I nodded with satisfaction as I reviewed the schedule for my training programme. The client was a renowned company in the oil and gas industry in the country.
I’d been allocated four consecutive communication sessions to deliver for the company, culminating in a day-long programme. I designed the sessions and whittled down the topics to nonverbal communication, interpersonal communication, and email writing.
The participants were 91 sharp graduate trainees enrolled in a short training programme at a globally ranked business school in Africa. And I was honoured to join other esteemed faculty members to facilitate sessions in different segments. My sessions focus on communication. But other faculty tackled personal branding, ethics, influence, client management, and business partnerships.
At least 87 participants would be physically present in class, while the others were to join online. I hadn’t had so many people in one class post-pandemic, and given that participants were in their early to mid-twenties, I knew my sessions should not be boring or dry.
I set to work to prepare for the programme and enjoyed my time with the graduates.
Afterwards, I received the rating of my sessions from the programme organiser. I averaged a 4.8/5 and received positive feedback from the participants.
I always learn something new, no matter how minor, from every training programme I deliver. And this day-long communication programme was the same. I noted what made my sessions successful and what I should improve in future programmes. So, if you need to train inquisitive young minds on communication, below are three non-negotiable tactics you must take seriously.
#1: Prepare thoroughly
The one thing you should never do when delivering a communication programme for a young audience is underestimate them.
While you may be the expert, note that these professionals are tech-savvy and informed about many issues. Therefore, they’re unafraid of asking probing questions.
I prepared thoroughly by ensuring that my content was relevant and that my structure was simple. For the written segment of communication, I only tackled emails because I didn’t intend to overwhelm the participants by covering too much material.
I ensured that while I taught, I asked questions about their experiences. I treated them like equals and coaxed their thinking. My preparation and easy-to-follow structure provided a ‘flow’ that paved the way for interesting conversations.
When the audience perceives you’re genuinely interested in their experiences and that you want to help them get results (in my case, by communicating more effectively), they become receptive to your recommendations.
But treat them in a heavy-handed manner and watch them retaliate by being difficult. They could challenge you at every turn or become disengaged — leading to an uncomfortable experience and an unproductive session.
There were 91 of them, and there was just me. The maths wouldn’t have been in my favour if I didn’t respect their time by preparing adequately.
Always respect your audience, whether nine or 91 participants and prepare thoroughly for your communication sessions. Remember that they could blast their negative experience on social media.
Bottom line: Don’t risk your reputation and credibility by assuming that young professionals need more experience or status to warrant your excellent work.
#2: Become adaptable
A benefit of preparing thoroughly is that you become flexible with your content or delivery.
Some days before my workshop, I’d developed a bit of a cold and cough. Both had virtually disappeared before the training day, so I felt healthy enough to facilitate the programme. “Ensure you drink some water”, my husband advised, and I agreed. Moreover, facilitators were always provided bottled water in class to hydrate frequently.
I began and ended the first half of one session without incident. I also didn’t cough once. Because of the full class, I projected my voice more (even though I wore a lapel mic) and engaged with the participants online. There was laughter and good cheer in the class from the conversations and experiences shared.
Then we had a 30-minute break, so I retreated to my office. Fifteen minutes before I was to resume, I decided to rehearse in my office quickly. I opened my mouth to speak and was shocked that my voice had almost disappeared. I panicked. I drank some lukewarm water and tried again. But it was no use. My voice cracked, croaked, and became barely audible.
I assessed my options:
a) Cancel the class and reschedule (thereby upsetting the entire programme scheduling that spanned days).
b) Proceed, talk less, and reduce one activity.
I chose the latter.
I returned to class, got the tech personnel to re-position my lapel microphone, and calmly explained to the participants that I’d almost lost my voice and would need to speak slowly. Nevertheless, I reassured them that I’d continue to project my voice into the lapel microphone and would use the handheld microphone if necessary. The participants were stunned at my voice but graciously cooperated.
I talked less. However, I asked questions and got the participants to share their insights, while I offered guidance. I also focused on one activity.
Everything worked well. And I learned that being adaptable was what saved the day.
Now you might not suddenly lose your voice. But your tech could fail, your slides might not open, or there may be some other unforeseen factor that could derail your workshop/seminar.
When delivering a presentation or any communication programme to a young audience, focus on being flexible with your content. This means that you’ll know what to cut, what to prioritise, and how to ensure the ‘flow’ isn’t broken.
Interestingly, when I received the formal feedback after the programme, no participant commented on my losing my voice, and that factor leading to a negative experience. Not one. I was stunned.
Bottom line: Ensure your delivery is flexible so you can quickly adapt to unexpected changes.
#3: Incorporate a competition and an activity
In the first half of my programme, I did something I hadn’t done before in any of my programmes: I whipped out a new, glossy copy of my bestselling book ‘Influence and Thrive’ with a flourish and announced that I’d give a signed copy to the most engaged participant in the class. The offer set the tone for the entire programme; the young professionals viewed it as a challenge and sought to outdo each other with their comments and questions.
But I did more to engage with the audience.
From my experience facilitating communication training programmes for executives and senior professionals, I knew practical activities provided some edutainment and energised people.
The graduate trainees were some 20 years younger than my usual audiences, but I knew they’d still need some stimulation. So I incorporated a fun activity into the programme.
I divided the class into four groups and gave them a work-related scenario to discuss. Each group was required to appoint two ‘actors’ to act for three minutes while their teammates and other groups were to observe silently. The ‘actors’ were to solve a problem using the communication insights I’d shared earlier in the class. Then, a team member would record the stint on a mobile device and send the short video to the other group members after my programme. After each acting stint, the other groups were to comment on what the ‘actors’ did well in their communication and what they could have improved. After everyone had spoken, I was to debrief and provide my comments.
The activity instantly shifted the energy in the packed classroom, and everyone became highly engaged.
More importantly, the activity provided practical ‘flesh’ to the theoretical ‘bones’ of communication theories and insights. There were ‘aha’ moments for the participants.
Screenshot 1 below shows the rating of my programme.
Screenshot 2 below highlights the participants’ comments. Note the comment made on the practical activity done in class and how that helped in the learning process.
Bottom line: Incorporate some activity and a simple competition in any communication programmes you facilitate for young professionals. Those edutainment factors increase the participants’ creativity, stimulate their cognitive process, and allow your recommendations to stick.
Young professionals are open, eager, and insightful.
But they can also become bored easily and challenge your views. So don’t take whatever opposition to your ideas personally. It’s your job as a communication facilitator or presenter to listen attentively, consider all viewpoints, and then guide the audience in a direction they may have yet to consider.
Treat young professionals with respect. Patiently answer all questions and show that you’re honoured to share your insights with them.
Consider the three tactics shared in this post and lead with humility. Then, watch how the impact of your sessions reverberates afterwards.
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N.B: First image is courtesy of Yvette W. via Pixabay. Second image is courtesy of Badalyanrazmik via Pixabay. Screenshots 1 and 2 are courtesy of Lucille Ossai. Last image is courtesy of Openclipart-Vectors via Pixabay.