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And what would you like to know before we begin?


I’ve been working with Caitlin for some years now. To start with, we were working together to produce her training manuals and I noticed that every single manual we produced had a section called, “Before You Begin”, which talked about setting expectations for the course and thinking about how to get the most from it. I really liked this idea, so much so that I created a “Before You Begin” section in my own book.

This year, though, I have spent a lot of time training alongside Caitlin and have found the idea even more powerful in practice. There are two parts to it: “What would you like to know before we begin?” and Clean Set Up. I’ve written about the Clean Set Up before, so this post focuses on the idea of giving the briefest introduction possible at the start of the day and then asking everyone, “What would you like to know before we begin?”

In my trainings, people often ask things such as:

  • What is Clean Language?
  • What is your background?
  • When will the breaks be?
  • Has Clean Language been used in … context?

You might be thinking, “Those are all the kinds of things I’d tell my participants anyway.” And it’s often true that they ask about the things you might imagine they’d want to know.


  • We have had a couple of groups this year who didn’t want to know anything at all – they just wanted to ‘get on with it’.
  • I used to start by having everyone in the room introduce themselves, which could easily take up 20 minutes of the first session… However, today when I asked a group, “What would you like to know before we begin?” no one said, “I’d like to know everyone’s name, where they come from and a couple of things about them” (which is what I used to ask), so we saved 20 minutes of valuable training time, and it didn’t seem to matter one jot that we didn’t know much about one another.
  • The questions that were asked by today’s participants (on a 1-day Introduction to Clean Language) were far from typical and if I hadn’t started in this way, I would never have known what was on participants’ minds:
    • At the end of the day, how will I know I have got the skills and knowledge I want?
    • Can you give me an overview of the full range of clean approaches?
    • Can a clean approach be used throughout a whole session or is it used more at the beginning?
    • Are there other approaches that are similar to clean, but different?

Even if people do ask ‘typical’ questions, they ask them in their way, using their language. We write their words on the flipchart, not ours. We tailor our responses to fit their language. So we are starting as we mean to go on – as cleanly as possible.

This ‘before we begin’ activity also means that we are NOT telling people things they don’t really want to know. It reduces the amount of ‘white noise’ that can be in a room at the start of a training programme, and can help to set the direction for the day. If what participants are asking about doesn’t match with the agenda we have in mind, we can make adjustments so we can more closely deliver what they want. Of course, this requires flexibility on the part of the trainer or facilitator, but then all clean processes require that agility.

There are many more nuances to this activity but it can basically be summed up like this:

If we tell people what we think they would like to know then it’s really ‘potluck’ whether any individual gets what they want. If we find out what they actually want to know, we increase the chances that people will get the skills and knowledge they want. And it most definitely sends the message: This is about you, not us.

About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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