Training by Gustav

A blog about corporate training in an intercultural setting

The all-important first impression


For many trainers your audience will usually consist of unknown people. How do you make sure they start the training on the right side? I try hard not to make the training feel like mandatory education but rather an opportunity to learn something. Some good tips on how to start your training sessions:


Set the mood

Set the right mood by having written a big welcome, playing a cool video-loop on the projector or displaying an exciting picture of yourself as a powerpoint slide. Add music (especially in the morning) to get people to wake-up. If time allows, allow people to mingle a little to get to know each other if they are a newly formed group


Introduce yourself

Greet everyone as they enter the room (as far as possible), to make sure you get faces of the people in there as well as them not feeling to distant from you. I myself have great difficulties learning names (don’t ask my family what I’ve called them throughout the years ūüėČ ) so usually make a point of marking everyone I greet in an attendance chart and making a note (if I can) where they sit. Don’t try to avoid eye-contact or hide behind a table; be approachable!


Start on time

Even if all participants aren’t there yet I like to set the discipline for the rest of the session, encouraging everyone to be on time after breaks. If I start to be sloppy, then I can only expect my participants to mimic me.


Know your annoying habits

I love chewing on pens and will often eat pens quicker than I write with them. This however is not something good to do in front of an audience as it takes away focus and may come of as a nervous trait. Other common behaviours like these might be clicking with your pen, playing with the keys in your pocket or clearing your throat.


Keep standing up

Standing up and moving around keeps focus on you (but don’t be too distracting). Sitting down for me is only when I’ve asked people to complete an assignment or when we together review something on the projector (but even then I’m quick to jump up to point highlight points).


Image credit: orator by southtyrolean

An overview of self-education sites

Self-learning online has become very popular and there are several sites offering courses to learn a wide range of topics. For a project I needed to get an overview of some of the most popular sites and created the below matrix. Here it is for all of you to read, please let me know if you find something incorrect. Of course this is not a complete listing of all such sites, Futurelearn and iversity among others were left out, but the table still contains the biggest ones.

 CourseraedX Khan
LyndaSkillshare treehouse Udemy
CostFreeFreeFree$20-$35 per monthFree to $10 per month$25-$49 per monthFree to $300 per course
Course completion certificatePaidPaidNoYesNoNoYes
Type (mooc, etc.)MOOCMOOCVideo libraryVideo libraryVideo libraryVideo libraryVideo library
Users10 million4 million10 million4 million0.9 million0.1 million8 million
Mobile appsAndroid and iOSAndroid and iOSAndroid and iOSAndroid, iOS and WindowsAndroid and iOSAndroid and iOSAndroid and iOS

Training for an Indian audience


Intercultural trainings will always have an added layer of difficulty compared to training in your home culture. For those of us that aren’t Indian, training for an Indian audience does have a special flavour (as does training for Australians, Argentinians or Danes). I’ve held quite many on-site trainings in India and even more remotely and thought I’d share some tested tips on what to remember when training Indians. Many of these tips are applicable to just working with Indians as well. Of course your experience may not be exactly the same, depending on what area of India you are in and the company culture. If you want to compare Indian culture to your own, I recommend Hofstede’s research.

Nurture the relationship


India is a relationship-oriented culture, as opposed to task-oriented cultures. This means that maintaining a good relationship with your colleagues may at times be more important than achieving a task.

How does it affect me?

Remember to always start conversations with a “How are you doing” and some small-talk. Also make sure to use names in communication, “Hi Susheel” instead of “Hi”. It is considered rude not to offer a good greeting and to get straight to the task at hand. Shake hands with everyone you’ve met previously, even if you are just passing in the office.

Watch your questions


Indians don’t like to disappoint. Thus they try their best to avoid the answer “No” and will go at lengths to say “Yes” to your questions, even if it isn’t correct. I like giving the example of an Indian friend who was visiting me in Finland. We were going to the sauna, which was a first for him and I knew he was hesitant about it. When it was time to go, I asked him if he was ready. His answer was impressive: “Yes Gustav, maybe tomorrow ok?”. He was using the words Yes and Ok to say No. Being able to do so is a skill I don’t possess but that in his case comes from a culture where it is impolite to say no directly.

How does it affect me?

You need to know how to ask your questions. If you ask “Did everybody understand this?” you’ll get everyone saying Yes. Instead, asking for a repetition will show you if everyone understood: “So tell me, how did changing this setting affect the outcome?”. When doing exercises it is better to ask “At what stage are you now?” rather than “Do you need any help?”, as the latter will likely give you a non-disappointing reply.

Know the hierarchy


In preparation for a training, I sent an email to all 60 participants to send me answers to some questions. I did not get a single reply, even though I sent out a reminder. The reason none did what I asked was that hierarchy-wise I was a peer or even subordinate, the task hadn’t been explicitly approved by a manager. Compared to many western cultures, India is more hierarchical. For some tasks to be accomplished, you will need manager approval for it to happen. The reason for this is that if an employee takes a task from you then he/she is going against the orders of their manager, who has given them another task. Although the manager has asked the employee to take part in your training, the pre-work you are asking for may not be clear to be part of the training.

How does it affect me?

To overcome this problem you’ll need to always include the manager in whatever you are asking. This means that instead of asking the employee directly you may need to ask the manager first, who will then assign the task. Sometimes you may also have to involve your own manager to ask the Indian manager, as the manager may not take tasks from lower ranking employees. Hierarchy is very different in different industries and companies, but factor this in if tasks/requests are not being done.

Understand time


I grew up in Sweden and live in Finland. Time is important here: You are not supposed to be late, nor early (to the point that you will stand outside your host’s door and wait to ring until it is exactly the time agreed). India is different. When something happens is not as important as that it happens.

How does it affect me?

Adapt to your surroundings and don’t plan by the minute. Be prepared that the training may not start at 0900 but at 0945 because participants are missing or the beamer cable is missing. This means you have to be flexible but also that the people around you are likely to be flexible as well. If your room isn’t working it may very well be possible to check with the adjoining room’s participants and find that they are happy to trade rooms. A footnote: An hour lunch break is usually had around 1300-1500, so plan accordingly.

Shaking the head


The first time I held a training in India I asked my participants if they understood. They all shook their heads, which prompted me to explain the topic anew. Again I asked if they understood and again I was met by a head shake. I explained a third time. Only then did I realise that the head shake I interpreted as negative was actually affirmative!

How does it affect me?

Check this video and know that the head shake may mean several things:


Image credit: Diwali sweets – Sweet India by avlxyz

My tested tips on how to deal with difficult participants

Stormtroopers Training: Theory by Pedro Vezini

Did you ever encounter a situation where you were training but one of the participants stubbornly refused to learn, criticised you or in general disturbed the training? Every now and then you as trainer will encounter “difficult” learners. By difficult I don’t mean that they have a hard time learning, but that they through their actions become a difficult participant. Want to know how to deal with such situations? Read on!

Difficult learner?

One training I held had a person who from the onset had a look of disapproval on his face. It turned out to be more than just a look as the person kept interrupting me by asking questions that were unrelated or unreasonable. The rest of the group caught on to what he was doing and were losing focus on the subject at hand, making the general feeling in the room take a turn for the worse.

Another time I had a person that kept challenging me, nitpicking on details making it difficult to progress in the training. I especially remember the feeling of trying not to let me get dragged into discussion after discussion about whether or not small topics were presented correctly.

There are quick fixes and then there are good fixes. Generally the more effort you put in, the better result you can expect (isn’t this true for all of life? :-)). Below you find a list of actions you can take, presented by the amount of effort required (from low to high).

Low effort solutions

Have a break

Having a break may calm things down and with luck the session will get on a new track. During the break try to get peoples mind on another topic than what was just discussed, for example by putting on feel-good music or by doing something unexpected (like offering candies!).

Ignore the behaviour

This technique is often used to counter trolls online and is then referred to as shadowbanning, ie. let the person rant but ignore it. It might tire the person or make them understand what he/she is doing. It might also not tire the person and then you’re stuck with even more interruptions.

Use humour

For some situations, you can use humour to defuse the situation and get the person on another track. When a disturbing or offensive remark is made say something like “Whoa there, I hope that wasn’t a serious remark cause that could really be offensive” or “Haha, yeah, but let’s stay away from those kind of remarks”. Make sure you know your audience and what message the person is trying to get across before trying this technique.

Use group dynamics

Sometimes getting the person to sit among people with whom he or she feels either more or less comfortable with, will have a calming effect. If you are going to do this then I recommend you use a subtle tactic, such as saying that we’ll energise the room by switching seats after the break.

Set the rules straight

This might be too late to do once the training has begun but you could include general behaviour in the training rules (no phones, etc.). If you think you’ll have a difficult group then address that right at the beginning, saying something like “I know there is a problem with this issue, but this training will not focus on that”. If you do your introduction well, this won’t be needed. I’ll sometimes start trainings with a whiteboard session asking for expectations on the training, then circling the topics I’ll cover while explaining why others aren’t covered.

High effort solutions

Be strict

Ask the person to wait until he/she is offered to speak or ask that the upsetting behaviour is stopped. This requires that you can be assertive and get acceptance for your authority; depending on the setting this may not always be easy.

Give the person the space he/she wants

Let the person speak uninterrupted for a couple of minutes and get it out of the system. After this you can silence further tries by referring back to the earlier opportunity the person had.

Let the group take the challenge

If you think the group is willing and able to counter what the person says then you can let the group challenge him/her. Ie. repeat what the person said and ask for the group’s opinion. Be careful though as this might really upset both the group dynamics and in bad cases be harmful for the person in question. If you go this way then make sure to moderate the discussion and watch out for bullying behaviour.

Do something else

If you are in a big group setting then switch to smaller group work or the opposite, switch to lecturing if a workshop enables the behaviour. A few years back I had one person that had a constant need to talk in workshop. I understood that the big group workshop we were in now would never work, so I switched to smaller groups were the person in question got a lot more space. This worked out marvellously.

Acknowledge and help

The most effective, and difficult, way to change difficult behaviour is to find its cause and either help correct it or acknowledging it. Sit down with the person during a break (relaxed and “by coincidence” if possible, rather than a direct approach) and try to find out what is bothering the person. A lot of the time the person will tell, for example that they don’t like the change this training is bringing or that they are in a lot of stress. At times you can help, like explaining that the topic you are presenting won’t affect certain parts of their work. Other times the dissatisfaction stems from external factors you can’t control, perhaps then giving the person a possibility to join a later session of yours is a solution?

Be a great presenter

By doing a great presentation, you can sometimes spellbound or “convert” people in your audience. It gives me great satisfaction when I see someone who at the start of the training looks negative and even actively ignores me, but who an hour later is taking active part in the training and is smiling towards me. This comes mostly with presentation experience, though good steps can be taken by educating yourself.


To summarise, the more effort you put in – the more effective the resolution to the unwanted conflict is likely to be. There is always a reason for disturbing behaviour, and it may or not be related to the training you are holding. Getting to know that reason will help you improve the training, but you may not have the time or possibility to do so. In those case, go for the quick fixes and hope for the best.


Image credit: Stormtroopers Training: Theory by Pedro Vezini

One plus one equals great presentation

schramm_ShoredUp_7287 by Montclair Film Fest, on FlickrUsing interactivity is a great way to learn. Contrary to what you first might think, interactivity does not have to be between the learner and another source, it might just as well be between third parties alone! This kind of passive interactivity is not as effective as normal learner interactions, but it does provide an extra dimension to passive listening.

As an example, assume you are eavesdropping on a phone conversation between two people. When do you think you will remember the most of what was said: when you can hear only one of the people or when you can hear both people?
Likely you would be able to remember the dialogue better than the monologue. Why? With the monologue you have only little variation in speech and the content to work as memory aids. With a dialogue you can use the different voices and their interactions as the clues you need to recall, on top of what you can use from the monologue.

In a training session the same technique of having a dialogue instead of monologue may help the audience remember better. Some uses of a dialogue for two presenters are these:

  • Taking turns presenting the subject, seamlessly continuing where the other leaves off.
  • Debating the subject, giving different points of view.
  • One interviewing the other as an expert.
  • One presenting facts while the other offers in-depth analysis or viewpoints.

A very successful presentation I held combined these elements: We were two presenters both offering facts but at the same time discussing what we were saying, giving the presentation a very attention-grabbing format.

What to do when you have only yourself?
Resource-constraints will often mean that you can not get a second presenter, but using elements from this technique is still possible. One way is to subtly move from one side of the stage to the other when presenting different views, and standing in the middle when concluding (this technique is sometimes referred to as the speaker’s triangle). Another way is to bring in fictional people as in “one might argue that”. I’ve been doing this myself during technical trainings by alternating between how to do it and why we do it. So first explaining how to do it and then going in to depth on the reasons why.

Don’t overdo this! If the are two of you then make sure you have a good chemistry and know how to work together. Watching two presenters who are unsure of who does what is as painful as seeing just one of them trying to present an unknown subject. If you are trying this as a one-man show then you better get your structure clear and easy to follow, or your audience will fade away to something easier to follow (like daydreams).

Let me know your thoughts on this and how your presentations went in the comments below!


Image credit: schramm_ShoredUp_7287 by Montclair Film Fest

Are you using training modules effectively?

organization by Jen Kim, on Flickr

I often need to reuse material I’ve created for my trainings. For example the introduction about culture in general can be reused no matter if I’m conducting a training on Indian culture or Finnish culture. However, every time I reuse my material it seems I find some improvements to do. This means that my material often is out of sync; in which presentation did I have the most updated version about culture in general?

The answer to this is to work with a modular setup of your presentations. At first it can seem a bit cumbersome to do so but you’ll find the reward in having to spend less work preparing your trainings.

As an example I’ll use a recent training I held on intercultural customer communication. I held it for an audience in India, that would be working with customers in Finland.

The training contained four parts:

1. What is culture and how it affects perception
2. Differences between Indian and Finnish culture
3. Customer communication tips
4. Workshop

I saved the material for the four parts separately on my hard drive, as four modules/files with the following structure:

1. Documents/Culture/Intro/WhatIsCulture.pptx
2. Documents/Culture/Specific/IN-FI.pptx
3. Documents/CustomerCommunication/GeneralTips.pptx
4. Documents/CustomerCommunication/Workshop.pptx

A few weeks later I was asked to give the same training for a Romanian audience. I only needed to adjust the second module and could use the other three as they were. The adjusted module I saved separately as a new module in Documents/Culture/Specific/RO-FI.

Later on I was asked to give a training about Indian culture for Finns. I picked modules one and two, no other work needed. However I improved the first module.

Next I was asked to repeat the training for Indians. This time it was just a matter of picking the right modules and holding the training.

Now my documents look like this and I know they are all the latest version:

1. Documents/Culture/Intro/WhatIsCulture.pptx
2. Documents/Culture/Specific/IN-FI.pptx
3. Documents/Culture/Specific/RO-FI.pptx
4. Documents/CustomerCommunication/GeneralTips.pptx
5. Documents/CustomerCommunication/Workshop.pptx

If I hadn’t had a modular system, I wouldn’t have known where my latest version of the first module was (the one I updated) and I would have had to cut & paste my content for each training. By now having a modular setup for my training material my training preparation time has been reduced. I hope you might find this useful as well!


Image credit: organization by Jen Kim

The 3 great apps I use when presenting

When presenting live, in a face to face environment, there are 3 excellent apps I always have active. They help me control both my presentation and computer, make sure phone is silent and let me easily jot down any issues/questions to return to later. What are the apps? Read on! These apps are all for Android and I’m in no way associated with them :-)

Presentation and computer control:
Unified Remote

Unified remote lets me control anything on my computer. I mostly use its PowerPoint-interface to advance slides with the volume buttons on my phone, instead of getting a separate clicker. If I’m far away from the computer I also use its functionality to remotely control the computer’s mouse and keyboard, for example if I want to quickly open a webpage without going to my computer.

A small piece of software needs to be installed on the computer you wish to control (in my case mostly my work computer). You then connect the phone to the computer either with wifi or bluetooth.

This app is really great and I use it to control my home computer as well, for example to control my music or movie player. There are tons of different remotes built in and you can add your own. The free version offers a standard set of remotes (like basic control of your computer) while the paid version comes with the full set of remotes (eg. PowerPoint).

If you think this app has too many remotes you can disable those that you don’t use or you can try a PowerPoint-only app, such as PowerPoint Remote Control or BL PowerPoint Remote.


Showing some of the different remotes available in this app. Note the two different ones for PowerPoint (Basic & Advanced).


One of the PowerPoint-remotes, I use the volume buttons to advance the slides. Another version with big advance buttons is also available.

Note taking:
Notes Reborn

There are more note taking apps than I care to count, so this app isn’t necessarily the best choice for you. However having one installed for quick notes while in training is a big help. I take notes for all those things I wish to leave for later, be it questions I can’t answer or discussions I wish to follow up on. Notes Reborn doesn’t have any web interface or sync, but I like that you can set it to automatically open your keyboard and a new note when launched. If online sync is import then consider for example Mobisle Notes or Evernote.

Make sure you know your note taking app well and that you use a good keyboard (I prefer SwiftKey or Swype) so that your note taking is quick and doesn’t interrupt with the training flow. Alternatively you can record your notes with the microphone and use either speech-to-text or review the recordings later.

Taking short notes quickly while presenting, using Notes Reborn and SwiftKey

Taking short notes quickly while presenting, using Notes Reborn and SwiftKey

At times capturing an image (of a whiteboard for example) is a lot handier than writing notes.

At times capturing an image (of a whiteboard for example) is a lot handier than writing notes.

Advanced phone control:

While this app may be a little hard to grasp at first, it is one of the most versatile ones you can get. What does it do? Everything and nothing! It is all about what you configure it to do. In a nutshell: You use it to do things depending on different events.

One of my uses in training is that when I turn the phone upside down it goes completely silent, meaning I won’t be disturbed while presenting. I also have it set to vibration only when leaving my home, meaning I don’t have to worry about my phone’s signal being too loud in the office.

Other training related things you could do with it would for example be to:

  • Automatically start a timer when you start a presentation (like the Unified Remote app mentioned above) and then let you know with a vibration or signal 5 minutes before the next break is due.
  • Automatically send a text message to anyone calling you while presenting (something like “I’m presenting right now and will call you back at 1100”).
  • Ignore silent mode if a family member calls twice.

These are just some ideas, you can have it trigger on many different things such as events, locations, states, etc. The app is well worth its price and there is a big support community for help how to set it up.

Should you wish to explore other similar apps then Locale and IFTTT have similar functionalities.

This list shows the various profiles (triggers & actions) I have in use, with the green ones being active right now. The top profile "Knäpptyst" tells my phone to do the actions in "Knäpptyst" when it is face down.

This list shows the various profiles (triggers & actions) I have in use, with the green ones being active right now. The top profile “Kn√§pptyst” tells my phone to do the actions in “Kn√§pptyst” when it is face down.

Editing actions for the task “Kn√§pptyst”, here only instructing the phone to go into silent mode.

5 must-remember tips when creating questionnaires

There are some common mistakes I see too often in training feedback questionnaires (as well as in any type of questionnaire I’m asked to complete). I find them annoying and they make me answer less accurately. To help you create better questionnaires I’ve compiled the top 5 mistakes in my experience. Adhering to all of the points below will get you a much fairer result as well making your respondents happier overall. Have a read through and try to remember when creating your next feedback form! Was there something you didn’t agree with? Leave me a comment!

1. Include the middle ground

When working with Likert-scales you have the option to have either an even or odd number of possible answers. Whichever you decide will impact the results you get, and before deciding on your scale you need to understand how. As an example, compare these two tables:

 Even scaleOdd scale
Fully agree20%20%
Somewhat agree30%20%
Neither agree nor disagree-20%
Somewhat disagree30%20%
Fully disagree20%20%

The people choosing the middle option 3 in an odd scale are forced to make a decision with an even scale. They will lean either way and logically their choices should follow those of the other respondents, giving the same number of answers towards both directions. With an even scale, you could say that 50% agree with the statement whereas with an odd scale you could say that 40% agree with the statement. Which is more correct? Rather than answering this question right off I’d propose answering it giving all the statistics when presenting the results: 40% agreed, 40% disagreed and 20% did neither.

Though both an even and odd scale work, in my experience you need to be careful when selecting an even scale. Respondents may be too lazy to correctly decide what they want to answer when they are forced to. Giving them the option to say that they have no opinion will in general make both you and the respondent more satisfied.

2. Define the scale

Did you ever consider that yours and the respondent’s view of a scale are not the same? Assume the respondent wants to answer “very good” to the following question:

On a scale 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how did you find the training material?

Where would you put “very good”?

Are you sure other respondents would do the same?

Depending on how the respondent defines “very good” the answer might be anything on that scale. Perhaps the respondent sees 1 as bad and 10 as very good, perhaps he/she sees 1 as good and 10 as excellent? When you later evaluate the response, how do you know the respondent’s definition of the scale?

To avoid these problems you always need to have the scale defined. At the very least define the top, bottom and middle points. Preferably every point in the scale should be defined, reducing the number of definition-errors. Also aim to use fairly simple words for the definitions, in order to overcome language problems.

3. Don’t ask the impossible

Even at top-name consulting agencies I’ve come across surveys asking for a Yes/No-answer using a graded scale. This surprises me as trying to answer such a question, while maintaining logic, is impossible. Consider the following question:

Would you recommend this training to your colleague?

1. Fully agree
2. Somewhat agree
3. Neither agree/disagree
4. Somewhat disagree
5. Fully disagree
– No answer

The question in this case is asking for a Yes or No answer while the only answering possibilities are how much you agree. This question either needs to have other answering options (Yes/No/Maybe) or to be rephrased into a statement, like this:

I would recommend this training to a colleague

4. Have an option to opt out

Even though you’d like a 100% response rate on all questions, you can’t force the respondent to answer questions he/she doesn’t have a clue about. The difference compared to the middle ground option discussed in the beginning is that not all questions may be applicable, even if the respondent would like to answer. Consider the below question:

How would you rate day 2 of the training?

5. Excellent
4. Good
3. Ok
2. Bad
1. Awful

What if the respondent was ill and couldn’t take part on the second day, how should he/she respond? Ensure that you always include an option saying No answer, Not applicable or something similar. This way you will have less frustrated respondents, and more correct results. Also remember that when presenting the results you need to say specify whether your percentage is of the total number of respondents (including the n/a-answers), or of this question’s number of respondents (excluding the n/a-answers).

5. Avoid negations

Consider the following statement:

I’m not unhappy with the seating.

If you liked the seating, should you answer that you agree or disagree with this statement? Most people will have to think some before answering this question, something that will both confuse the respondent and may cause incorrect answers. In this example, if you agree with the statement then you are saying that you like the seating. Even if the respondent may spend enough time to correctly answer this question, will the reviewer correctly identify the answers?

A much better way to ask the very same question would be:

I’m happy with the seating.

By removing both the negating not and the negative unhappy you make it much easier to work with this question.

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