“From Laos with love” – guest author Beate Pinisch writes on “SMART” training

All Posts, Teaching experiences, Workshops

Tips for teachers on training workshops with adults – not only in Southeast Asia (1)1

Have you ever caught yourself sitting in a workshop, training, seminar, or lecture with a wandering mind? Did you then wonder what it was that let your mind go astray? Was it you not concentrating as you should and could, distracted by personal ruminations and/or your mobile device, or was the tuition activity questionable? Will you get out of this session remembering what you came for?

Many of us teachers or trainers face situations in which we do workshops, trainings, hold lecture, give seminars, or tandem-work with adults. How do you capture this particular audience? How do you get them to pay attention, put their personal concerns or mobile devices aside for an hour or two, and – most importantly of all – how do you ensure they will remember what you wanted (or got paid) to get across on this particular day?

Here are my two pennies worth2 from trainings I had to conduct in the course of my 20-year work in Southeast Asia. This particular training was an assignment I had for Cambodia. My job was to conduct a training for farmer groups so they would be able to write a business plan that would be accepted by foreign (Western) organisations.

As many of you will already know, the heart of a good business plan is always your set of objectives. They should be SMART as in:


Example: By October 2020 our cooperative will produce and sell 50 tons of export quality paddy to our cooperation partner “XY” at a minimum contract price of “XY” Euro.3

My problem: How do I make my trainees remember SMART? After all, several of them were semi- or illiterate. And – to be honest – I sometimes needed to look up one of the abbreviations myself. I forgot…

In rural Southeast Asian communities, people tend to be of the visual type: Seeing is believing. So I decided to do this training by drawing things. And what seems to be true all over the world in any teaching situation also applied there: When people actively participate they will love the results and will remember the training well.

Back to my example: What are SMART objectives? First I explained why it is good to have SMART objectives (versus the usual ones, e.g. “we want to produce and sell more rice”). We then worked on a translation of the meanings into the Khmer language.

Smart begins with an “S” (I do not use “pig” in Khmer here, because the “p” ist taken)
Measurable begins with a “G” (in Khmer)
Achievable begins with a “C”
Relevant begins with a “P”
Time-based begins with a “H”.

Then we looked for daily words or objects that start with the same letters and found “swine”, “goat”, “cabbage”, “pagoda” and “horse”. That made for a very nice picture of a “swine, a goat, and a horse eating cabbage in front of a pagoda”.

We re-checked: Just from remembering the picture, the farmers were able to deduce the guidelines how to do SMART objectives, and then to develop those objectives.

When I met some of them a few days later, they were very happy that they had been (and still were) able to work with such a complex topic and get results. They told me it will be impossible for them to ever forget about SMART objectives.

Lesson learnt: Ensure your audience participates, has fun – and try to visualise as much as possible.

Why is the paper so crumpled? We did not have a blackboard, so we used flipchart paper on a clothes line. The other lesson learnt: Improvise!


Text & photos by B. Pinisch, with editor’s notes by I. Martin


Notes by the editor

1 This particular training was conducted by the author in Kambodia. Part (2) is forthcoming.
One British ex-pat/ TESOL expert working in Thailand, who showed interest in our project and visited last year, pointed out that we “train dogs, not people”. This was a valid point, and we agree that word choices need to be reflected critically (“decolonise your mind“). The word “training” is, however, widely used in the world of business and also by NGOs working in “developing” countries.

2 “Two pennies worth” is an idiomatic expression for “my humble opinion”, i.e. apparently not worth much, a modest understatement.

3 “XY” are (almost […xyz]) the last letters of the Latin alphabet and therefore used as a sysnonym for “any (not specified, unknown which)”.

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