I talk on this blog about a lot of trainers. Each has his own strong point, each impresses me with something. In this blog post I’ll talk about powering and empowering, and a person that impressed me a lot with her empowering skills: Ana-Maria CORLAN. This blog post is all about the splendid behavior of this Romanian trainer.
1. What’s the basis for comparison?
Besides teachers, I think the number of persons I’ve seen talking for more than 40 minutes with an audience that included me are professionals speakers. Speaking in public has many meanings, from conference speakers, seminar trainers, moderators, but all-in-all I can say I’ve seen quite a lot of speakers.
2. How have I met Ana-Maria CORLAN?
In the winter of 2008 (20th of February to 26th of February 2008) I took part to a winter school about Programmes and Project Management in Predeal, Brasov, in a lovely location on some mountain (or hill). It was organized by National Agency for Supporting Youth Initiatives – ANSIT Romania.
How I got to Predeal? Me and a person I’ve known only via Internet arrived by car in the first day in the evening from Bucharest. After I met my apartment colleagues, we go to dinner. I decide I should sit at a crowded table, with no familiar face (very easy to meet conditions in the first evening). There were 5 persons, not a single boy. After I present myself, another person takes initiative and presents herself, and everybody says a few things. I thought everyone was from the same group of persons, and I only replied to conversations, didn’t initiate any (but I was not very silent, either).
After dinner, an official presentation of the program takes place. One trainer presents his program joyful, full of life, funny. He then invites the other trainer to speak – surprise! It turns out Ana-Maria CORLAN was at the table I was sitting. She gives a less-than-enthusiastic presentation. We are then told by the organizers that we’ll be separated into two groups, randomly. My preference was for the first trainer – I could communicate, laugh and he could motivate me. The second trainer spoke very little both at the table and at the presentation and she wasn’t that funny for my taste.
The next morning I see the lists (we were separated into two groups). „Huh? I’m into this group? No way! I wish to switch!” Switching was not possible, we were told the day before. I go to the training with low morale. I was the last one to enter the room. The chairs were ordered in a U-shape, and there was one empty chair right in the middle of the imaginary U. Someone suggests me to take the chair. I give a „Huh?” look, take a chair from the back of the room and place it right near one end of the U letter, the closest to the flipchart (and where the action takes place).
I knew no one in the room, nobody was talking one to another, after a failed initiation of a conversation with the only person sitting next to me, I get a newspaper and start reading. The training didn’t start yet. The trainer comes and suggests I should put my paper away. „Huh?”, I think, „But there’s really nothing else to do. I can’t just sit here and look at the ceiling. What a waste of time!” Anyhow, I put my newspaper away.
There’s an introduction to the course, we write our names on a name tag, and things start moving. At the end of the first day I was thinking something like „I can’t believe what just happened! This can’t be a training! Wow, and to think I would have switched the trainers. No way!”
What happened next? Imagine courses of roughly 6 hours per day (with minor and major breaks), each day. It was quite intensive.
There were two groups, each with about 20 people, each with its trainer. As said, I was lucky enough to be in Ana-Maria CORLAN’s group.
The training methods involved a theory part (rather short), a work-in-groups part (much longer) and from time to time some fun activities (also known as „energizers„).
The group I was in was kept for the whole week, which meant we could establish good bonds and by the end of the training I had a lot of fun in that group.
3. What impressed me?
At the very beginning of the training there was a definition: What does „Project management” involve? The very first words of the trainer were not „The project is…” Instead, they were „What is a project, from your perspective?” It takes quite a bit of courage to put even the definition of the project, the very first words you start the training with, in the hands of others.
And people were telling things on Project Management, some closer to the definition, some further away. Words pop up, people came with ideas. And the trainer was writing them all on a flip chart. At the end of this there were a lot of words written down.
I was expecting to challenge a few ideas („wouldn’t you think that it’s better?”, „hmmm, why do you think that?”, „are you sure that’s true?”), to politely refuse others („yes, this is a worthwhile idea, but I prefer not writing it down”, „yes, that’s true, but it’s better we keep to the core of the definition”), to avoid repetition („this was said before, even if with different words”) or to come up with hints („what would you say project management involves on the financial aspects?”) or some brand new ideas by themselves („would you think that the GANTT chart is involved in the project management?”). Nothing like this ever happened. The trainer carefully listened to each idea, wrote it down. No idea was even challenged, not to say refused, a lot of ideas involved repetition (and they were all written), no hints were given by the trainer (not to mention brand new ideas).
So, at the end of the task, we had a page of flipchart filled with words, some closer to the truth while others further away. Clearly some of the ideas were less important, and we had to know which one was good and which one was bad. Who was the one person in the room who knew most about project management theory, much more than anybody else? You’re right: the trainer herself (Ana-Maria CORLAN). Now she had to have the list reduced to a little more than the current list. And what does she do? Instead of cutting the words on the current page of flipchart (which might offend someone’s feelings), and instead of picking up the right words herself (a thing for which she had the most expertise), she challenges the class: what would you pick to be the right definition of a project?
Now I am shocked: I had to write down on my notebook a small list of words chosen by my colleagues from a larger list of words coming yet again from my colleagues. And I had to learn this definition for a end-of-winter-school examination. At that very moment I didn’t quite realized what happened. But by the end of the day I knew this was one of the most unexpected things I’ve seen in a training until that date. It was huge. After day one I was all eyes-and-ears to everything that happened in the training room. It was just unbelievable.
You may think that this was a one-time event. No way! There were more and more examples of coming up with ideas. I think that a lot of the training was question-based. I came to the winter school eager to accumulate, and I was challenged to give. Now that’s what I call change of perspective.
Hadn’t I known better, I would have doubt her judgment abilities – „you can’t empower others so much. This can’t be. There’s something wrong with your abilities”. But no, it was her option to do it like this. Quite contrary, she was a good trainer also. This is breathtaking.
What determined such thinking from me? The thing that impressed me mostly was empowering. According to Dictionary.com website, citing Princeton University’s WordNet, „empower” means to „give or delegate power or authority to”. Days passed and many things happened, but the most important thing that impressed me was empowering.
Another thing that struck me was the emphasis put on working in teams. This was, by far, the longest type of learning I’ve done at the winter school. We worked on teams a lot. And, for myself at least, I had a lot of fun doing this. What can I learn out of this? Even if I was mostly impressed with the abilities of Ana-Maria CORLAN as a trainer, she still allowed the participants to better express themselves in teams, rather than present them with information. So, she put emphasis on teams, even if she could have done a great presentation, or good interaction with the participants. Now how can’t that be great?
Some people put little emphasis on feed-back. Others more. Ana-Maria CORLAN made it like this: in the first day she asked for a feed-back via a fill-in form. In the last day she asked for feed-back in a form. In the last day she also asked for feed-back in a live manner, with real discussions. I think feed-back is important. How did she treat the feed-back? I’ve noticed a change in the way she reacted to the persons who were late after the first day. Also after the first day she said that some persons asked for energizers. We had plenty of energizers from that day on, and the second day started with two energizers.
At the end of the training, in the last day of training, prior to the examination session, we had the option of switching sides. Yet again I could pick things. My alternatives were this: a cool trainer, funny, very sociable and a trainer which encouraged personal thinking and initiative to the maximum. My general pattern of thinking when choosing this is simple: „if I don’t know you, if there’s something new about you, if I can learn something new from you, I’m your man.” This means I prefer diversity, and I would rather see a new trainer than the same training or trainer again and again. There is just one exception to this: the trainer has to be very good, or to impress me in such a manner that the option of diversity simply fails. In this case the choice was very simple. After knowing her, Ana-Maria CORLAN was the obvious choice for me. It’s nice to mention that I have looked on the presentation written on a large paper for both trainings and the written presentation for Ana-Maria CORLAN was much better this time.
In the last day I found out with great surprise that the class I was part of didn’t behave according to the trainer’s expectations. My reaction was something like „Huh? What did you mean? It was perfect. It was great”. Well, it wasn’t that great after all. It seemed that some things which I appreciated a lot – empowering others, letting them express, encouraging communication -, were misunderstood. Some persons, including me, expressed too freely. It seems the training participants exaggerated the very large options they had. I hope nothing changed with the trainer’s behavior after that.
Regarding empowering actions: she asked for help whenever needed (help with materials, arranging the room). During games, she asked for help from some participants.
Bottom line: I took part to other summer and winter schools, to other trainings, conferences, seminars and workshops. I’ve made friends at the winter school in Predeal and I have some great memories in there. But the empowering abilities as a trainer of Ana-Maria CORLAN impressed me most for any public speaker I’ve seen.
Related posts to this blog story are:
a. English message: How to make a career decision? IT – Economics – PR – IT back again (personal case study);
b. English blog post: Status on self-improvement: March 2008. What you can learn from this;
c. Romanian text: Cea mai penibila intamplare din viata mea si ce am invatat din asta.
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