How to be an Effective Trainer : Part Two

(photo by sheila ellen at Flickr : Creative Commons)
(photo by sheila ellen at Flickr : Creative Commons)

How to be an Effective Trainer : Part 2


Ice-breakers and Rule-makers

The style in which you conduct your training session will depend on the room that you use, the number of people attending and the layout of seats.

If you have a huge number of people then you may have no choice but to have them seated 'theatre-style' in rows.

In a less formal situation as I said I prefer a semi-circle but you can also have a full circle or perhaps a cluster of different groups sitting around tables.

The last style can help break the ice more easily within the groups.

Every training course should always begin by advising on emergency evacuation procedures in event of a fire but also location of the toilets. Then introduce an ice-breaker to help people relax and get settled into the session.

There are many on the internet that you can look up and choose ranging from the simple to the elaborate. I prefer something short and simple that will get people laughing and joking with each other.

And don't forget to join with the ice-breaker exercise yourself rather than stand aloft from such tomfoolery. If you want to try something with a bit more work required then I would strongly suggest that you rehearse it with some work colleagues to test whether it works, whether it's practical and how long it will take. Some of the exercises I have read about resemble Busby Berkeley productions in their length and complexity.

Now it's time to get down to business and set out what your course is all about. First of all you need to establish the 'group rules' of the course concerning behaviour and etiquette. For example you can stress the need for 'teamwork', 'respect' and 'punctuality' or any points that you feel are necessary for the smooth running of your course.

Some trainers will even use this as the first exercise to gauge what the trainees feel are appropriate group rules. At the very least I always used to emphasise that rules were introduced and agreed in consultation with previous trainees and that I was always welcome to new suggestions which could be included. This helps maintain a consensus on the validity and fairness of rules.

Getting Started

Before the course I would have sent out a list of subjects of the whole programme so that trainees could see at a glance how the training would progress and what is covered. It would also give them a chance to study some areas beforehand if they wished. At the beginning of each session I would leave a sheet on each chair detailing the topics being covered in that session.

However I never advise offering the whole handout at the beginning as you'll probably end up speaking to a group of nodding hairlines as people bury their heads in the text through most or all of your talk. Handouts are for the end but please remember to distribute them. Once I forgot and ended up going round the corridors and car park to hand them over to amused smiles.

It's important to set out the framework of your course right at the beginning, building on the programme headings, explaining in just a little more detail and explaining how the course will progress. And when you build something then you want to get the foundations solid right at the start. You want to clearly define the topic you are covering and even something as basic as a dictionary definition can be really helpful in understanding exactly what it means.

The opening session should ideally be relaxed and informal to ease people into the course and help them build up their confidence. If things get too heavy too quickly then some people may get easily discouraged. Even the best athletes need a proper and gradual warm up.

A group exercise as early as possible is a good idea as it gets people on their feet, active and interacting with each other. This will be your first chance to observe them together and you can learn a lot in a short space of time.

You can get a feel for how people are relating to each other, which people are adopting a leadership role and which are more quiet and reticent. You will see who are the best talkers, the best listeners, the best negotiators and the best mediators during their conversations.

Ideally you would have either a co-trainer or at least an assistant who could later give you their impressions on the trainees. It always helps to have a second opinion. Having someone else with you also helps to share the load to whatever degree of involvement they will have. Simply having someone else speaking for even a minute provides you with a much needed opportunity to take a breather.

When you are conducting a training course you may have lots of things to say, lots of thoughts running through your head, lots of things to observe and questions to answer. When someone else has the floor, however briefly, then you can gather your thoughts, take stock and prepare to continue.

I found it invaluable to have someone else around as I personally found myself getting wrapped up in the subject so it was to my benefit to be able to take a step back and evaluate.

Delivering the goods

Your voice is a useful instrument in an effective training session.

The tone of your voice will account for 35% of the information processed according to research.

So you should modulate the delivery of your speech and use emphasis at points which you feel are particularly important.

It goes without saying that a monotone delivery does not work and your audience will switch off.

If you are nervous, which is perfectly natural even in the most experienced trainers, then you may find yourself talking too rapidly. Obviously your trainees may struggle to keep up and absorb the information and you may find yourself short of something to say as you've ran ahead of your own schedule.

Conversely you don't want to be running behind schedule and racing towards the finish, so you have to exercise some gentle control and time-management. Group discussion is fine but only if you keep it within your timescale and don't let the conversations go on too long or go way off topic. Bear in mind that it's a training course not a discussion group and it is you who have set the agenda.

If you feel anxious then you should take a breather before the session, even if only for five minutes. That is one reason why thorough preparation is so vital because you will not be rushing around at the last minute. Instead, once you are satisfied that everything is in place you can stop and find a quiet spot to relax and gather yourself. Some breathing exercises will help, maybe gentle stretching, even a short walk outside in the fresh air or a warm cup of tea. Whatever works for yourself.

Once the sessions begin and you are talking with the audience you can use little tips to help your confidence. One tactic I employed was to frequently look at people displaying positive feedback in response to what I was saying. There are always at least one or two people with positive facial expressions and seeing someone smile or nod their head a lot can be encouraging for you.

There's nothing worse than looking out into a line of blank faces. If this happens then don't look at people's faces, simply raise your eyes just above their heads and just like the autocue on TV you will still appear to be looking directly at your trainees. You'll find that they'll come around once you get going.

But remember not to ignore individuals in your group as you should make eye contact with everyone on a regular basis. One thing I noticed about my presentations was that my gaze tended to drift to one side of the room at the expense of another. This is an easy trap to fall into, especially if you are standing side-on at a flip-chart or on either side of a large-screen presentation. So try and be aware of this 'drift' effect.

When it comes to information-processing your body language projects around 58% of the message. You might find that gestures come easily as they are such a natural part of our interactions. But they certainly help to back-up the words that you say and help people remember your message.

And that is the crux of being an effective trainer; your trainees must remember what you've taught them. Whenever you design a course I would advise that uppermost in your mind should be, "will this help my trainees retain the information long after the course is over?” If not then it could be a complete waste of time.

I have attended many courses where the facilitators have slavishly followed the rule of the PowerPoint presentation. And why have they done this? Because it looks professional. So what? That proves nothing since just because it looks good doesn't mean it is good. Many times have I struggled to stay the distance during a PowerPoint session and I'm sure I'm not the only one. It becomes repetitive, unimaginative and most crucially of all, easily forgettable.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

I'm not saying that these types of presentations have no place because they certainly do. In fact the modern interactive whiteboard is a fantastic piece of equipement. But these more technologically advanced resources should only be used as part of a varied diet. I believe that the more you vary the style and content of your training then the better.

It keeps people active and stimulated which maintains their interest and hopefully retains their memories of the material. Of course, this is entirely congruent with the notion of different 'learning styles' that exist among the general population.

People have different ways of processing information. For some this may certainly be an unbroken lecture or a hi-tec big-screen presentation but for many there are other preferences. Some prefer discussion, others brainstorming, some physical activities, others written exercises.

Some people remember the words you use, some the way you use them while others respond to images, either pictorial or on video. Role-play is a fantastic tool to use as it gives people an authentic feeling of what they are trying to learn. They can experience the challenge, feel the adrenalin and the anxiety but in a safe environment.

It can also be great fun and a real confidence booster when it goes well. If it doesn't go so well then lots of reassurance will be required from you as the leader and a reminder that, after all, it is a learning exercise. People are allowed to make mistakes in a training environment and there's nothing wrong with that. Nobody expects perfection or else why have the training in the first place? Training offers the chance to learn from mistakes and improve knowledge and skills.

As I said this is just my personal ideas and experience of training courses that I have myself conducted. Whether you find it useful will depend on what type of course you are running. But the bottom line is that you have to engage with your audience, maintain interest and attention whilst making your training course enjoyable.

Natural enthusiasm is infectious and if you show your passion for the subject then some of that will rub off on your trainees. A little encouragement and praise go a long way to make it a positive experience for everyone.

Training is a serious exercise but it isn't work and many attend as a welcome break from work or as an opportunity to develop and network. So help people relax, have a sense of humour and don't be afraid to use your imagination in the exercises you use.

Some of the silliest ideas can be the most memorable and at the end of the day you want your trainees to remember what you taught them. Although the process may be difficult the message is really that simple.

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