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Spin the Bottle! - Team Chooser

Looking for a fun way of selecting teams for a training game or activity? Why not play 'Spin the Bottle'.

For those of you that have never watched a teen movie, spin the bottle is a way for the shy boy or girl in a group to get a chance to kiss their favoured beau.

Simply place the group in a circle and ask someone to spin an empty bottle in the middle. Whoever the bottle 'points' to is in that person's group!

Business Interview with our Managing Director, Andrew Wood

Our Managing Director, Andrew Wood was recently interviewed for an article in a local paper regarding his experiences with the Trainer Bubble website and his general thoughts on training. We thought it would be interesting for our customers to view the article and Andrew's views on the website and training, so here it is.

Please give us a short summary of the website.

Trainer Bubble provides accredited training resources and course materials that trainers and leaders can download and use to run their own training sessions. When you purchase from our website, you receive a complete training pack of trainer’s notes and slides etc. ready to run your own training course.  We also have a rapidly growing free section, where you will find training games, exercises, icebreakers and many other useful training tools.

What inspired you to launch the website?

We wanted to make training accessible to all and felt that a method of delivering training resources instantly to trainers and leaders was something that would really benefit our customers. We were also keen to develop a free collection of all the useful training games, icebreakers and tools that we have used in the past.

How did you come up with the name for Trainer Bubble?

\r\nThe name came from a conversation/debate I had with a participant on one of my courses many years ago in which he said to me, "It's alright for you *bleeping* trainers, you all live in a bubble!' This statement always stuck with me and reminded me to remain objective and link learning to business needs. When I set up the business I decided to pay homage to the guy (whose name I sadly forget) and create a 'bubble' for trainers, hence, Trainer Bubble.

What makes Trainer Bubble different to other websites of the same type?

\r\nWe were the first business of this specific nature to set up in the UK and since then we have been able to grow our offering beyond that of anyone else. We also have full accreditation for our training materials from ITOL, which really sets us apart. We are also proud that our free section is becoming one of the largest on the web.

What is your eventual goal?

\r\nWe hope to continue building on our offering and eventually expand into other areas. I am currently in talks with many different training related groups about offering something just that little bit different.

How does your investment of time balance against your success?

\r\nBecause our materials are downloadable, most of the work is put in at the design and development stage and for the rest of the time we kick back and relax...I wish! We are continually working to improve things and spend a lot of time marketing and promoting the website. Of course the development time is continual and we are always striving to make each product better than the last. It is all really hard work, but we are very successful and it's definitely worth it.

If you had an unlimited budget, how would you change?

\r\nThere is a lot going on in the serious gaming market, where customers will play business simulations in order to develop their skills. I see this being a real interesting area in the future and I think the demographic of learners coming through will demand this. I'd also like to market overseas in a more substantial way, as we get a lot of new business from this area and could expand here.

What unexpected costs and headaches have you had to deal with?

\r\nIt was a shock to me how much of a money pit marketing can be. I don't remember who it was that said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. I only wish I knew which half." They were right.

What has been your biggest challenge?

\r\nIt has to be in the early days of the website, when I felt that my programmers did not have the same sense of urgency about my website as I did. It was frustrating to have to wait a few days for a couple of lines of text to be changed. Eventually I decided I'd have to learn how to programme and edit the website myself. I became self taught, which was a major uphill struggle to begin with. I can now design, edit and pretty much do all the basics. I also learnt a lot about search engine optimisation as I knew this was the cheapest form of advertising, it certainly beat paying for an seo company!

How has running your website differed from your expectations?

\r\nIt's a lot more work than I thought it would be. I didn't realise how much time and effort I'd need to put into the website from inception to now. The idea of, 'If you build it they will come.' is not a sound one!

How long have you run the site already, and how long will you continue to keep it up if you don't enjoy big gains in traffic, income or popularity?

\r\nThe site has been running for many years now and we are enjoying continual success. I don't see the need to stop as long as we can diversify into new areas and keep offering customers what they want.

Cartoon Strips - A Fun Way to Get Training Messages Across

I've always been a little bit disappointed that, as a trainer, my artistic skills are virtually nil. To be able to illustrate ideas and messages in art form during a training session would really be something.

Of course, my complete lack of talent in this area has meant that I've had to hone my skills in getting information across in a variety of different ways and perhaps this has even helped me by ensuring I don't rely on communicating my training message in only one format. This is great, but doesn't get me over the fact that I'm a useless artist.

Once again the internet has stepped to my aid and helped in ways that I could have previously only dreamed of. In the usual spirit of Trainer Bubble, I'd like to share my wonderful discovery with you all.

Now, before I share my knowledge, I should point out that this method takes a little bit of preparation and will not make you able to draw fantastic images during your training event. The real use of this idea is for creating comic strips that you can add to your training materials, posters (for placing around the room), training workbooks, training manuals, pre-prepared handouts, energisers, icebreakers, training games or even on your pre-course training invitation. I'll provide some specific uses further on.

'How do you do it?' I can hear you screaming at the screen, so I'll waste no more time. There are several different providers on the internet for tools that are generally referred to as 'comic strip creators' or 'comic strip generators'. Rather than volunteer any specific tools to you, I'll simply ask you to search Google for these terms and let you discover your own. Once created, these images can be simply saved or copied for you to use in the ways previously mentioned.

The creator tool allows you to develop a comic strip or single graphic with specially selected images and of course your own words. The results are fantastic and can really help you to add a little energy to your training material. The example below is of a comic strip that I made up in about 30 minutes. Of course you can be flexible with the images you use and the words that you place in the speech bubbles, but my image should give you an idea of the things you can do (by the way, this was made with a tool called 'Stripgenerator'.

trainer comic strip

So, here are a few ideas on how you can use these images:

1) Send out training invites with a cartoon that represents the message of the course.

2) Create posters with key messages from the training that decorate the training room.

3) Create comic images with empty speech bubbles and ask participants to fill them with comments that relate to the training.

4) Fill your training workbook with relevant comic images.

5) Make handouts more appealing with relevant training graphics.

There are many more ways to use this idea, so let your imagination run wild and create something a little different to the norm and remember to share the idea with Trainer Bubble!

Train the Trainer - Our Incredible Brain

We've just added our train the trainer training materials to the website and thought we'd share part of it with you. The video below introduces the session and gets the participants thinking about how they might approach training from the point of view of the learner. Buy it now, you won't be disappointed. Train the Trainer Training Materials

What makes a great trainer?

I recently overheard a conversation between a trainer and one of their participants, who was asking how the trainer had got into the role. I was a little shocked when the participant said, "It just surprises me a little as you're not particularly dynamic are you?" Putting aside that individual's perception of the trainer, the comment begged the question, 'What makes a great trainer?'

It is often said that training is a role that people 'fall into', it's rare that a person sets out to become a trainer as a career choice (this author, it seems, being the exception that proves the rule!) When asked, a lot of trainers will say that they were one day thrust into the position, loved it, and have not looked back since. Others enter the role later in their career when they make the choice to become a consultant or are asked to deliver due to their experience. There are of course many other variables, but this seems to cover the main.

So if it's knowledge of a subject that throws people into the job of trainer, is it knowledge that makes you good at training? The simple answer to this question has to be a resounding 'no'. My Religious Studies teacher at school certainly had a lot of knowledge on the topic and it's not just my failing the exams that tells me he wasn't the best trainer in the world.

Of course, if you have no knowledge at all of a topic, then you really shouldn't be training others. However, it's possible to facilitate a training session on which you are not the subject matter expert. In fact, I'd argue that a 'great' trainer is one that can facilitate training on a topic where the participants are the experts.

Knowledge, for me, is not the answer.

Let's go back to the participants comment I overheard; does a great trainer have to be dynamic? I guess first we should ask what 'dynamic' means. My trusty Oxford English Dictionary tells me that dynamic means active and energetic. Now, if a participant wants me to come racing into a room, waving a flag, whilst singing, 'Oh Susanna!', then I'm afraid I am not a great trainer. I have certainly seen trainers that would model the active and energetic principles and a lot of them were great trainers. However, I've also seen a lot of trainers that don't encapsulate this style and they have often exceeded my expectations.

Maybe the participant was a little confused about the term dynamic and what they actually meant was enthusiastic and engaging. This I could put a little more belief in. I certainly think you have to be passionate about the subject you are training in and if you don't engage and enthuse the learners, you will struggle to get your point across. This is training 101 and every trainer should aim to come across in this way. However, I don't think that being engaging and enthusiastic will do it alone. There has to be a 'point' to the training in order for people to learn something, no matter how engaging you are.

Dynamism, in whatever form, for me, is not the answer.

I often receive feedback from training courses where participants say, ' was fun' or 'I enjoyed myself'. So, does a great trainer have to make people laugh, be funny or encourage others to have fun? Again, I think this is something that is certainly important to training. People tend to learn more effectively when they have fun and enjoy the experience. However, laughing alone does not a good course make. I have attended many a session where I had great fun and enjoyed the experience, but due to the fact that the trainer did not relate the fun to any learning point, the value was lost. In fact, I'd argue that this is where a lot of trainers fail. They will get repeat business and heavy praise for their 'event', but the learner has been let down by the pure and simple fact that they have learnt nothing.

Fun, for me, is not the answer.

Often the best learning I have ever achieved is through the fact that I have been challenged in my thinking. I have been taken out of my comfort zone and truly made to work for the knowledge. This learning has been embedded into my core and helped me to grow and develop. So, is a great trainer someone that challenges his participants?

Whilst being challenged is valuable and important, it can become demoralising when this is the only form of teaching. We need to be encouraged and enjoy the experience because being tested constantly can become tedious and dull.

Challenging, for me, is not the answer.

I could go on. There are of course many elements to consider when we think about training and delivery and all of them play a part in some way. No one thing will make you a great trainer, although one thing may make you a bad trainer!

I think what we've learnt is that a great trainer is the sum of their parts. They need to be knowledgeable, engaging, funny, challenging and a host of other things. They also need to know when the right time to be each is. So whether you're in this role by design or default, remember one's not bloody easy!

Top Ten Tips for Engaging Learners

Even the most mundane subjects can be made much more interesting if participants are given plenty of opportunity to do things with the subject material, to think things out for themselves and to talk to each other. Participants also need to know where a session is supposed to take them. They need to know about the intended outcomes, and (more importantly) what these mean for them and what they will be able to show when they've achieved the outcomes. Here are ten tips to make training more engaging:

1. Establish participants' ownership of the agenda. Ask them what they really want from the session or what they feel they really need from the session. Write their expectations on a flipchart. Ownership is achieved best when it's the participants own words.

2. Express the intended learning objectives. Work out carefully some completions of 'By the end of this session, you will be better able to.', and talk them through why it will be useful to them to achieve these learning outcomes. After all, it's the reason for the training!

3. Acknowledge their experience. Don't tell them anything you can ask them first. Usually, there will be people there who already know the answers to most questions. Give the group as a whole ownership of their answers to questions, rather than you being the source of all wisdom.

4. Keep them busy. Get them learning by doing, rather than listening to you explaining the theory. If it's an area that can only be described through talking, create a discussion, or even better, get them to stand up and review ideas on flipcharts around them room.

5. Give participants a variety of different things to do in successive tasks. For example, use different activities such as written, brainstorming, prioritising, sorting, discussing, arranging, playing, acting, case studies, games and so on.

6. Plan short tasks, not long ones. It is usually better to break a task into four fifteen minute stages than to run it as a one hour episode. Where tasks need to be longer, ensure you involve everyone and alternate the lead.

7. Be a time lord. Managing our own time is important enough, but when training it's really important to manage other people's time well too. Boredom quickly sets in when participants have too much time for a task, so as soon as some have finished, start debriefing.

8. Celebrate their successes. Cultivate the art of asking participants the right questions, so that they come up with the answers. When they have worked out how to do something, they remember it far longer than if you tell them how to do it.

9. Make it fine to learn by getting things wrong. Point out that for many things, learning is deeper when people get things wrong; they find out in an unthreatening environment why they were wrong, and how to make them better.

10. Don't lecture. When you need to give your participants some information, do so in a handout, and then get them to do something with the information rather than just write it down or read it themselves.

Ten Rules for a Successful Life

Why are some people more successful than others? Is it just that some people get all the luck and that's just the way it is? Or is there more to it? Gary Player the famous golfer once said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get" and I think this statement has a lot of truth to it. I believe that success is a mindset and if I'm right, then that means that anyone can achieve it.

If you listen carefully to people you will notice that they become very adept at providing reasons for their 'bad luck'. It's the upbringing, the schooling, the boss, the partner and many other reasons including the fact that there are not enough hours in the day (eh?). I'm of the opinion that these limiting beliefs are a way of avoiding the simple truth; some people just don't want it enough. It's a lot easier to sit in your lazyboy chair and proclaim to the world that you didn't get the breaks, than it is to get up and do something about it.

Now I'm not saying that everyone should want to be the best at everything they do, but I do think that those people who decide to live life in the slow lane forego their right to complain about it. If you really care that much then it's up to you to change things.

So for those people that want to get out of the rut and move on in life, I've put together ten rules. If you follow them, I see no reason why success shouldn't follow.

1. Nobody else is to blame for the way you are. Those things that happen to you (good or bad) simply create choices. You are a product of your own making.

2. The world owes you nothing. If you want the stars, buy your own ladder and climb. Nobody will give you a leg-up.

3. Thinking is not doing. Good luck rarely comes to the inactive. Hard work is a dream-maker.

4. Failure is progress. Every mistake is a step closer to success, as long as you learn from it.

5. Focus on the important things in life. If you spend too long worrying about the small things, that's all you'll end up with.

6. Take pride in what you do. There's no shame in thinking positively about yourself. If you don't love you, nobody else will.

7. Celebrate success. If it goes right, shout it from the roof-tops. You can learn from good stuff too.

8. Take what works and build on it. If you find success in one area, model it and apply the learning to other areas.

9. Stick with it. There will be moments when it all seems like too much hard work, that's when you're getting closer.

10. Share your success with others, there's enough to go around. Successful people work together and build winning relationships. \r\nThere you have it, ten simple steps to achieving your dreams.

So stop looking for reasons not to succeed and start working towards your goals. I've never once heard an elderly person complain about the things they did in life, but I've heard a few regrets about the things they didn't.

Visit our training products section now, where you will find two great training resources on Success; 'Make a Difference to Your Life' and 'Think Your Way to Success'.

Is Learning and Development Finally Coming Home?

Recent developments in America suggest that learning and development could be resurrected from the dark, dusty recesses of human resources into a bright new future.

Ever since 1994 and the merger between the Institute of Training and Development and the Institute of Personnel Management to form what in 2000 became the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, there has been no argument about which area was the dominant one. Factors concerning the development of employee skills seemingly became secondary to the rising importance of Human Resource Management.

I was recently provided a glaring example of this by an acquaintance in a senior learning and development role at one of the largest organisations in the UK. With a sad, but knowing look in his eye he presented me with the yearly objectives for the HR department. Not one of them related to employee development in any way. When you consider that the company employ over five hundred people in roles that are directly related to learning this is truly amazing, although hardly isolated.

Most HR Directors will argue that they've always had one eye on the learning needs of the workforce, but with all due respect to diversity laws, this is a two-eyed job. In the same way that sales is the only department of an organisation that generates revenue, learning and development is the only area where we can expect the process of developing our workforce to be the uppermost concern.

Learning and development is increasingly noted as the most important factor of HR. Driving up the skills of the workforce and ensuring that employees have the necessary skills to perform the role and, perhaps more importantly, the skills to progress throughout the business is becoming a no-brainer when compared to the often bureaucratic functions of HR, which serve to ensure the business is 'ticking over' and doesn't get embroiled in any legal issues.

Another colleague of mine who owns a recruitment consultancy highlighted the importance of learning and development from the prospective employee's point of view recently. Often before the subject of money is raised, the first concern of the individual is, 'What development can I expect?' and so it should be. In fact when discussing the value of development, there are two key viewpoints we should take into account.

The employee - understands more than ever the value of their own development. Often requires a business to fill the gaps in their education and provide hands on experience in a real environment. Realises that to succeed in the business world they must gather as many skills as possible.

The employer - understands the value of a continually skilled workforce. Knows that if the business is to succeed then it needs an educated and motivated team behind it. A team willing to challenge current thinking and hungry for success.

So, businesses that ignore the value of learning and development do so at their peril.

This isn't a knew theory, but somehow we thought we could achieve it through an HR department that in all fairness cannot possibly be expected to manage the important role it has to play in overseeing the needs of the workforce and still rise to the vast challenge that development presents.

The good news is that in America there seems to be a turning tide. Many of the large organisations there are developing the role of Chief Learning Officer (CLO), whose role on the board of directors has been provided at the expense of the HR Director who may well have applied for the new position of Head of HR, which reports to, you guessed it, the CLO.

The CLO is skilled in all aspects of learning and development, with a key focus on; coaching, training, motivation and project management, which shows an obvious leaning towards the development of the workforce in order to drive the success of the business. In my mind this is the correct focus and ensures that the organisation is focused on continuous improvement rather than fighting fires.

Although the UK has yet to put in place many CLO's (currently five in the FTSE 100), there is little doubt that we are likely to follow suit. After all, it was the US that brought HRM to us all those years ago!

E-Mail Success

I returned to work today after a 2 week Christmas vacation and opened my inbox with some trepidation.  After a similar break last year I had returned form holiday with over 400 e-mails awaiting my attention. It took me a couple of days to deal with these so I vowed there and then that this would never happen again.

One of my New Years resolutions at the beginning of 2007 was to take control of my e-mail inbox.  Today would prove one way or the other whether the action I took worked.

I opened my inbox and found only 32 items awaiting me.  Thirty minutes later and my inbox was empty. Complete success!

So, what did I do to achieve this?  The good news is that this is not rocket science and a few simple steps have achieved this result.  The action I took in 2007 included:

  1. Always remembering to set my out of office message when I was away for more than a day.
  2. Unsubscribing to newsletters and update services unless I really needed them.
  3. Agreeing a few ground rules with colleagues about when and when not to use e-mail.
  4. Using the telephone a lot more to avoid those unproductive games of e-mail tennis.
  5. Delegating or redirecting some of my e-mail to other people when appropriate.

None of this took very long to do but the results have been really spectacular for me.  If you suffer from an overfull inbox you might find some of the techniques I have listed are of some help.

Of course, there is also a need to manage your e-mail once you have got it, but that is the topic for another posting.

This article relates to our training course material, 'Managing E-Mails', which you can find on our website by clicking here.

Achieving Sales on the Telephone - Effective outbound calls

The key to making effective outbound calls is structure. The most effective telephone sales person will have a set process for contacting customers and will stick to it, no matter what the temptation to alter their methods. Most outbound call agents will use a 'working list' to contact customers, it is important that you approach this list methodically and the following approach will help you to remain effective.

Define your ideal customer - The best way to predict who your future customers will be is to understand who your past customers have been. For instance, if by looking at your past client base you realise that the majority of your orders have come from the 18 - 30 year old bracket, then this would likely be the best people to focus your attention on. Of course age isn't the only consideration to make. You may also want to look at geography, past buying patterns, interests etc.

Develop a good 'script' - A good script or series of specific questions is the most important thing you can do to improve your effectiveness when selling on the telephone. This becomes even more important when you are making outbound calls.

Some people resist the idea of using a script. They argue that it is better to sound natural and this will help build the relationship with the customer. The trick is to use the script as a series of prompts or reminder of what to say rather than reading it verbatim. This way you can concentrate on how you say things as opposed to what you are saying. More importantly, it allows you to focus on what the customer is saying and helps you tailor your conversation to suit.

The script should be seen as a method of allowing you to be flexible in your approach as opposed to being a restraint.

Eliminate - The trouble with making outbound sales calls is you usually have absolutely no idea of the level of interest of the recipient until you have called them. It may be that the first ten people you call are all interested in what you have to sell. Alternatively, it may be the last ten! You role is simply to find those people that are interested and temporarily eliminate those that are not. It is useful to methodical in your approach to calling customers.

It is tempting to disregard the customers that you couldn't reach or did not show an immediate interest. However, a good salesperson will ensure that they follow-up on all of these opportunities. In order to ensure you keep track of the customers you have previously called, it is useful to create a system of note-taking. If a customer is not available then you should make a good clear note of this next to their contact details, or you could mark their level of interest from 1 - 3. By using this system you will ensure that you are fully prepared when it is time to call them again. Although this may seem tedious, it is a lot better than having to call a prospect 'cold'.

Persist - A good telephone salesperson will develop a thick skin throughout their career. You will need to accept rejection as part of the job and consider each new call as a new opportunity. Even the most hardy individual will get despondent at times, it is useful to set your expectations early on and realise that you will not be able to convert the large majority of calls you make. This does not mean that the customer will never buy from you, just not today.

By making clear notes on your call list, you will be able to re-work an old list and even convert some previous rejections. The key to outbound sales is to never give up!

This article is made up from our training course material, 'Achieving Sales on the Telephone', which you can find on our website by clicking here.

Effective Coaching - A Question of Questioning?

Questioning is the critical component of all coaching, it is the principle that coaching is based upon and all good coaches realise that the key to unlocking an individuals potential is through a good use of questions.

In its simplest form coaching could exist on the following three questions:

What worked well?

What didn't work so well?

What will you do differently next time?

In any given developmental scenario, these questions can be used as a fail-safe approach to questioning. The output responses are what will drive an individual on to better performance.

This process is extremely simple and will work in most impromptu coaching scenarios. We have a tendency to overcomplicate processes in business and this for me really demonstrates that often the simplest methods are those that work best. Of course there are times when your coaching will need to be more specific and focused on the individuals needs.

When coaching to develop people it is usually best to avoid starting a question with 'why?' The reason for this is that by using 'why' we are establishing something as fact. For instance; when I ask a question like, 'Why do you think you are not good at selling?' we are subconsciously telling that person that the idea of them not being able to sell is already established. This of course, will undermine their confidence in this area and will ensure that our work to help them meet an objective to start selling is going to be made all the harder.

An example of what you could say instead of 'Why do you think you are not good at selling?' might be, 'What is it about selling that you find difficult?' This could then easily be followed up by a positive question of, 'When have you been successful at selling?' This is positive re-enforcement and will help the coachee establish the positive elements of their experience.

You may feel that this approach is not as direct. However, you should consider what it is you are trying to achieve. If you want to let someone know that they are no good at something, sure, go for the direct approach, but if you want to develop them, use effective questions.

By using questions and encouraging the individual to come up with their own answers, we are instilling a strong sense of ownership. If we as coach provide the answers, then the coachee has no reason to take action as they might not see the value. If a coachee does not complete an action they set themselves then the responsibility for failure is theirs.

Of course, the flipside of this is that success for the coachee is so much sweeter when they realise that the positive result is down to them.

This is an excerpt from the 'Coaching at Work' training materials from Trainer Bubble.

This is an excerpt from the 'Coaching at Work' training materials from Trainer Bubble, which you can find on our website by clicking here.

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