When I was 17, a young, energetic and dynamic man burst through the auditorium doors in my JC with a big idea. He said - "If others could do it, so could you!" It was an impression that lasted with me for years to come. Indeed, I benchmarked all this person's achievements to my own. I was so inspired I actually became one of his trainers- at Adam Khoo Learning Technologies Group.
I was so fascinated at how one could use the right amount of words and energy to deliver a performance that could make a difference in people's lives. Adam made it look so simple. So easy. I was ready for my training debut. I had a meticulous battle plan. I rehearsed in front of the mirror. I did those positive affirmations. The mouth exercises to warm up y voice. I was ready for showtime.
I stood out for my very first training segment. And all the hard work that I put in finally....finally....finally... Finally didn't matter. Nothing could have prepared me for this. On the spot, I had to restart from scratch. Improvise. Adapt. Think on your feet. Hope the audience will laugh and cheer. This is the life of a trainer. Where your preparation can only take you through the doors of the seminar room. The rest, well, is all down to the unexpected. And how do you prepare for the unexpected?
1. You stand on the shoulders of giants.
Sir Isaac Newton did say that "If ever I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." No amount of theory could prepare you to face the crowd that could react in a thousand different ways. Some days your slapstick jokes gets them rolling on the floor laughing. Other days the same joke said in the same tonality and facial expression matches a fierce glare with the seminar skeptic with his arms all up on his chest. We prepare for these circumstances by looking at what our role models and even fellow trainers do in their seminars. We model what they do and how they respond. Some methods will speak out at us and tell us "Why didn't I think of that" while others would just snigger at us and tell us "Like that also can!" in full Singlish narrative. We model and borrow their strategies. We combine them together and make it our own. Add a flavour of ours inside. To take only from one person is considered copying. To borrow from many sources that's called market research. How are you learning the art of the craft by standing on the shoulders of the giants in your industry today?
2. It's a numbers game
When we were young, we knew that getting something we wanted was all about the numbers game. When we wanted something, we would ask Mom. If mom says no, let's go to Dad. When mom gives the death stare to Dad that narrates "Don't you dare!" we go to Grandma. When all else fails, wail uncontrollably. We seemed to have forgotten this as we got older. We got affected at step 1 and lets it get to us. Remember that not all of your comments and remarks would resonate with the crowd. Talk about cars to a bunch of engineers and you get them talking over lunch about how life can be defined as revolutions per minute. Talk about cars to a group of environmentalists and you know your narrative would change. If you expect a certain kind of response from your audience based on each time you say something, that's definitely the shortest route to disappointment. We must learn that when the audience gives poker faces, it is a sign of telling you "We're processing" rather than "You're boring!" We must remember not to take it personally. Not to take it to heart. It's not that we cannot resonate or engage. It's just that we haven't got there yet. It's a numbers game. Bad joke. Move on. Next trick in the bag. Unleash.
You see getting better at the job is all about the numbers game. The more you test out new ways of doing things, the closer you are to get to your A game. The more failures you clock, the closer you get to success. You can choose to dwell in your failure of the moment and beat yourself up with narratives like "What If..." or "I should have....". Or you could treat this experience like collecting stamps on your loyalty card. You can only redeem success when you collect 20 stamps of rejections, not-so-good techniques, failures. And most importantly, keep moving forward and learn new things. Because you will find that in your trainings, the first few experiences you wouldn't do so well. That's because you didn't know much. But as you know better, you'd do better.
3. We hear, but do we listen?
When i had the chance to do my first corporate training, I was petrified. It was like one of those moments when you are riding on the roller coaster and your cart is slowly inching it's way to the peak of the drop, just waiting to plunge. One of the greatest advice that my mentor then gave was this - "Focus less on your performance and more on what the adults can learn." That made a whole world of difference. Because sometimes it ain't about what you can deliver, it is about what the audience needs to hear, see and do. But often times, we aren't listening enough because we only do it with our ears. We have to listen with our eyes - Do we observe a resistance to what we say through clenched fists and folded arms? or do we catch an eagerness to learn more about a certain topic with buttocks at the edge of their seats? Most importantly do we see an audience closed off and forced to come for the seminar or do we see enthusiastic human beings ready to receive the very knowledge that can change their lives? Do we listen to the pulse of what is not being said, the energy of what is really important and chatter of what brings your audience to life?
We sometimes focus too much on what we need to deliver. Sometimes it's more important to hear the voices on the ground and raise their volumes. Because you'll be amazed that sometimes when your audience speaks, they teach you the one thing that you didn't know , and you give them the opportunity to realise the one thing they often forget - that they matter.
4. Let's not find the perfect moment to teach but let the moment teach us
Before we go and speak at a seminar or training, many of us wish that our audience would be the perfect audience who would be obedient, attentive and eager to learn. Hanging on our every word. Longing for more. The best enthusiastic crowd ever. If only.
We wish for the perfect moment to teach the very things we set out to do. The lessons according to our lesson plans, to meet our key performance indicators and learning deliverables. To meet the synopsis on our programme preview notes.
But one day my mum pointed out to me that I wasn't teaching or training mathematics, communication skills or public speaking. I need to remember that I was teaching and training people. And sometimes we focus on moving so fast to get ahead of the content that we forget about the little learning moments that could happen in between.
I recall one of this defining experiences when one of the boys in the class had a learning disability. And how others had chided him for it. But how he was still able to take it so well. With a pleasant smile and cheerful disposition that masks the disappointment betrayed by his eyes. When the class had to do a team building activity, he was always the one that let them down. His smile was still there, accompanied by the apologetic refrain of "I'm sorry, guys!" Frustration and despair floated in the classroom. Until a person stood up and said , "Let's stop waiting for things to happen. What if we ask Shane to take the lead? You can do it Shane!" That voice. It was so convicted and empathetic, even though it was shaking. That voice gave power as Shane started opening up his shoulders. Growing with confidence, he started to take the lead and got the class moving to his pace. After all, it wasn't about how fast or how far you go. It's that when you go, you go together. And that moment perfectly enscapulated this lesson - the students started to hi-five Shane, give him a thumbs up. That smile on his face tells you that today is the first day of the rest of his lives, where he now has the courage to be comfortable in his own skin. You knew that moment would change his life forever.
They say life isn't measured by the number of breaths you take, but about the moments that take your breath away. This was one moment. That smile on his face, it reminded me why i do what I do. If only we stopped to listen and observe the moments evolving around us, we have the power to turn even the simplest of moments into impactful milestones that could change one's lives forever.
It isn't about waiting for the perfect moment. it's all about taking every moment you get and making it absolutely perfect.
5. If they ask you what do you make? Say I make a difference.
Many people who come up to me often ask me, "How much do you make per hour?" OR "Are you like one of those premium motivational speakers that charge for every word spoken?" Others then ask "Why do you do what you do?" "Why sacrifice such long hours? Saturdays and Sundays too?"
Sometimes, this can be quite a thankless jobs. For every person that writes you a touching appreciation letter, there are hundreds of others that comes in and out of your seminar room without saying a word, leaving a smile or even making eye contact.
Then what keeps us waking each day, sometimes at ridiculous hours, to do what we do? It is when you realise this is not just a job, but a calling. That you're not just here to give instructions, you'll here to coax the greatness out of others.
That you won't really see the impact of what you're doing in terms of accolades or praises. But one day, someone would do something differently because of what you said. And it'll never hit you that the impact that you can make is bigger than what you give yourself credit for.
One day I logged online and googled a certain hashtag, And in the massive spam of results that followed thus, I found an interesting blog was written by someone i had the blessings of crossing paths with. And she simply said in her post that her training experience with me wasn't like any other. Because in many other programmes, she learnt about leadership and communication, how to study or speak in front of a crowd. But this experience it gave much more - it taught her about herself.
When you hear stories like these, you are reminded of why those late nights, big sacrifices, time spent rehearsing your lines and honing of skills was worth it in the first place. Because all it takes is for you to make a difference to just one person. And to do it with all your heart.
In the affable words of the irrepressible Jim Carrey , "I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. Everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart."
Because being a trainer, just like living your life, is all about the heart work you do after the hard work is said and done.