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Powerful Debriefing – How can I learn this stuff?


I'm a qualified trainer with lots of design/delivery experience, but the one area I sometimes feel I could do better in is the debriefing of training games/exercises. I tend to find myself asking the same old "what went well?" "what didn't go so well" type of question to delegates, and feel I'm missing a trick somewhere.

I've seen some trainers over the years (particularly when attending "outdoor events") who are MASTERS at debriefing, and really know exactly the right questions to ask to get delegates to extract powerful. learning points.

So my question is: How do they learn this skill, and how can I get better at it? It it just a matter of practice, or can anyone recommend some reading/courses?

Thank you.
Helen Wyatt

5 Responses

  1. Good preparation is key.
    I sympathise with you, I find myself sometimes struggling to find new ways to drive feedback.

    However, I have to say good preparation is key. The activity, game, exercise, has been included for a reason, there isa learning goal associated, so prepare a list of questions beforehand that can be referred to.

    Using open questuions of course helps to get peopple to talk, but think about using challenging statements or questions to provoke responses, particularly useful if an emotional response highlights what the student REALLY thinks/feels.

  2. Know your clients and observe like mad
    I completely sympathise.

    This was my weakest point when I started – but as most of my training consists of games and exercises, I learnt fast!

    So, yes, practice is key. And leaving enough time for debriefing so that both you and participants can go into some depth during the discussion, is also vital.

    Observation is also key. The reason why those delivering outdoor events might be especially good at it, is that although they have quite a good idea of what the learning outcomes might be, these will be specific to those attending. Through very careful observation, they are then able to make the discussion specific to the client, at that point in time.

    So, get as much information from your client before hand, so that you have a clue of what to look out for during the exercises, know what your exercises aim to bring out but also remain open to see if anything new comes to light.

    And enjoy!

  3. Quote examples
    I know what you mean – they’ve heard the same questions before and it’s a bit routine for them. I agree with the comments below; something I try to do is write down some memorable quotes that exemplify behaviours or attitudes then play those back. It helps to bring alive the discussion and people latch onto the impact or implications of the quote. The skillful bit is how close to the bone you can get with some of the quotes and how they are positioned, eg with humour.

    Peter Dunn

  4. ORCA
    When I started out I really watched a couple of people who were really good at this and I then “stole their song”; it goes like this;

    O observe; watch the exercise and make copious notes of what happened and who did what (watch and note also the things that are on the perimeter; the people who aren’t involved in the action but on the sideline)If you can use video…great!

    R remind; in the feedback session remind people what happened; “Dave, at the moment when Sonia started to topple, you called out “Oi, don’t fall on me!”…this is pure presentation of evidence, not judgement; so you may say “Steve, you frowned when Jo was giving you instructions” but not “Steve you were confused/unhappy when Jo was giving you instructions” (the former is a description of what happened, the latter is a judgement)

    C challenge; “Why did you say that, Dave?”, “How did you feel at that moment, Sonia?”, “How does that make you feel now, Dave?”, “What effect did that have on you, at the time, Mike?”
    “What was going through your mind, Steve?” or “Did you notice that, Jo?”

    Finally and perhaps most importantly

    A associate/apply; “So what does this tell us about how we can/should/shouldn’t act/behave/react in the real world/workplace?”

    I hope this helps

  5. Thanks for the reassurance
    Just wanted to say thanks for your replies on this – it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who finds this a difficult area. A particular thanks to Rus for giving me such a practical “how to do it” list.


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