participants aside at the break to check how things are going. Invariably, what I hear is that everything is fine and to keep doing what I am doing.

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