The older I get the more I realize that there is very little Universal Knowledge. There are so many things (cultural references, song lyrics, basic facts) that I can safely assume my immediate family and oldest friends will recognize but outside of these groups I am constantly surprised by the things that people have never heard of, or don’t remember.
Over 20 years ago, in my then day job of corporate training (maybe that should read Corporate Training) I had responsibility for the career development of other trainers, running a graduate trainee scheme. I enjoyed it, enjoyed helping people who had never delivered any training to develop the skills and confidence to train complete strangers, all within two months of joining the firm.
One of my standard pieces of advice was “Make it easy on yourself”. There was a checklist of things that people needed to do on every course, and the syllabus for each course was very specific, but the courses did not follow scripts. There was plenty of scope for each trainer to bring some of their personality into each course they delivered, and to work according to their own strengths.
For example, if the delegates were getting restless before a trainer had completed the entire checklist of introductions, Health & Safety Procedures, Course Timings, discussing objectives, telling everyone where the tea and coffee machines were, and so on, they should begin the course anyway: give them something memorable in the first 15 minutes, don’t think that you have to run through a 30-minute checklist just because that’s what other people might do. But make sure that before the first break you tell everyone the important stuff.
“Make it easy on yourself” I’d say, “you know, like the old Walker Brothers song”. Every graduate trainee looked equally blank at this. The youngest of them was maybe 8 years younger than me, but some of them were only 4 years younger than me. They had all grown up in the UK but not one of them had heard this 1966 #1 single (written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David).
Eventually I dug it out, on cassette (that’s how long ago it was), and brought it in for everyone to hear. One or two of them suggested that they might have heard it before but the words were unfamiliar.
Similar things have happened throughout my working life. It was a real eye-opener about five years ago to work with people not much younger than me who had never seen “Fawlty Towers”. Phrases like “There’s enough material there for an entire conference”, “I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it” or “A satisfied customer – we should have him stuffed” meant nothing to my colleagues. They might mean nothing to you, but for anyone who grew up in the UK in the 1970s, or who was already an adult in the 1970s (which is most of my family and friends) there is no need to explain any of them.
And “Make it easy on yourself” is always good advice. I haven’t taken it to heart myself consistently these last 20 years. Maybe 2016 will be a year when I do.