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Friday, October 29, 2010

Establishing a connection with your trainees

A great practice that successful speakers and trainers follow is to establish a connection with their audience early on in their speech. Abraham Lincoln was a master of this practice and succeeded in connecting with even hostile audiences that were fundamentally opposed to his policies. Establishing a rapport with your trainees makes them more receptive to you and hence makes the training more effective.

One might argue that establishing a connection with the trainees is not always possible. But the key is to remember that, unless you are a reclusive cave-dweller, you are connected with others in probably ways more than one. (Even reclusive cave-dwellers are on some social-networking website these days!) It is impossible to not find some common ground or connection.

In a training class that I attended recently, we had to do a role-play activity that taught us how to find common ground with your audience where none seems to exist. I was assigned the character of Winnie the Pooh (a stuffed teddy bear kind of cartoon character) and I had to pretend that I was addressing a group of Manchester United (English football club) fans to reinforce their support for the club. First, I had to convince the Man U fans that I had plenty in common with them or their club. At first this seemed so completely ridiculous that I had to resist the urge to laugh out loud. But when I put my mind to it, I realized to my surprise that there are a few ways in which Winnie the Pooh can connect with Man U fans. For example, Winnie the Pooh often gets into trouble, but always wiggles out because he has a good support system – a bunch of loyal friends. In the same way, Man U can always bounce back from defeat thanks to the unflinching support of the legions of its fans.

The exercise taught me that it is quite possible to identify with your trainees one way or the other, if only you put your mind to it. And it is a worthwhile thing to do, because it makes your audience warm up to you and be more receptive. This ultimately makes training more effective.

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