One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned happened in an unexpected way. I was boarding an early morning flight from DC to Dallas. The weather was clear, and I was looking forward to a few hours of quiet time and maybe even some shut eye. As I lumbered down the aisle with my carry-on and briefcase, I could see that the seat next to mine was occupied. My quiet time was in jeopardy.
My row mate appeared to be in his early 40s. He was suited up, tie and all. My new friend (I’ll call him Sandy) started a conversation as soon as I buckled. Our conversation went like this:
SANDY: Hi, I’m Sandy. How are you? What do you do?
ME: Doing well. I’m Jack, and I’m a trainer.
(Should I reciprocate by asking what he does for a living? That would be the polite thing to do, but I’m still holding out hope of avoiding a gab-fest!)
SANDY: I am in abrasives.
ME: (Hmmm…abrasives. I have no idea what that means. Should I ask?)
I’m not familiar with that product.
SANDY: I sell the raw materials that go into sand blasters to remove paint and rust.
ME: (Materials for sand blasters? It sounds like he’s a sand salesman!)
So, if I understand correctly, you sell sand? That must be a boring job.
SANDY: Boring? Not at all! Did you know that the infrastructure of our nation is at risk? My product is critical to our country. Bridges, pipelines, broadcast towers, satellite transmitters and receivers all need regular maintenance to ensure safety and functionality. (He paused for a breath.) Without proper maintenance, thousands of lives would be at risk, along with our communications infrastructure that guarantees the basic services of society and military readiness, public utilities, transportation, air travel…
His passion was unexpected. At this point, I was ready to get out my credit card and buy some sand! Sandy was passionate about his product, and he believed that the service he provided was critical for the country’s infrastructure. He was so persuasive about his product that I became wrapped up in emotion. Sandy spoke in terms that I could understand and that were meaningful to me and my life (I still think about Sandy’s message when I drive nervously over a bridge). He talked about his job with a fervor that I had seldom seen before.
As the flight progressed, I mulled over the conversation and Sandy’s spontaneous and inspiring response to my insensitive comment about his “boring” job. The intensity with which he described his job was truly impressive. Eventually the underlying lesson dawned on me: If this guy could be passionate about selling sand, of all things, I had absolutely no excuse not to be passionate about my job.
Purpose in the Classroom
Have you ever dragged yourself into a classroom, dreading going through the motions of teaching the latest set of software modifications or policy changes? If you have, you are certainly not alone. Developing training on detailed sets of procedures or teaching the same technical content week after week can lead to feeling numb and insignificant. Most of us will throw up our hands and apologize to the class for the boring nature of the content. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Our challenge, then, is how trainers can generate the passion of the “sand salesman.” The insights I gained from Sandy made me reconsider the way my training projects could positively impact people’s lives and how mastering new skills could lead to greater success on the part of my participants. Armed with new skills, learners can provide for their families and improve their career prospects. It was clear that the sand salesman was passionate about his job and his product, and we can be, too.
How do we develop a passion for our training? Passion comes from knowing your purpose and feeling genuine enthusiasm for your job. A sense of purpose provides a reason to complete a task or project.
The concept of purpose is scalable. There can be an overall purpose for a course, and there can (and should) be a purpose for each lesson and topic. The purpose answers crucial questions: So what? Why is this idea important? How will this module lead the learner to be more effective? In what ways will the course contribute to the success of the participants? The answers to these questions define the course’s purpose. Knowing the purpose of the training shows you, the training professional, the reasons your contributions are so important to the learners.
Fueling the Fire
Purpose alone, however, is not enough. In order to have the passion of the sand salesman, you must have enthusiasm as well. Enthusiasm is the fuel that fires the energy in the classroom. In Norman Vincent Peale’s bestselling book “Enthusiasm Makes the Difference,” he notes that as adults, we must work to develop the enthusiasm that comes so naturally to children.
We must continually remind ourselves of the honor that we hold as trainers who have the ability to improve people’s lives. Think about the many times you’ve received appreciative comments from your learners about how your work changed them.
A clear understanding of purpose paired with enthusiasm will propel your training to the next level. Let your passion for your topic come through in your voice and movements. Enthusiasm is infectious, and before you know it, your classroom will be alive with energy. This passion will result in many benefits, including greater engagement and a more enjoyable experience for both participants and instructor. Remember the lesson from the sand salesman, and let your passion show in the classroom.