Welcome once again to ‘Trainer’s Corner’ where we give you the chance to read the experiences of other freelance trainers and to learn some tips and tricks from them. Want to be included in the series?
We are delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Dr George Jennings. George has over 15 years’ experience as a freelance and corporate trainer, in addition to being a martial arts teacher and practitioner, and also a university lecturer. George has taught in various countries and it’s a pleasure to have had the chance to interview George below.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, George
The martial arts stirred my interest in health and fitness, which led me to the sport and exercise sciences.
Now, after my master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Exeter, I am an academic in the social sciences of sport with a research career examining martial arts cultures and pedagogies.
I taught at St Mary’s University in London, the University of Abertay in Scotland (where I gained my PGCHE) and am now with Cardiff Metropolitan University (where I became a fellow of the Higher Education Academy).
I also have a second background in teaching English as a foreign language in Mexico, where I lived from 2011 to 2016.
This twin interest in research and communication has led me to help executives and researchers prepare for presentations, and for scholars to seek my help when writing job and grant applications.
I enjoy collaborating with fellow researchers from different cultures and countries, such as in China, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Spain.
2. How did you get involved with Freelance/Corporate Training?
I first worked for several business English schools in Mexico back in 2011, and then, from my connections and recommendations from students, I started to develop my own clientele among business people and professionals in different fields.
Several students requested specialist courses to prepare them for international trips to New York and other cities and the idea to prepare researchers for international conferences emerged from those short courses.
3. What subjects do you provide training on? Your Top 5?
Five of the things I have provided training on in the past and that I still offer include:
- How to converse in English in natural settings – I have given conversation classes through a “walking and talking” approach in the streets of Mexico City, to enable people to think on the move and speak more fluently while avoiding obstacles and negotiating traffic.
- How to present in public – from the planning to the performance itself, I have created short sources to help people feel confident and prepared for a successful keynote speech, awards ceremony or job interview.
- How to write with clarity and precision – I have used specific writing exercises to develop people’s vocabulary, flow, and structure needed in different vocations. I have tried to challenge engineers with autobiographical writing and to engage doctors with classical fiction.
- How to publish in academic English – working with social scientists from countries where English is not the native tongue has enabled me to assist Chinese, Japanese and Spanish colleagues publish their work in peer-reviewed journal articles.
- How to feel at home as an ex-pat – I have supervised visiting PhD students, and have nurtured their development in the language while making the most of my skills in cultural integration to make them feel at home while abroad.
4. What are the biggest challenges as a trainer?
Finding clients for specialist training can be very challenging. It is far easier to give standard courses, such as business English or conversational English, as there is a large market with new potential clients every day.
But finding regular clients for particular services (such as proofreading or coaching for speeches) will be a rarity unless you actively market your skills.
5. What is your favorite part of being a trainer?
Freedom and flexibility. You have a lot of freedom to develop the materials for each person.
Every client is different, and you will learn to be creative for their specialist needs.
Sessions can be dynamic and can make use of current events and challenges that everyone has an opinion on.
6. How do you identify the training needs of the employees or people you train?
Through a personal interview with them. I then request them to write a draft of a speech or talk in order to read what and how they think in English.
7. Your one Tip on how to be a good trainer?
Train and actively cultivate your own skills and qualities.
You need to develop your own capabilities in order to inspire others.
I need to give conferences and receive feedback myself: Was I speaking too quickly? Were some of the slides too text-heavy?
We can all improve ourselves in order to become better communicators, and also share lessons with our clients.
8. A second tip for new corporate and freelance trainers?
Try to find your niche based on your background. What kind of knowledge or qualities do you have that makes you suitable to train a particular population, community or profession?
Do you have something in common with them?
You might have to give mainstream courses, to begin with, but over time, you can start to see your special capabilities in relation to people, skills, activities, and demands.
9. Given your experience dealing with an international clientele, what were the 2 biggest challenges of intercultural communication for you?
The first challenge was to learn the language of my clients, which in this case was Spanish.
I could then understand my students’ jokes and engage in chit chat with other people in their company.
However, language learning is a lifelong process (even in our first language), and you must be prepared to admit when you don’t understand or know the answer when put on the spot.
The second challenge was probably actually returning to my own culture after several years in Mexico.
I found people to be more reserved and less thankful than in their new adopted culture and had some trouble readjusting to ex-pat life.
I had enjoyed showing American executives around Mexico, but found my own culture quite strange, whereas a once foreign culture had become my home.
10. What were the two biggest rewards of teaching people from different cultures?
The sociality of being a freelance trainer is probably the most vivid recollection I have. I felt an immense gratitude from my clients and students, who seemed so pleased to learn from a native British English speaker with university education and an academic background.
Very often my clients and I had breakfast meetings or excursions to coffee shops during the walk and talk classes. This connects to the second reward of lifestyle, as once you go freelance, you can decide where and when you work, and how your work as well.
I focused my activities within walking distance from my home and had classes in a focus block in the mornings and afternoons in order to have a more structured lifestyle than the first year in which I worked for other companies.
11. It looks like you have a lot of experience teaching people about communication skills. What are your 3 top tips for someone who would like to improve their communications skills?
First, you must be open to feedback, even if it might sound like a criticism. It can be embarrassing to be corrected at times, and any feedback, even in front of others, can be memorable and therefore valuable.
Second is the connection between written and verbal communication – how the way we write links to the way we speak (and think). There should be a balance of writing and speaking, although many education systems tend to neglect the speaking part, especially in terms of assessment.
Third, create a mini-project such as a blog article, book review or presentation that is interesting, challenging and realistic. Set weekly and daily tasks to build towards the achievement of this task.
Such an approach is what native speakers and experienced professionals do in their day-to-day working lives, so it makes communication training less artificial and more applied.
George Jennings, Ph.D., PGCHE, FHEA, is a lecturer in sport sociology / physical culture at Cardiff Metropolitan University, where he leads the Sport Studies degree program. George worked as an English teacher and university lecturer in Mexico from 2011 to 2016, where he developed an extensive client base across different sectors, professions, and regions. Bringing these two careers together, he continues to assist international colleagues with their teaching, writing and presenting in English.
You can learn more about George:
- Researchgate where you can find George’s publications
- George on Twitter
- George on LinkedIn
- One of George’s recent publications.