So I Conduct Global Training Over The Internet And I Look Inside My Stomach Hard for The Butterflies

WebEx Screenshot

I am not trained as a trainer but the training opportunities find their ways to me, over the years, since I have started my humble career.  It’s always a full circle, from one end to another, from another end to the same one I have started from.  You strategize, you design a new business process, you put in place a piece of technology, you create a communication and marketing pack, and then you train.  It is because ultimately it is human who is going to be trained on how to use that shinny new piece of technology to enable a new business process that is aligned to a strategy.  That pretty much summarize what I do for a living.

Over the years, I have learned much on the art of training, from my peers, the people below and above me, and my audience.  Over the years, I have trained a small classroom of people to a crowd that filled a hotel ballroom.  I love to train.  Especially those that have a dose of uncertainties like the breakout groups.  Time and time again, people pull me aside and ask if I find talking about the same topic boring.

Not at all.

Each group is different.  The rapport and the effort put in to build the rapport is different.  Each group has its own challenge.  And in as much as my objective is to impart knowledge, my personal goal is to learn from my audience, through group sharing, through the questions they ask, and through the observation on what works for them.  I love the accumulation of war stories and confidence and success as I maneuver from one group to another.

One good friend of mine used to tell me that if we can feel the butterflies on our stomachs, it is a good sign.  It shows that success matters.  It keeps us on our toes.  She told me that each of us has a personal ritual to go through prior to the conduct of the training.  I have not shared mine with her.  I used to pray in the toilet prior to showtime.  Yes, I too used to feel the butterflies.  It’s a feeling that can be unsettling.  What if I couldn’t deliver the speech that has been written and rewritten a thousand times?  What if I couldn’t connect to the audience?  What if they see what I don’t know instead of what I do know?  What if …

Though I dreaded the butterflies, thank God most of the sessions I came out OK (some with good recognition).  These days, I am at that one end of the cycle again: It’s training time.  What is different today from the past is that due to the duration and depth of this global initiative that I have been working on, I am very comfortable in conducting the training.  And after all the local classroom training I helped to conduct, the next step is to reach out to the rest of the world.

Since I am not that keen to travel – love Singapore too much! – I am happy to conduct training over the Internet (we use WebEx just in case some of you may be able to relate).  It is a whole new experience.  At my laptop, I can see who have dialed in, I can punch in a telephone number inside the software and it will make the necessary call to the participants who can’t get connected, I can mute individual phone lines (you’ll be amazed at how many people accidentally put their phones on hold and all of a sudden, everyone logged in hear some music played), I can present a document, share an application, see the Q&A window gets populated, chat room that keeps the private and public messages popping.  Wow … very funky!

Initial excitement aside, it can be hard.  At times I feel like I was a DJ talking to myself.  Imagine this: you are in a meeting room, alone, in front of you a laptop and a speaker phone.  Everyone is on mute.  And you keep talking, no faces to be seen, no responses to be heard, just you and your voice hoping that someone is awake on the other side of the telephone line.  Do they like the pace?  Can they understand me?  Do they get my lighthearted comments?  Are there VIPs in the call?  No idea.  Silence.  Just me and my voice and the speaker phone.  All the way from “Welcome to our today’s training session” to “Thank you for your time and you may disconnect now”, do people get fired for delivering a lousy training over the Internet?

No idea.

At times I wish there were a few butterflies in my stomach, to get me in the mood with heightened alert.  Sessions after sessions, I look forward to the online Q&A the most.  Because that is the only variation I encounter.  Oh gosh, wouldn’t that become really … boring?

Well, you know me, I can’t stand boredom.  So, each web training I conduct, I always tried to crack a totally different set of jokes (like instead of meeting Bill Gate for lunch, for the same scenario, I golf with Steve Jobs … and then, I drop this scenario altogether and crack another joke on a different situation), share a different set of stories, deliver the same message in a slightly different way, rearrange things just a little bit – do something that keep my sanity.

I am not trained as a trainer but I love to train.  And no, I am not a full time trainer.  I just step into a role available while having another role to play.

Large Group Activity With Straws And Masking Tape … And A Twist

My friends from my last job, I am sure, can readily relate to what I am going to write here. Head to part 2 if you wish. For the benefit of the rest of the avid readers, let me elaborate just a little bit. In the past, some of our projects involved having a full day workshop with a large group of clients (anywhere from 20 to 80). You see, giving lecture on strategy can be boring to the participants, even if it is half an hour per topic. Having break-out sessions brainstorming on how to articulate and measure strategy can be both tiring and dry. So what we consultants did was to make their days fun and memorable. The intangible value as you may say. These are the people who have stepped out of their daily operation and have a chance to finally socialize. To us, we have a piece of deliverable to complete and we need to tap onto their brains. To them, they just want to have a good time and finally get to chat with the girl in the next cubicle near to them or near the other door far far away.

It is not until I have made a switch out of my last career do I realize what it is like viewing from the other side. Recently I have attended a team building event organized by an external party hosted at Sentosa. I must say, the event triggered a walk down the memory lane and some of the ideas that this organizer has is refreshing.

PART ONE – SELLING THE FUN FACTOR

There are many ways to get work done. Nothing beats the fun way. In the past, I was used to have a group of capable and creative consultants who took part in spicing up the events. If I am going to sell you a piece of work that involves X number of people Y number of hours in a duration of Z number of weeks and you will have this wonderful piece of deliverable that propels your organization to a higher level, you may bite onto it, you may not. If I am going to sell you a series of events and working sessions that not only will you have the same piece of deliverable, but also your team (apparently large) will have a chance to bond with one another, new ideas will be harvested from the ground (read: buy in … further read: change management) … and you can even throw in a BBQ session in the end of the day so as to boost morale. Now, that sales pitch flies, I am telling you.

To make the day fun, it is not that hard. First, split the boring stuffs (read: real work) into pieces. Make sure they are well spaced out with a 10.30am tea break (cannot be too close to breakfast nor lunch) and a 4pm tea break. If the group is new, throw in an “Icebreaker” activity. At appropriate timing, throw in an “Energizer” activity to break the monotonous of the facilitated session. Or just to re-focus the audience back onto the day’s activities. Did you know that when you gather a group of people after the lunch hours, their minds are still somewhere out there? An “Energizer” activity helps them to forget what occupies their minds and to bring them back to Planet Earth.

My team has lots of creative ideas. We seldom recycled the same activity too many times. And we always found ways to add a twist to the old games. There are many ways to carry out “Icebreaker” activity. The key is to let people get to know one another better. One of my favorites is to ask each person to draw a symbol that represent themselves on a piece of paper and within each group, go round the circle and present what this symbol means to them. In turn, we consultants got to pick people in random to present their pictures on stage. It is really not that tough to find some funny ones. Usually you can judge the reaction from the audience to see which one to pick. And don’t forget to pick up the ones from the bosses. People usually have a good laugh out of it. Of course, you can ask everyone to stick their pictures onto the walls so that people get to see what others are like during breaks.

“Energizer” usually ties back to the theme of the topic the consultants want to talk about next. Some can be as simple as a quiz with simple scoring system. Some can be as straightforward as a puzzle solving competition amongst teams. Perhaps I am an engineer in training, I love the ones that involve people building things.

Straws and masking tape are wonderful materials when it comes to building activities. Off the head, we used to have “build a bridge” or “build a tower”. The specifications are flashed out via the projectors and each team is given 20 mins or half an hour to complete the task.

PART TWO – MORE STRAWS AND MASKING TAPE

What a role reversal. Now I get to play the games that the external organizers put together! Hooray! I was excited because for the past two years or so, I only got to see people play the “Energizer” games, scratching my head and the heads of my team to think of the next better and more fulfilling game.

For one of the indoor games that we played in Sentosa, the objective was simple: build a track to keep a ping pong ball in motion. Whichever team that clocks in the longest time wins. Each team was given 1 hour to complete the task.

1 hour?! Isn’t it a bit … too long.

I was amazed at how time flew.

The twist I was talking about is not keeping a ping pong ball in motion for the longest time (though I must say it is refreshing on its own). 15 minutes into the activity, we were instructed to send 2 of our members into another team for 5 minutes and in return, we received 2 new members from a different team (hence, not a swap of team members between two teams but rather a rotation of team members). It was interesting because suddenly there was new idea injecting into the our team and those who got send away would bring back new idea from a totally different team.

30 minutes into the activity, we were asked to abandon our own track and to take over our next team’s work. That was actually quite interesting. Some of our initial reaction was … to sabotage another team’s work. But that quickly dissolved I am sure. Others worked on the half baked track in fear that we have to take over the work from then on. Of course, some of us genuinely wanted to help.

I still remember how much shock we had when we looked at the track that hardly worked. One side of the support was collapsing and we were at lost as in what to do next. I started working on the support and some others started working on the track. And within 10 minutes, we actually got a working prototype! We loved it so much that we did not want to move back to our old track – but we did have to, as announced by the organizer.

You would have thought that we all more or less built the same thing right? Well, while we all have the concept of oscillation in order to keep the ball in motion for as long as possible (according to the organizer, not many actually thought of that) and we all finished on time (our department is responsible in delivering projects … duh … job hazard), our designs varied. My team has come up with a very neat and simple design rested on table with moderate height. One team has the height of twice of ours rested on the floor. Another team went for the length. One created a very long track (about 4 meters) with a few humps. Another one made a small circular track that spiralled towards the center. I noticed that those teams that built the structure on the floor, the structure itself tended to be a lot bigger.

Another interesting piece of fact is that the result did not vary much despite such a variation in design. The timing was in the region of 40 seconds for all of us. I wonder if I can create a mathematical model based on that one day. It is a pretty fun game. Give it a try when you have a large group next time.

Jackpot Machine

Jackpot Machine can be thought as a happiness machine.  Putting coins in the machine can be thought as all the pain and unhappiness.  What happens is you keep on suffering hoping that some great rewards shall arrive.  But how many of us can win in the end?

Spent the whole morning calling up people.  Called up Jenny and got my date of arriving at Jakarta fixed.  Called up Ginger and has my flight detail booked.  Have to pay a lot more as there is no more seat available.  Called up Mum and told her my schedule.  Finally called up Toby and had a good chat.

In the afternoon, went over to BNP and had a training there.  Version 5 seems more sophisticated then the SocGen version.  Had a long coffee break with Alvin in one of the café nearby.  The last time we did it was in Singapore.

I had this craving for Japanese food.  Don’t know why.

Goodbye Autumn, Las Vegas Here I Come!

Hey, finally today was the beginning of my holiday.  Right now, I am in Las Vegas, the city of desert full of casinos and very gorgeous women.  Okay, let’s rewind a bit and talk about what happened yesterday.

In fact, I have to go back to two nights ago.  Thursday night that is.  Well, Colin slept early but I thought of going to the Social Centre for no one would be around the subsequent night.

Went down there at eleven and met Kevin, Ciaran and their mates.  Decided to go downtown with them, we set off at eleven thirty.  There were altogether six of us.  James (American), Ciaran, Kevin, two Austrians and myself.  It was, later on, quite obvious that the two Austrians felt in love with each other.  The gorgeous little one is called Racheal and the guy is called Mack (?).  Anyway, we went to the pub called Scotland Yard and just in time for the last call (good timing, huh?).  We ordered one round of shots and each ordered their “main course”.  I ordered one beer.  In the end, we ended up having one more shot and I was basically pissed.

As it was kind of early, we decided to go the Cadelae Ranch (?).  The one I went for during my last trip (by the way, exactly one year minus two weeks ago).  We had some fun but the atmosphere was different. Last time we had (or more correctly I knew of) more nice babes. S tayed there till three thirty and had to get up at half six.

Okay, back to yesterday.  Obviously I was very tired the next day.  We finished the coding and busy doing documentation.  In the end, I think the presentation was pretty good with me doing the “keyboard man” and Ciaran be the Mr. Charm.  Autumn stopped me and examined my tie and she seemed to like my “tie of the day” as well.

Lunch time came and I felt very void.  Really missing those great guys I have meet.  I always have that kind of feeling.  One week is really too short to get to know anybody in depth.  It is just like another phase of life and one has to just move on.

Started packing up for a while and had to meet up with CH at two.  Three of us (Colin, CH and me) went to Charles Town Mall and “wasted” three and a half hours there.  If only we held the car key (which we didn’t).  CH wanted to buy toys for his kids.  What to do?

Headed off the Chicago at half five, caught in a traffic jam and for me, I just slept in the back seat of the car all the way.  Colin and I wanted Pizza but CH was the fussy one.  In the end, we ended up in the Hard Rock Café where the food was not really that fantastic.  Returned to the Centre at half past twelve, packed up my stuffs, sent a fax to Jennifer as I haven’t filled in my time report (and I can’t because the floppy drive of this notebook doesn’t work).

Hence (wrapped the long story), slept at two o’clock and have to wake up at half past five this morning.  Not enough!

The flight was at nine in the morning and arrived at Las Vegas sometime in the late afternoon (another 2 hours different).  At a first glaze, the place really looks like a desert to me (yet to find some cactuses).  But seriously, really amazed in how wonderful this place is.  Took a lot of photographs and hope they all turn out fine.

Sorting out the accommodation and the rental of the car was really a headache; but in the end, we have got it all sorted out.  The motel (called “Comfort Inn”) really looks like the one in Pulp Fiction but it is not as bad I hope.

Went out and had a very nice (and inexpensive) dinner.  We had the main course – Steak and Lobster – for just seven bucks each.  Colin gambled a few times.  The first time, he put in twenty bucks and got back the original amount (he could have more if he pulled out earlier).  The second time he walked in, he lost thirty bucks.  His favourite is the Roulette and as for me, I just don’t want to get into gambling.

Called up my Dad this afternoon and it is always a pleasure talking to my old folks.  The whole street (called the ‘Strip’) was full of neon light attraction and of course, with a lot of people.  The way that the casinos spend building those wonders is just unbelievable.  My favourite one is the Treasure Island.  At around ten, we saw a large group of people gathering outside the Treasure Island.  First I must (try to) describe this hotel.  On the right hand side of the Hotel, there was a large ship (later on found out that it is a fleet from the British Navy).  On the left hand side, there was yet another smaller one (the pirate ship).  These two ships are separated by a bridge and the ‘sea’.

At ten, music began to play.  Two pirates in a small boat rowed towards the pirate ship and the play started.  True as I predicted, the one on the right moved towards the centre of the ‘sea’ and a quarrel started.

They fired at each other and got to say that the effort was very realistic.  Water shooting off from the ‘sea’ (as cannon missed the target), building on fire (again, missed) and ship on fire.  The effort was just great and really can’t find any other words to describe it.  Anyway, in the end, the British ship sank (partially) into the sea.  Really worth the fifteen minutes wait. Mirage Hotel is great as well.  A lot of decent waterfalls and they simulated a volcano eruption.  Using a lot of fire and lighting effect.  I just love the place.

What will we do tomorrow?  You will see.