Training sessions

Submitted by martin on 18 January, 2011 - 10:35

AIMS: will vary from exercise to exercise. But generally the broad aims are to:
a) reinforce abilities and develop them;
b) help overcome chronic weaknesses, e.g. fear of speaking;
c) teach new political ideas through exercises.
Essentially training is about building up people's confidence and equipping them to deal with everyday situations.


Aim: to get comrades to "see" contact work from the contact's point of view; to increase their confidence about putting ideas to contacts.

How: Go round the table; ask each comrade from their experience when they were a "contact"; ask her or him what the AWL members dealing with her or him did well, and what they did badly.

Notes: this helps comrades see that when they are thinking that a contact is "not interested", sometimes the contact is thinking "why have these people decided I'm not worth bothering with or asking to join?"


Aim: to help overcome comrades' reluctance about contact work; to give them some stock gambits to use in difficulties in contact work.

How: 1. Introduce the exercise.
2. Put comrades in pairs. In each pair, one 'plays' a particular sort of contact and the other (more confident or talkative) is AWL. Then they swap.
Some sorts of contacts to 'play':
a) Young person who stop to buy a paper on the street, doesn't say anything, but doesn't grab their paper and make off straight away either.
b) Young person who buys a paper on the street, stops to ask what AWL is, but knows nothing about politics;
b) ditto who has come across SWP and doesn't understand what the difference is between us and SWP;
c) Trade union activist who buys the paper regularly but is reluctant to get more involved;
d) Climate camp activist who likes us, but reckons to be an anarchist, and thinks membership organisations are elitist.

1. This exercise is very, very artificial. But it can work.
2. The more 'political' sort of contact is easier to 'play'
3. Our major failings with contact work are (1) assuming people aren't interested when in fact they are only shy or bewildered; (b) talking to contacts only to try to get them to do things ~ come to meetings or whatever ~ rather than about political ideas.
This exercise may help give comrades some ideas about how to deal with shy contacts and how to raise political issues with contacts.
4. A possible preliminary: do a 'brainstorming' session ~ ask comrades what sort of contacts are difficult, and then go through the list of difficult cases asking for ideas on each one.


Time: one to one and a half hours.

Aim: to make new contacts deliver a short talk.

How: give the group of comrades a variety of scenarios and they each choose one.
a) school gate meeting for a cuts demo;
b) last minute invite to speak on behalf of a trade-union organisation to an anti~deportation rally;
c) Saturday morning picket about Israeli repression in the West Bank;
d) Saturday morning anti-cuts street meeting;
e) speech in a union branch proposing support for a "workers' plan" motion.
Depending on size of the group split into units of 5 or so.
Take each scenario in turn and discuss:
a) style of delivery, e.g. loud and bouncy or quiet and looking for feedback;
b) main points to be made.

Take care: new comrades have a tendency to put everything they know into a speech. This exercise is not just about speaking but also about making comrades put themselves in the position of the listener.

Send comrades off in groups of perhaps two to write a speech. Give them lots of time, at least half an hour. Be around to help out if comrades get stuck.
Bring group back together and so through each delivery. Be positive, don't dwell on political errors (if necessary, talk to people afterwards). There will always be something good in a speech ~ pick up on it. Take care: boys often show off and are too critical of newer comrades.

At the start of the exercise we normally go through how to deliver a speech, making the following points:
a) If it is a speech in a meeting, stand up (unless the meeting is very small indeed);
b) keep it brief. Limit yourself strictly to two or three points. The most common failing is trying to say too much;
b) stand still, preferably behind something. Put your hands on a table or chair;
c) try to limit hand movements to within an imaginary box - not above your ears;
d) look at the audience, fix on different people at different points in the speech;
e) you have to make things easy to the listener, so "say what you are going to say, say it and then tell them what you've just said". Announce what your speech is about in the first sentence. Never start a speech by apologising ("I haven't had much time to prepare, but...")
Use repetition. Use formulas like: "There are three reasons for this. The first reason is...". This helps the listener to keep up with the speaker. It gives signposts. Structuring the speech in groups of three is useful.
Three is a good number - a group of three flows well and lends itself to easy emphasis, e.g. "from £20, then £25 and now they want to charge £30!"
If in trouble, repeat what you have just said until you find your thread again.
Before you start speaking, plan and memorise the last sentence of your speech. If you forget that last sentence while speaking, then conclude by paraphrasing the first sentence of the speech.

Take care: Do not try to get new comrades to speak without notes. Don't even think about it.
Comrades will normally ignore our suggestions on presentation. Don't worry about it. It is because comrades are too uptight to be relaxed enough to adopt the suggested poses or devices. Those can still be useful knowledge for them in the future.
It's important to be brisk. If you dither, then you give time and space for moaners to move in.


Aim: to get comrades to read and understand a basic Marxist text. To give them an idea of how to do an educational.

1. Give comrades one of the readings from the AWL "short basic" study course,, to read, e.g. "why the working class?" Preferably give them a week's notice to read it. Failing that, get them to read it on the spot.
2. Explain the exercise and a little about the text.
3. Put comrades in groups of two. Each group is to work out a list of questions text for use in an educational ~ which is done by question~and-answer to draw out ideas, rather than a lecture.
4. Bring the groups back together. Get comrades to put their questions, and the rest of the school to answer them.
5. As it goes, discuss both the substantive questions and answers, and the choice of questions.

Choice of questions is quite difficult. You want questions which bring out the basic ideas of the text. They must be neither obscure, nor so obvious that they call forth parrot answers. Anyone who has read the text at all able to give some answer, but there should he a good chance of any answer raising points for further discussion.
Often comrades come out with rather baffling jargonistic questions. But even this exercise seems to he useful in getting comrades to understand the text.


Time: 10 minutes upwards.

Aims: to sharpen up comrades ~ at any level; to give comrades the chance, without looking daft, to ask questions which have been worrying them.

How: Ask the group who has problems with which group or subject: SWP, SP, anarchism, Labour Party, Israel/ Palestine. Pair off each comrade who says she or he has difficulty on a topic with someone who knows about it. Remember, a comrade might be a whiz on anarchism but ignorant on the Labour Party, and so that comrade will be a "tutor" in one session and a "pupil" the next.
In each pair, the "tutor" is AWL first. The "pupil" asks questions and argues about the SWP or anarchism or whatever. They then swap over.
Notes: When the pupil is being e.g. SWP they usually bring up the issues or tricks that baffle them. The tutor has to be very patient and work out for themselves what is actually the problem.
It's useful to answer some questions in two ways ~ one to "block" a hostile rant, and the other to explain to someone who's really listening.

When the comrades swap over the "pupil" will repeat what s/he has just heard. This is fine. Tell people this is expected and not to worry, They will work out their own style in time.


Time: two hours. This is hard work for the tutors.

To develop comrades' ability to relate to an audience;
To develop comrades' ability to get 'heavy' in arguments;
To develop comrades' political knowledge;

1. Choose a subject, e.g. Middle East. Preferably circulate a short reading list a week or so beforehand.
2. Get an experienced comrade to be an opponent, and a "pupil" to be AWL.
3. Give the group an educational on the subject.
4. Help the "AWL speaker" to write their speech.
5. Go round the table and discuss the intervention that each comrade will made. Have a few acting the role of our opponents. When you are doing this, work out when each comrade is going to speak, and who will be coming in after such and such a point has been made.
Have someone lined up to make a practical speech when they think the meeting is dragging.
Have someone a bit more confident than the rest playing the role of sweeper (a speaker who does not prepare a fixed speech, but who comes in near the end of a debate to deal with any points which are new or have not been tackled).

Take care, the comrades in the role of the opposition who are in the audience must he good and throw in new material, otherwise it gets dull. The sweeper must be quite able.
This exercise seldom fails and most people enjoy it


Aim: to he able to present material to a variety of audiences.

How: Pick a subject, say the cuts. Work out a few scenarios, e.g. to a school students' group, to a sixth form general studies class, to a union branch.
Divide into groups after having discussed ways to present the naterial and the angles to use.
Comrades write speeches for a particular audience and present them to the whole group;
Then comrades do the whole process again ~ for a different audience.

Forcing comrades to do the talk to different groups ensures that comrades learn to think about arranging their material.


New recruits, or sometimes older members who are in difficulty or are returning to activity after a lull, should have an individual in their AWL branch who works with them as a "mentor".

This is different from formal educationals. It's about discussing what the new recruit has done last week and will do next week, not about what Marx means by surplus value. The mentor should meet with the recruit weekly, at least. This can, even should, be informal: a coffee after a paper sale, a drink after a branch meeting.

The aim is to talk through with the recruit what she or he has done over the past week, what they plan over the next week, and issues they are unsure or curious about. The arrangement should provide recruits with "moral support" and a chance to talk through doubts and perplexities.

When the recruit first joins, "mentoring" will provide discussion on which activities she or he can be integrated into. It will avoid the new recruit sitting in the branch and thinking either that she or he should be doing everything everyone else is doing, and consequently (since she or he isn't an experienced trade unionist, etc.) she or he is useless, or that there doesn't seem to be much that the branch wants her or him to do (perhaps because the branch thinks she or he is useless),

It will provide discussion which activities can be adjusted if at first the new recruit been mis-assigned, or when she or he feels now able to take on more.

It will provide discussion about how the new recruit should conduct themselves at work and with friends with whom she or he may be nervous about "coming out" as a Trotskyist. It will provide advice and support about how the recruit can deal with work and study pressures, including advice and support which will help them learn how to say "no" to bosses and lecturers.

The process will also be instructive for the mentor. There is no better way to learn something than to explain it to someone else. Do not bluff if the recruit asks you a question you don't know the answer to. Say you don't know, and then find out.

Some mentoring should happen, and has always happened, without formal arrangement. The aim is to set up a system and train ourselves for it.

Aim of exercise: to build confidence about becoming a "mentor", and awareness among newer people of what the "mentoring" process can provide and how to use it.

How: Introduce the idea of mentoring. Ask people to say whether they received any mentoring as new recruits - what was good about it, what were the shortcomings. If they didn't, would they have found it useful?

Then divide the group into pairs. In each pair, one comrade will "play" the recruit, and one the mentor. Then they swap places.

"Play" some of the following scenarios:

1. Recruit is very keen, and showers mentor with questions, often off the wall. Reads a lot but randomly. constantly picks up half-garbled ideas from her or his reading.

2. Recruit is shy. Is reliable in activity, but never speaks in meetings, never volunteers questions, and evades activity like contact work or speaking in meetings.

3. Recruit seems confident enough but always makes excuses when asked to sell papers.

4. Recruit is a trade-union activist, all very good, but constantly misses general political activity on grounds of being "too busy" with union work.

5. Recruit finds branch discussions over her or his head and finds AWL "too middle-class".

6. Recruit is pulled between us and her and his family and friends, or workmates, who are not specially right-wing but see AWL as bizarre and extreme, and nervous about "coming out" as a Trotskyist or telling friends, family, or workmates that she or he is going to political activities.

7. Recruit is intimidated by boss at work or lecturers at uni, and constantly says she or he "can't" do political activity because she or he must work 15 hours a day on a course or do lots of overtime at work.



The best "training session" for paper sales is... a paper sale. What you can do in a branch meeting is have an experienced and confident paper-seller "model" doing a street sale, and the rest of us "model" being passers-by. Then switch round, and have other people "play" being the seller, so they practise things like offering the paper - holding it out, rather than clutching it to yourself - making eye contact, and chatting once they've made a sale.

All activists should do at least one public (workplace, street or estate) sale per week. Each regular public sale should have a comrade responsible for it, who turns up and sells whatever anyone else does, or who cancels the sale for a week if she or he is unavailable and cannot fix a substitute.

Here are the rules for the various types of sale. The basic idea throughout is to make it easy for people to approach us, buy the paper, and get into conversation with us. Worry less about whether you feel nervous about selling, and more about whether people who are interested will feel nervous about getting the paper from you (they may do, and we can minimise that).

If you're really nervous and unconfident about paper-selling, make a start by coming to an AWL street sale and giving out leaflets. Train yourself to give out the leaflets actively, rather than just standing there holding them so that it requires an effort from any passer-by to get a leaflet from you. When you're confident with that, move on to paper-selling.

Street and college sales: approach people as they pass (make eye contact, be polite), offer them the paper - hold out a copy towards them - and ask them if they want to buy it. Try to get as many people as possible to respond - yes or no - rather than ignore you. Make it easy for passers-by to buy a paper.

Have a petition sheet (with a "real" petition) or a GDPR'd AWL contact sheet with you. When people buy the paper, ask them if they'll give us an e-address or mobile number so we can inform them of future AWL activities. Many people will.

Have some stock words ready in your head to talk to buyers as they fumble for their change. Don't assume people aren't interested if they don't want to stay around and talk - they may just be shy, or in a hurry - but make it easy for them to talk if they want to.

Avoid standing around looking glum, or talking to the other AWL people with you on the sale. (Avoid talking to them during the sale, that is: by all means go to a café or pub for a chat after the sale).

Best to do the sale with a stall (a picnic table or a paste table) with pamphlets, leaflets and papers, and decorated with red cloth and flags. Bring elastics to hold down the literature and stop the wind blowing it off the stall.

Don't, however, make every sale depend on the logistics of getting a stall there. You can also do good sales just by yourself.

Discourage comrades from standing in front of the stall so as to block passers-by from access to it.

Street and estate sales usually last 45 minutes to an hour. Not longer: quit while you are still fresh.

Door-to-door sales are usually the quickest way to sell papers.

The best times are early evening or weekend late mornings. Keep a note of who buys, who refuses, and where you get no answer, to guide you when you go back with the next issue.

Introduce yourself: "Would you like a copy of this week's Solidarity? £1, or 50 pence if you don't have a wage". If people are prepared to talk, discuss with them. Ask them if they want to be kept informed (give us their e-address, etc).

Take along spare copies of a back issue of the paper, and put them through letter boxes when you get no answer, with a standard note.

The biggest drawback of door-to-door sales these days is the very high proportion of people who are out, or don't answer their doors, whatever time you call. However, you can sell a lot of papers, and hostility on the doorstep is very rare.

Sell at work (unless victimisation is a real threat).

In some workplaces, you can just go round the staffroom or canteen and ask people. Where that's not possible, you can introduce the paper just by reading it yourself, at work. That may bring you inquiries. Also, approach workmates if they seem to be interested in a general way, or if an issue of the paper has an article on something they're particularly interested.

Always have papers and magazines with you. We've made a few contacts over the years just by getting into conversations by someone seeing one of us reading a paper or a pamphlet on a bus or train.

For sales at meetings, arrive early, and (unless you absolutely have to rush off for childcare) stick around at the end of the meeting. Use the time when people are milling around, or waiting for the meeting to start, to approach them individually and ask them individually to buy a copy. Don't stand in a corner, clutching your papers, and glaring glumly at the crowd. Don't ignore right-wingers or members of other groups; sometimes they will surprise you.

Many of the same rules apply to sales on demonstrations. Circulate. Approach people one by one, seeking eye contact. Make sure you arrive early and offer papers to people individually as they mill around then. And stay around at the end of the demonstration: often that's the time when people are most willing to buy papers.


After all sessions the tutor should lead a debrief.
The students should he told what they have learned ~ e.g. gearing speeches to an audience, meeting choreography, or whatever.
Time should be given for comrades to grouse ~ group disapproval usually silences grousers. Often comrades will have sensible things to say to improve sessions.
We have found that shyer comrades want more, especially of the 'arguing' session Some comrades will reveal obvious abilities. Try to propose to them activities to develop that talent ~ very soon after the training event.
Where there are obvious problems, use your wit. It may not be best to "move in" then and there; if a comrade has done badly she or he may want to talk about it outside the general group.

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