Crucial Skills®

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Trainer Insights

From the Road: Insights From Just down the Street and around the Corner

Steve WillisSteve Willis is a Master Trainer and Vice President of Professional Services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

Like many of you, I spend a majority of my time on the road (hence the title of this column). So it was a new experience to be off the road for a three-week stretch. It also allowed for a new type of teaching experience.

It happened at the conclusion of a lesson I sat through at church. The instructor, Joe, asked me to stay behind after class, and despite the painfully vivid warnings my seventh grade memories generated, I agreed.

When everyone left, Joe confessed, “I studied this thing forever. I must have read it three to four times, and spent about two and half hours prepping for this twenty-minute lesson. Then one tough question, and bam, I’m rambling man Joe. I guess I need to spend more time in prep.”

Now right up front, you need to know that insufficient prep time was not the big problem. Something was happening during his teaching time that is a little more difficult to observe from the instructor’s vantage. Someone would ask a question that couldn’t be answered in the set of points he was supposed to make, he’d open his mouth, and introduce rambling man Joe to the group.

What Joe really needs is better stalling skills. The best teachers, trainers, and facilitators use stalling skills to create a little space so they can process the question before they respond. They don’t feel as though they have to know the answer to every question. But they are skilled at creating a little time to allow themselves to think before they respond.

If this sounds (or feels) familiar to you, here are a couple of my favorite tips:

  1. Ask the group what they think. This old standby gives you a chance to think, gets the group involved, and other students often give really good answers.
  2. Defer until later. It’s ok to say something like, “That’s interesting. I haven’t thought of that before. Let me think about it and get back to you in the morning.” Or even, “That’s interesting. Could we talk about that during the break?”
  3. Ask the person for some clarification. Either ask them to give a little more detail, or even ask them why they are asking the question.

If you create a little space for yourself to think, there is no need for long pauses, slowing the rate of your speech, or jumping in with a half-thought-out response.

If you have additional ideas, let’s continue the conversation below. Hope to see you at REACH!

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2 thoughts on “From the Road: Insights From Just down the Street and around the Corner”

  1. Mary North

    One of my favorite ‘stalling techniques’ is to ask the questioner either what they were thinking about that caused the question, or simply, “That’s really interesting. What do YOU think?” Often times, a question is a thinly veiled need to make a statement or to process aloud. By asking the participant what they were thinking it is in essence giving permission for him/her to share his/her view.

  2. Steve Willis

    Hi Mary, I think this a wonderful approach. It puts the responsibility for learning back on the participant. So many times I see trainers assuming that role and allowing the participants to be passive. Thanks for you insight.


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