We trainers dutifully include “skills practice” in most of the soft skills training we facilitate.  Our intentions are good, but the “bang for the buck” is often low, so low, in fact, that we should scrap skills practice all together.

I’m half-way serious about this, but I cling to the hope that skills practice rounds can, with fairly minor modifications, be transformed into powerful experiences that will leave participants permanently changed for the better.

The chief problem with skills practice rounds—I admit a possible exception of “fish bowl” practices at the front of the classroom—lies in the thinness of the feedback soup served to the actors after their performances.  Instead of meaty examples of words well-spoken or spoken less well, the actor is served a lot of generalities along the lines of, “Ya done good, kid.”

The root of the problem is the difficulty, given very limited time, in preparing participants to understand the importance of giving useful feedback and understanding what makes feedback useful.  We toss too much at the participants and hope that they’ll catch at least some of the important points.  Some of them do catch some of it, of course, but too few catch too little.  The first round of practice accordingly centers around participants asking one another, “So what is it we’re supposed to be doing?”

The solution to the problem lies in teaching participation in skills practice as a skill in its own right, preferably via online self-study.  Make completion of this learning item pre-work for any class that incorporates skills practice, and charge registrants with being prepared to “teach-back” sub-topics during the classroom experience.

I won’t map out for you here the content of the pre-work item.  Instead, I’ll point you to a prototype I’ve published to SlideShare, entitled Coaching in the Classroom.  Click the link below, or search in SlideShare for dennisafahey.  http://www.slideshare.net/dennisafahey/coaching-in-the-classroom-more-good-stuff-from-the-learning-maverick