Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are soft-skills?
2. What makes so different from other trainers?
3. I understand you “facilitate” in your workshops. What is facilitation and how does it differ from what others do?
4. If I attend one of your workshops today and attend the same workshop a month from now, would I experience the same material and the same workshop?
5. “Walking Your Talk” is a popular phrase. How do you transmit your information in a way that people know they ought apply what you teach in their work environment?
6. We have heard you talk about “State Dependent Learning”. Can you explain what that is?
7. Many training programs have an impact that lasts a few days. We hear that people use your materials for years, even as a life-changing event. What is the difference… how do you do that?
8. Are your workshops interactive? What exercises do you use?
9. What is the difference between your facilitation workshops and your mentoring?
10. What types of mentoring do you offer?
11. Why would a person want mentoring versus attending a workshop?
12. I noticed that you limit your class size to 24.  Why is that?
13. Do you use a questionnaire in your workshops and if so, in which ones?
14. Which companies and organizations will most benefit from your type of training/facilitation and/or mentoring


 

1. What are soft-skills?
In order to have a successful long-term career as an engineer, scientist, geophysicist, IT professional, or other technical professional, two general areas of discipline and competence are necessary. The first is your technical area of specialization or focus. You have to be good technically.  The second is the non-technical aspect of knowledge leading to success. This area includes the competencies of being able to: be part of a team; communicate effectively with colleagues, customers, and others; contribute, in a constructive manner, your ideas to the pool of ideas contributed by other team members; influence even when you don’t have authority; manage and lead in your technical organization; work effectively across departmental boundaries; and generally integrate fully as a technical person into the non-technical aspects of your engineering organization. This second broad area and the capabilities included there, are known generally as “Soft Skills” or “Interpersonal People Skills”. Soft Skills, Interpersonal People Skills, Communication, and Management and Leadership Skills are the areas of expertise of Steven Cerri’s work.
back to the top

 

2. What makes so different from other trainers?
Two points make me different from other trainers.

First I do not consider myself solely a trainer. Training is a process of transmitting information from the trainer to the student or participant. The goal of the trainer is to be able to have the student reproduce what has been transmitted by the trainer in the safe, comfortable environment of the classroom.

I consider myself both a trainer and a facilitator. The purpose of the facilitator, my purpose, is not only to have the participant be able to reproduce the material I have given, but also for the participant to take ownership of the material in such a way that they can “generalize it application” across a variety of situations including the work environment. There is a huge difference between being able to reproduce information in the comfort of a classroom and being able to apply what has been taught in the real, everyday work environment. My goal is seldom to have the participant “reproduce” what has been taught only in the classroom. I am always looking for and attempting to ensure that the participant feels powerful enough with the new material that he or she can apply it in their work environment the very next day.

The second point that sets my workshops apart from others is that I am an engineer, a geophysicist with an MBA. My specialty is training and facilitating and coaching engineers, scientists, and technical professionals. I talk their language. My workshops are not taught by someone from a completely different background than the participants. I come from the world in which they live. This lends credibility, ease of communication, and a specificity of examples and language that connects immediately with the participants.
back to the top

 

3. I understand you “facilitate” in your workshops. What is facilitation and how does it differ from what others do?
Facilitation and training are very different processes. While I do training at times, my major focus is “facilitation”. Here is the difference.

Trainers “transmit” information to the students. The goal of training is to have the student “duplicate” what has been transmitted. Either the student can reproduce what was transmitted or the student can take an exam to determine if they “understand” what was transmitted.

Facilitation is less about having the participants “reproduce” the transmitted information as put forth and more about the participant taking ownership of the material in such a way that they can “generalize” it into other situations especially situations in their everyday work environment. Therefore, during facilitation, situations are constructed that ensure that the participants not only intellectually understand what has been taught but also understand it well enough to know how to use it in a variety of situations and they can demonstrate that they can apply it in a variety of situations. Therefore, facilitation is a much more intense process than training. Not all trainers can facilitate. In fact, few people who want to facilitate can do so unless they have intimate knowledge of not only their material but also of the work environment of their participants. Therefore, one of the reasons I can facilitate workshops for engineers and scientists is because that is my background. It would be impossible for me to facilitate in my workshops if my background were psychology or restaurant management for example.
back to the top

 

4. If I attend one of your workshops today and attend the same workshop a month from now, would I experience the same material and the same workshop?
Yes and no. Let me explain.

Yes you would experience the same material. When I am facilitating a “Communication” workshop I know what material I want to cover and therefore, all my “Communication” workshops cover the same material. Likewise, all my “Leadership” workshops cover the same material.

No however, would be my answer to your question; “would I experience the same workshop?” Here is the reason.

At the beginning of every workshop I spend from 30 to 45 minutes moving around the room asking questions of the participants. The questions generally are: “Your name”; “Your position/title”; “If this were a perfect workshop for you how would you know?”; “What prompted you to attend this workshop?”; “What do you want from this workshop?”.

These questions are specifically designed to allow me to transform the workshop into a facilitation instead of a training. Based on the information I receive from the answers to these questions I will tailor the way I teach the material, the examples I use, the questions I ask, the whole structure of the workshop so the “material that I always intended to present” rides on the information presented by the participants at the beginning of the workshop. In fact, the material the participants present when they answer my early questions are the concepts that will make my material relevant, useful, and meaningful. Therefore, I will tailor what I say so that it dovetails with what the participants have already told me is meaningful for them.

In all modesty this requires a good deal of experience facilitating because I make these adjustments “on the fly”. There is no time to prepare for this and it is only because I am an engineer and geophysicist that I can make these adjustments in real-time. This, to me, is the joy of what I do. It is what makes every class different and meaningful because I know and I can tell that what I am presenting is connecting with every group in a different and meaningful way.
back to the top

 

5. “Walking Your Talk” is a popular phrase. How do you transmit your information in a way that people know they ought apply what you teach in their work environment?
Very early in the morning of the first day of every workshop participants will hear me say the following: “Now be aware that what I am teaching you is not something I use only on weekdays or holidays. I am not teaching you this information as if it is something you are to use only on special occasions when you really need it and other times you can go back to what you were doing before. Please be careful to notice what I’m saying, what I’m doing, how I’m behaving… everything because I am always doing what I am teaching you to do. You may not notice it right now, but by the end of the workshop you will. So remember, I’m doing, saying, being what I’m teaching you. So be attentive.”

By the end of the workshop, most if not all of the participants have begun to notice what I’m doing and invariably participants will begin to make comments such as; “Oh you just did xyz which is what you were teaching us yesterday afternoon.” Perfect!
back to the top

 

6. We have heard you talk about “State Dependent Learning”. Can you explain what that is?
I have had a theory for some time and neuroscience is now validating my suspicion and that is that learning takes place while a person is in a specific emotional and physiological “state”.  The more powerful the emotional and physiological state the more powerful and long-lasting the learning.  A corollary to that is this; “the closer the state of learning is to the state the person will be in when they access the learning, the easier the learning will be for the person to have access to that learning”.

Another way of saying this is by example; if I will have to access the learning when I’m fearful then I ought to be in a fearful state when I’m training for the specific capability.  It is for this reason that US Army soldiers train in realistic was situations.  They don’t want to learn something in the quiet of a classroom that they will have to access in the heat of battle.

When it is applied to my workshops obviously it takes a different form.  In my workshops the key is what kind of exercises are the participants engaging in.  They won’t be building paper towers in an attempt to build team building capabilities.  There is no use teaching workshop participants how to build teams buy building paper towers while doing so in a comfortable environment like a class room.  There is very little in the classroom environment that will translate over into the work environment.  The emotional and physiological states of the classroom are very different than the typical work environment.

Therefore, in my workshops, participants will break into groups and they will be given assignments that are real to the classroom.  The exercises will be specific to the class, specific to the participants, and specific to the situations we have been discussing in the workshop.  Everything we do is geared to generating an emotional and physiological state that is as real as possible and there can be realistically “generalized” or “transferred” to other situations.
back to the top

 

7. Many training programs have an impact that lasts a few days. We hear that people use your materials for years, even as a life-changing event. What is the difference… how do you do that?
Most people, especially engineers, scientists, and technical professionals have little time in their career development to learn how to communicate effectively, interact with a wide variety of people elegantly, and generally go beyond their technical focus.  Therefore, much of what I do is indeed life-changing because it is an aspect of human existence that everyone wants and needs and few people have the time to secure.

Second, there are few workshops that teach soft-skills, inter-personal communication, management and leadership skills to engineers and technical professionals, and especially workshops taught by an engineer and scientist.

Third, because my focus is not on having participants “understand” my material but rather take ownership of the material, the goal is never to have the participants “parrot” back what has been presented. Rather the goal is for the participants to acquire the material in such a way that they can apply it creatively in their own way in their own situations going forward.  This produces a type of learning that lasts a life time. When participants leave my workshops they generally “own” the material in a way that applies to their lives, both in and out of the work environment. This is how a lasting impact is achieved.
back to the top

 

8. Are your workshops interactive? What exercises do you use?
Yes, my workshops are highly interactive. They are interactive on two levels. There are the exercises, which as stated above are modified as the workshop progresses so that what is specific to the participants can be included in the exercises.  (Please see “State Dependent Learning” above).

However, the exercises operate on another level as well. My workshops are not a one-way of flow from me to the participants punctuated by exercises at regular intervals. Instead, every question asked, every discussion, every class discussion turns into an exercise, and exercise by, for, and of the whole class. In this way, the workshop is not a transmission of information.  The workshop is a process, it is an experience that completely engulfs the participants, me, and the material.

Perhaps the best way to describe this is a comment that was made by a technical manager at a recent workshop called “Influencing Without Authority”.  He said (I paraphrase as best I can from memory), “When you first started this workshop and I saw that every question was going to be an opportunity to unpack the whole communication and influence process I thought…’Oh he is not going to do this all day long is he?’ But very soon it became an incredible learning process… you were doing what you were teaching us and in the process we were learning from each other as well.  It was the best workshop I’ve taken.”
back to the top

 

9. What is the difference between your facilitation workshops and your mentoring?
In my workshops I endeavor to get very specific and focused on each and every participant in the workshop.  But I do not have sufficient time to get as specific as I would like nor to spend as much one-on-one time as I or each participant would like.  So while there is some focus on each participant, mentoring allows for very targeted one-on-one work.

Mentoring achieves much more focused attention compared to that provided in workshops.  In mentoring my focus is on that person, their issues, their outcomes, their processes.

Both the workshops and mentoring therefore, have benefits as well as limitations.

In the workshops, participants can learn from each other, can interact with others, and can practice with my feedback in real time. The limit is the amount of individualized attention.

In mentoring, the client has my complete attention.  The limit is that they cannot receive my real time feedback.  They must leave our mentoring session, apply what we have talked about and then report back to receive guidance.
back to the top

 

10. What types of mentoring do you offer?
I offer mentoring that generally, can be applied to three different areas, as follows:

1.  When you are in a crisis and you need help now!

2.  When you know where you want to get to and you just don’t know the best or fastest way to get there, such as advancing your career or giving an important presentation.

3.  When you are not satisfied with where you are and you really don’t know where you’d rather be.  You don’t have a sense of your future and you want to develop a future goal.
back to the top

 

11. Why would a person want mentoring versus attending a workshop?
There are a number of reasons you will select one over the other.

For example, you may have a very specific issue and you want some very specific information from someone who has been through what you are going through right now.  I do a lot of mentoring of this type. An engineer or a manager is facing some unknown and asking his or her manager for help just seems to be admitting more than they want to. So they come to me; someone on the outside who understands their engineering world, to ask a very specific question and get some very specific advice.

Or the organization may have a very competent engineer whose engineering expertise is great but other team members don’t want to work with him or her because their interpersonal skills produce more conflict than team effectiveness. So I’m hired by the organization to coach the engineer or engineering manager through this career “trough”.

Or perhaps, the engineer or engineering manager is preparing a very important presentation and he or she wants to know how their perceived management audience might receive it.

Or an engineer or engineering manager is having a conflict with another department manager or with their own manager and they can’t seem to step back far enough to get out of the emotion. They want to talk to someone who can see both sides of the issue.

Or they want some advice regarding their career and they can’t quite get the “experience information” they are looking for.

Or you may decide to take a workshop because you want to learn and practice, with other people, the communication skills you need to succeed “before” you practice on your colleagues.

Or you want to learn and practice the management skills I teach with other people before you apply them to their team.

These are just a few of the reason you might select a workshop over coaching or vice versa. You might have your own reasons to add to this list as well.
back to the top

 

12. I noticed that you limit your class size to 24.  Why is that?
Obviously from a personal financial perspective, the larger the class size the better. But then my workshops would become nothing more than “stand-up lectures”. As I have stated above, my purpose is not to lecture. My purpose is not to “transmit” information in one direction.

My purpose is to have a dialogue, and exchange, and learning process with the workshop participants such that a maximum amount of ownership of the material is achieved. Beyond 24 participants and the workshop degrades into a lecture. Others can do that better than I.
back to the top

 

13. Do you use a questionnaire in your workshops and if so, in which ones?
Yes I do use a questionnaire but it is proprietary. I have developed this questionnaire over a period of 15 years and although I am constantly improving it, it has remained relatively stable for the last 5 years. It is a unique questionnaire in that it does not measure psychological parameters or beliefs or attitudes or tendencies.  It measures behaviors; unambiguous behaviors.

The questionnaire is answered by participants, they self-score the questionnaire and then they volunteer to share their scores in the class if they wish. Invariably many of the participants want to share their scores because it becomes an important learning process for everyone.

It is also unlike other questionnaires in that other questionnaires shed insight on the people answering the questions but it gives little if any insight into colleagues, customers, or strangers. The STCi Performance Questionnaire begins as an instrument for insight into the participants in the workshop but ultimately I teach the participants how to extract the questionnaire information from casual conversation. This is one of the few instruments that allows participants to walk out of the workshop with the ability to use a real-time process to understand who they are communicating with.

In the management and leadership workshop the same questionnaire once again measuring behaviors is compared to the best practices of the behaviors of managers and leaders. Therefore, it is the same questionnaire but now it is viewed from a different perspective, that of the manager or leader and from this perspective we can see how far the participant is from the best practices of good managers and leaders. We then use it to work backwards to ask the question what has to be true of new values, beliefs, and attitudes in order to produce the new behaviors necessary for success as a manager or leader.

The fact that in both cases the questionnaire is used to measure unambiguous behaviors and not ambiguous and emotionally laden “psychological” or “personality” traits is greatly appreciated by engineers, scientists, technical professionals, and technical managers. These groups of technical people are much more comfortable and willing to participate in discussions of concrete behaviors.
back to the top

 

14. Which companies and organizations will most benefit from your type of training/facilitation and/or mentoring
Taking into account my degrees in aeronautical engineering, geophysics, and business administration, my experience in Department of Defense companies focused on spacecraft design, software and systems integration, and my experience in commercial companies producing high-end flight simulators and commercial printers the following disciplines, organizations, and companies would benefit.

Engineers, scientists, and technical professionals who can benefit include:

  • Aeronautical/astronautical/aerospace engineers
  • Chemical engineers
  • Civil engineers
  • Communication engineers
  • Electrical engineers
  • Geophysicists
  • Hardware engineers
  • IT engineers
  • Materials engineers
  • Mechanical engineers
  • Packaging engineers
  • Petroleum engineers
  • Performance engineers
  • Quality control engineers
  • Software engineers
  • Transportation engineers

Departments that can benefit include:

  • Engineering departments
  • IT departments
  • Quality control departments
  • Manufacturing departments
  • Software development departments
  • Geophysical departments

Companies that can benefit include:

  • aerospace engineering
  • chemical engineering
  • civil engineering
  • civil engineering
  • petroleum engineering

back to the top