10 Tips for Global Training Instructors

Reading “10 Tips for Global Training Instructors” in Trainingmag.com inspired me to write my own 10 tips drawing from my experience in preparing, adapting, helping other instructors and watching them teach, and talking to learners in various countries across Europe. I slightly disagree on a couple of points, but for the most part I am building on what I read at Trainingmag.

1. Do not trust your content

If you are taking your content to a new country, then every slide, every paragraph, every graphic requires a good review. Best case scenario, there are some colloquial terms that will get your audience confused. Worst case, you will offend them. Making a training program global is not a simple task. Far from consisting of a full scan for idioms (“right off the bat?”) that may not register well, it is a task that involves deep knowledge of the target culture, including what may be offensive. Stereotypes that are safe to use locally are your enemy. Graphics depicting hand gestures as harmless as a thumbs up can go wrong. The colors you thought had universal meaning. There isn’t a single list that captures everything that must be checked to ensure your content will travel. My advice is to do a full review with a trusted colleague based in the target country or region.

Hand showing thumb up

Hand gestures can be tricky when taking training content to other countries

2. Adapt your training kit

Handouts, props, prizes… Your known and trusted training kit may need some adjustments. What is the paper size of your handouts? Letter, Legal, A4? Is that what your audience expects? Will it fit in their folders, along with handouts produced locally? Are the props you carry recognized universally, or do you need to research new ones that carry the meaning intended when first creating the original course? Does your audience understand what a 3×5 index card is? Will the bowl of candy work equally well as a quiz prize?

3. It is possible to overdo welcomes

As well intentioned as it may be, personally greeting every participant and asking them for their name as they enter the class could be a source of embarrassment for some individuals and an inhibitor for interaction when you need it later during the session. Perceptions of how approachable a trainer should be change from country to country.

I have also seen trainers trying too hard to pronounce local names, and taking what should be a brief, nice welcome greeting into pointless language lessons. Frankly, it is OK if you cannot pronounce Michael in Danish, and Michael is already expecting that you will pronounce his name in English and won’t have to explain yet again how it’s said properly. So unless you have enough practice to do relatively well, a humble remark about your lack of local language skills grants you forgiveness to mispronounce names and lets you focus on the training work at hand.

4. Ground rules must be compatible with local culture

You can set ground rules at the beginning. If they are too far from accepted local custom, prepare yourself to see them fail, despite your best efforts. For example, you may say that you don’t want questions or interruptions until the end of a section. You may set a break of five minutes, and expect everyone back by the end of the break. You may say that participation in the class is expected from everyone. I have seen those rules fail in various places. Do you know which is more likely to need tweaking if you go to Ireland, Israel, Japan?

5. Your intro may need changes

Typically, US trainers start introducing themselves by talking about their past experience and include achievements that may be relevant in order to establish credibility. I have seen these intros delivered in Europe, and after two minutes, they start feeling like shameless self-promotion. Go longer and the intro may start working against you. For the same reason, European instructors may not do the best job when introducing themselves to US audiences. It is worth doing some research, understand what works well in establishing credibility and adjust accordingly. In many places, the fact that you are the instructor could be enough.

Bowl of candy

Bowl of candy. Nice ice-breaker and prize for quizzes in the US. Will it work equally well in France?

6. Acknowledge your international ignorance

It is tempting to look for and put together some rushed examples that apply to international contexts better. If they are not going to have the same polish as the original content, then you may be better off saying that the examples you bring are from a different context and that you would like to discuss how to extrapolate to your audience’s area. Call it an exercise. You will get them motivated to contribute precisely where their local expertise crosses paths with the content you want them to learn. You can then use the output for your next delivery.

7. Humor is tricky

Humor is great and some instructors make very effective use of it, but as we all know, it is also a minefield. When traveling, use with caution. This is not about the usual boundaries we wouldn’t cross back at home – it’s about everyday humor that is regarded as safe where you work. History, culture, assumptions and recent incidents can turn a witty, humorous comment into an offensive or tasteless remark. Frequently, the effect is simply that the audience lacks the context to understand the joke, and the response is a cold, long, silence spell.

8. “Am I talking too fast?”

While it is important to be aware of pace and some trainers are definitely fast talkers and need to watch their speed, my experience is that in most cases, non-native English European audiences will be comfortable with your usual pace. My recommendation is not to discriminate between the overall pace of the course and your personal speech pace. Ask the audience about session pace as usual; in their minds, the question also applies to their ability to understand you and they will respond accordingly. The difference is that in this way your question cannot be interpreted as “is your command of the English language insufficient to keep up with me?” which can be answered as “of course not” simply to save face.

9. Involving participants

Involving the audience requires global knowledge. Eliciting comments from quiet participants may be awfully embarrassing to them, and create barrier with the entire group from which you won’t be able to recover. Sometimes it’s better to address tables and not individuals. In Asia you may consider relaying questions through technology, a proxy, or setting up a question box that can be checked after breaks, for example. My experience in Europe is that I get as many questions during breaks as I do in the class, and I bring those back when we reconvene as anonymous questions.

10. Wrapping up

I mentioned you should not overdo it trying to speak foreign languages or try to “blend in”. But if there is one place where you can make that extra effort that will be recognized and welcomed, it’s at the end. Learn how to say “thank you” in the local language and end your wrap up that way. Make sure you learn the right form! In many languages, saying thank you to one, two, three, or more people, all same gender, or mixed genders requires different words.

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