Recently I signed up for a course to become a First Aid instructor, and as I prepare to take this course I’m thinking about what I’m getting myself into. Being a facilitator/ trainer/ instructor means that for a good portion of each class, all eyes will be on me. I’ll need to prepare lesson plans and think about how I’m going to relay information to people and have them absorb it. I’m going to need to be engaging, and maybe even charming. I’ll be meeting strangers on a regular basis. I’m going to need to do “ice-breakers” (with participants). Talk about uncomfortable! Not because first aid stuff grosses me out, but it’s the “everyone looking at the introvert” thing. Since I’m one of those who is repeatedly trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I am an introvert inside and out, this is the good kind of challenge. I may even excel at it. There are a few things I understand about myself in relation to being an introvert-instructor that not everybody (such as non-introverts) understands, which gives the impression that we introverts may not be that entertaining as instructors. There are a few things I learned about myself over the years of being a trainer/ facilitator/ instructor that I now need to share.
It may come as no surprise whatsoever that introverts do not like icebreakers. At least I don’t. Maybe I just woke up, arrived at a training session a few minutes early and the instructor (very nice and friendly) is immediately talking to me: “HI!! Welcome!! Find a seat anywhere. We’re going to start with an icebreaker so we can all make new friends! Yay!!”
Me inside my head: Hello Morning Person who has had too much caffeine already. I’ll be putting on my cloak of invisibility now and sitting over here at the side with a clear, uninterrupted sightline to the exit.
I don’t say those things out loud, but my body language in the past may have suggested those things. The problem with introverts and icebreakers is the sharing of personal information, especially first thing in the morning. It’s not so bad if the icebreaker is easy and short so that there’s not too much thinking, and the interaction with strangers is at a minimum. We need a chance to get a feel for our surroundings and the people in the room before we go sharing personal information. It’s important we have that chance to warm up. Easing into icebreakers is the way to go. But be careful though. If you do this right, by lunch time, you could have an example of “Introverts Gone Wild” on your hands.
We introverts may not like doing icebreakers, but we do appreciate them to some degree because let’s be honest: introverts like me are not going to break any ice unless somebody makes us. As an instructor though, these things can be fun to watch.
Being a Trainer/ Facilitator/ Instructor
It may surprise some of you to learn that I have actually been doing public speaking for years (mostly humorous), and I have conducted many training sessions (mostly to do with health & safety topics). It took some time, but I eventually warmed up to the idea and even got to like it. Confession time: I enjoy training people. I think it’s because it’s a form of teaching, and there are a lot of people out there who need to learn a few things!
There’s a bit of a balancing act that happens in the “performance” or delivery of the training itself.
How do I bring what I bring as an introvert (aka, the strong-silent type) and create a positive learning experience for attendees, yet make sure I’m comfortable?
At first, it may require me becoming uncomfortable: I have to meet strangers after all. They might judge me. Well, if they judge me I’ll judge them right back and neither of us will know it’s happening. The good news is that most, if not all, attendees are there for a good reason and not just because somebody has forced them to be, or simply to heckle the trainer. Yet, it’s important I still be myself. Being phony will only make people tune out. When I’m instructing kids, this is very important too. Not only do they catch everything you do, they’ll call you out on anything that doesn’t make sense to them: “Okay, but why would anyone do that?”
I make corny jokes sometimes, and I can almost hear the kids roll their eyes, but I tell them: “If you laugh, you’ll get a better mark. Not really, but it helps me feel good about myself.” Oddly enough, that usually gets a laugh. If it doesn’t, I give up and make everyone be serious for the rest of the day.
Some other things to understand about my uniqueness as a trainer/ facilitator/ instructor
I am definitely not the type to flail my arms and make big gestures or sudden movements. My style is more subtle. I find sneaking up on people to cause a bigger reaction. Sometimes that reaction is fear, but usually it’s interest. To say I’m excitable or the type to “Jump up and down” would also be incorrect to assume. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m not a fun person. Remember: I make jokes!
It sometimes takes a cup of caffeinated tea or a glass of red wine to get me “animated”. Even still, I am always well aware and fully conscious of the signs that I’m about to make a fool of myself. That cannot happen! I can be fun and outgoing, but being foolish is not only outside my comfort zone, but I’d say it’s far enough out of my comfort zone to be in another galaxy.
I’ve been told that I have an awkwardness about me, and it apparently it works. Somehow, seeming shy and awkward makes me more likeable as a presenter. Also, my jokes are top-notch. If the audience doesn’t get it the first time, I don’t mind repeating the joke or pointing out that I just made a joke: “Folks, that was a joke. This is the part where you laugh. Please laugh, or I won’t be invited back.”
Crossing the (introvert-extravert) Line
What gets me going and working my way over the introvert/ extravert line? As I mentioned already, just one caffeinated cup of tea helps move me across that line. Being sensitive to caffeine means that it doesn’t take much and it will last all day and into the evening. Lucky you, my brave audience! Sometimes, I just need time to wake up and warm up to get comfortable.
The time we introverts are asked to cross that line into extraversion is when the trainer asks us to participate in scenarios. As an instructor, I’m generally safe from participating in these scenarios and only go so far as to demonstrate certain tasks or skills. As participants, however, we introverts need a little nudge to get over the fine line that exists between introversion and extraversion, but once we go over the edge, watch out! You’ll be rather surprised to see a different person. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet” calls this being a “pretend extravert”. For me, that’s when my inner actress comes out. Normally it’s only in my head that I’m a (comedic) actress, but given the right role in first aid class scenarios (hysterical relative), something clicks and things start to get crazy. It is possible to go a little too far with this, but luckily everyone else knows it’s just a scenario and I’m “just acting”.
Lunch-time break = time to escape the training room and recharge
Whether a participant, or facilitator/ trainer/ instructor, I have one last thing to say to aid in understanding training situations. For participants at least, the break-times are great for recharging your introverted self so that you don’t lose your funny. As a facilitator, those with questions (some people have lots and lots of questions) take this opportunity to ask all the questions they’ve thought of so far. So, the only time you get to yourself will be in the bathroom. That’s okay – take your time in there. Make sure you’re completely done doing what you need to do, wash your hands for the full 30 seconds as recommended by the public health people and then return to the training room. I’d say studying your lesson plan is a good idea as well. The other introverts in the room will likely leave the room, or stay there and think to themselves for a while. Take a deep breath. Everything is fine!
Get in Touch
If you have any funny stories about being in a training session, or leading a training session I’d love to hear them. Contact me in the comments or send me an email.