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Graham David

When You’re Delivering Training, How “In Charge” Should You Be?

 I don’t know when you were at school, whether it was relatively recent or back in the dawn of time. I left school in the mid-80’s and one of my best teachers was called Mr. Howe. Mr. Howe was brilliant. He taught commerce. He could’ve probably taught anything and still have been brilliant because of the particular way that he interacted with his students. Mr. Howe had an ability; a knack, if you like. One minute to be laughing and joking with the class, the very next to be getting us all working in absolute rapt silence.

How did he do this? Well, there were many things that Mr. Howe did that another of his less successful colleagues just never managed. In later years, I discovered a book by Keith Johnson called Impro. While this was a bit of a bible for anybody involved in drama studies, it also had some interesting ideas on the way that people react with others, which of course in the field of L & D is very useful. In this book, Johnson explains his idea of Status Specialists. He talks about most of us preferring to be high status or low status and that the people who interact well with their surroundings are able to switch often very, very quickly between High and Low Status.

I was thinking about Mr. Howe and this was exactly what he did. One minute he would be laughing and then a beat later it was “Right, let’s get going now” and the whole group would happily get on with what we had to do. When something funny happened, even if it was at the expense of Mr. Howe, he would laugh. Likewise, when someone needed to be asked to calm down or somebody had even not done their homework and Mr. Howe gave them “the look”, we all knew it was pretty serious. I was thinking back to some other teachers at that time. You might remember some of these types yourself. Most schools and most people I know have several of those Status Specialists but, more often than not, they have teachers that split into these two other camps – high status and low status.

The High-Status teacher would be the one who has to be in charge all the time, who will have no dissent at any point, probably no joy in the classroom; who will expect things to be done when they say, how they say. These people were feared, but certainly not respected.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the low status teacher, frequently a supply teacher, someone desperate to show their nice side, who wanted to be liked, who wanted to get you on their side. I don’t know about your school, but at mine these people were prey!

I think that both of these approaches are fundamentally flawed because neither of them is going to work all the time which is why being a status specialist is so important. I think it’s important when you’re training as well. I think most of us have seen those very self-important trainers. You know the types.

“Turn to page 14. Don’t read ahead.”
“Okay, this is the Mehrabian pie chart. Who’s seen this? If you have, don’t say anything. ”

“Right. We’re now going to do a bit of roleplay. Just a bit of fun. We’ll all make idiots of ourselves together, c’mon. We’ll all get you involved. Who wants to volunteer? Just you volunteer before I start picking people.”

It’s a command and control basis and it doesn’t work, but nor does the really friendly, really relaxed, really “Yeah if you want to, we can. If you don’t want to, that’s fine too.” The best trainers surely are those that discovered the secret Mr. Howe used so well. Those who can in one minute ask the audience to take part in an activity. The next, happily fall about in laughter as something goes wrong.

Where does it say that corporate training has to be serious? Why is it so important that the person at the front of the room has to maintain a know-it-all status? That fact is none of us do. Any of our delegates can find any of the information we’re currently selling with a quick search on Google or YouTube. This isn’t a plea for “wacky” or “zany” training either – I take what we do very

seriously .. but our intention shouldn’t define our presentation.

Our skill surely is in how we bridge that gap, whether between technology and people, whether between people in the room, or how we start to take training content and make it practical and useful for our delegates. It’s that ability to switch between “I now want you to do this” and “Yep, that is funny” that makes a massive difference.

Are you a high status trainer? A low status trainer? Or have you cracked the title of Status Specialist?