High Impact Aviation Security Training23 Apr 2012
delivering programmes that motivate, empower, professionalise and enrich …
I’m sure you can recall at least one occasion when you had to sit through a security training programme that, although regulatory-compliant, had no significant impact on your working life. Maybe you were on the receiving end of a technical data dump. Or perhaps you were the victim of a ‘Death by PowerPoint’ presentation. Even if the content was actually relevant, have you ever felt lectured at by a somewhat ego-driven or ‘broadcast-style’ presenter? On the other hand, I’m sure you have also experienced a few high quality presentations or workshops delivered by engaging, impactful trainers who seemed to be able to communicate concise, compelling, useful ideas and skills with ease. Katharine Ng explores what it is that sets apart effective training from the mediocre training experiences so many of us have endured and asks what is the key to creating and delivering high impact security training programmes?
Training theory tells us that the purpose of training is to help participants develop the knowledge, skills, and attitude required to do a better job. However, actually achieving impact in each of these three dimensions of training is easier said than done. In some ways, I believe, it is both an art and a science. Mastering the ‘art’ of training requires developing high ‘E.Q.’ or soft skills. These include ‘thinking on your feet’, highly-tuned empathy, and an intuitive sense of when to drive towards a learning objective vs. when to facilitate interaction and sharing. Of course, it then requires many hundreds of hours of experience. Mastering the ‘science’ of training revolves around content, delivery, and context. It requires the effective use of best-practice principles, frameworks, and skills to analyse training needs, and create superior training content. Then we must acquire advanced delivery skills for presenting and facilitating effectively. Lastly, we need to know how to create and manage a powerful and productive adult-learning context throughout the workshop.
Pyramid Principle and the Fishbone Structure
Starting with training content, two of the most effective methods for structuring a training topic are the ‘pyramid principle’ and the ‘fishbone structure’. The pyramid principle, (popularised by a book of the same name by Barbara Minto) suggests that, rather than starting a presentation or topic with background and detail, and deductively working towards a logical conclusion or recommendation, we should come at it from the ‘top down’. That is, we should start with the conclusion, followed by our key supporting arguments. (This is, effectively, an ‘executive summary’ of the topic). Next, we expand on each of the key arguments or ideas in turn, and skip all extraneous detail and background. Lastly, we finish the topic with a recap of the opening ‘executive summary’, leaving any detail and background for the Q&A session or to be delivered as handout materials. Using the pyramid principle’s top-down approach has several major benefits. It ensures that our topic hooks and holds the attention of participants. It makes the content seem more relevant, persuasive, and easier to remember. And, lastly, if we have to (time constraints etc.), it allows us to cut our topic short and still ensure that the most important ideas (the ‘executive summary’) have been communicated.
The ‘fishbone structure’ is an excellent way to deal with a potentially ‘boring topic’. Actually, I believe that there is no such thing as a boring topic, only boring treatment of a topic. Creative trainers have the ability to make any subject come to life. For example, if you had to quickly understand a recent aircraft security issue or incident, would you rather read an official report cover-to-cover, or watch an episode of National Geographic Air Crash Investigation? The next time you design a technical training module, try to think like a documentary producer and see if you can come up with a story line for the topic using a fishbone diagram. In fact, many developers of computer-based training programmes, now commonplace in the aviation security world, apply such principles. Using this technique, the head of the fish represents the key message or conclusion. The main backbone of the fish skeleton represents the timeline of the main story or case study. This timeline can represent a real case study or an imaginary one. The individual ribs branching off from the backbone represent the content topics, scenarios, technical features, functions, etc. The fishtail reminds us to finish by re-stating the key message or conclusion. Does it take extra time and effort to create content in this way? Yes, very often it does. But it is worth it if the goal is to deliver training that is relevant, memorable, and useful in the real world.
Now that we have a couple of tools for planning and structuring our training content, what about our delivery skills? The world’s best trainers, presenters and public speakers have all learned a few simple techniques that allow them to captivate their audiences. Current best practice teaches us to deliver in a natural or ‘conversational’ style. In effect, this means talking at a naturally fast rate of words while pausing between ideas to allow participants to have ‘thinking time’ and a chance of remembering what has been said. Unfortunately, too many trainers drone on (often talking slowly, without pausing, in a darkened room, reading from their slides) and then wonder why so many people struggle to pay attention or remember anything. You may well have attended a session with an instructor presenting slides of clauses from Annex 17 and simply reading the text?
Effective trainers understand their role in engaging, educating, and empowering their participants. They are not just captivating presenters; they are also masters at the art of facilitation. If presenting can be thought of as taking information and ‘pouring it into’ our participants, then facilitation is ‘drawing out’ information, experiences, and wisdom from them. The main art of facilitation is the trainer’s ability to skilfully lead diverging and converging class discussions using a variety of questioning techniques. Facilitation skills work especially well when leading case study discussions and when de-briefing exercises, role-plays, and simulations (e.g. managing disruptive passenger scenarios or hijack exercise de-briefings). This learner-centred process enables conclusions to be drawn out and learning to occur through a natural experiential learning cycle.
Great content and training delivery skills are crucial, but let’s not underestimate the power of setting the right context for a training workshop. The ‘context set’ should include items like the agenda, ground rules, trainer and participant introductions, and gathering participant expectations. However, context is also everything else that we do to create a training environment that is highly conducive to learning. As air crew often say, “Briefing sets the tone for the entire flight”. The same goes for setting an appropriate tone or atmosphere for the entire course.
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