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How to be an Effective Trainer : Part One
How to be an Effective Trainer
Having been a trainer for over 6 years in the Voluntary Sector I thought I might share with you my own ideas on what makes an effective training course.
It is not based on any college programme or scientific discipline but merely my own experience as a trainer of volunteers.
I have never taken a course or gained a qualification in training as I learned the old-fashioned way through trial and error, my own ideas and most importantly the advice and guidance of those more experienced than me.
Having said that I would always advise gaining recognised qualifications as well as attending 'training for trainers' types of course to improve your skills and knowledge. Therefore my advice may not be totally relevant for all groups of trainees or all types of courses but I trust that it may prove helpful and practical to anyone interested in this line of work.
1% Inspiration , 99% Preparation
However, what is without doubt and will apply across the board is that a good trainer has to thoroughly prepare beforehand. Generally the professional advice given states that for every hour that you are training you should have completed 10 hours of study and preparation. This may seem a vast amount but in reality it is vital that you know your subject inside out and have up to date knowledge of any new developments.
The internet is a godsend but be wary of the websites that you access, always use reputable sites and double-check the facts presented. Remember that your trainees expect you to be an expert and will expect you to present as such. There is no case for trying to 'wing it' through as it will be obvious to the group and you lose credibility. Rehearsing your material in front of colleagues, friends or family is a good idea to work on your presentation.
The best training courses will come with written hand-outs for people to take away and read at their leisure. I personally find that the best hand-outs are those that combine the written word with diagrams and graphics rather than just endless sheets of text. A classic mistake I find is when trainers simply hand out a miniaturised copy of their 'PowerPoint' headings as a guide to what went on.
This seems lazy and unimaginative to my mind and I think it comes across better if it is seen that you have made an effort. On the other hand you can make the mistake of information overload by putting in too much and obscuring the main points. Unfortunately some trainees may not even read information that is too bulky.
Good handouts will complement and enhance the presentation by providing a written record of the course but also by expanding on the information. Brevity works best in my opinion as you want people to get the main points. They will have plenty of other resources available if they want to indulge in more heavy reading. In my handouts I used to place an informal quiz on the last page to encourage trainees to read the content.
If the course lasts more than one session then I could go over the previous questions at the start of the next. This was a good way to gauge if people were actually reading the handouts but it also helped to recap what was covered in the previous session.
Timing is Not Quite Everything But........
Organising the actual course itself involves many practical considerations to be addressed that can easily be overlooked. Depending on how many people you wish to attend and whether it will be a course of sessions over several weeks will determine your choice of dates.
If you want to maximise attendance and wish to avoid people missing parts of a longer course then usually the summer months are to be avoided. People are not going to organise their summer holidays around your precious training course and it is almost impossible to maintain a full house throughout June, July and August.
What day of the week should you choose? I would always try and avoid Mondays as I don't think you want to be facing the unmotivated suffering the Monday morning blues. Neither would I choose Friday as people can often have their eyes on the weekend or their minds on outstanding work that they hoped to finish by the end of the week.
So it is Tuesday to Thursday inclusive for me and hopefully you can keep to the same days and the same times every week to avoid confusion. Other things to think about are whether the bookings should be in the afternoon or evening, although if it is an employee-based course it will probably be within the 9-5 hours. When I trained volunteers I had to balance the needs of those who may be working during the day with those who had other commitments in the evenings.
For example, Monday evenings could be tricky as many college classes take place that night but at the end of the day you can't get too hung up trying to accommodate everybody. You book your dates and if some people can't make it then so be it. There's no sense worrying that a Thursday is a regular late night shopping evening or that the semi-finals of the Champions League are taking place on a Wednesday. Not that I want to work when the football is on the TV either of course.
However one concession I would always try and make was to help people with child-care responsibilities. I would always have my training sessions booked to end no later than 3pm to allow some trainees to catch the school run in time.
Similarly if I booked a morning session then I would never start at 9am as parents may be pushed to head over from the school. In any case, for everyone's sake, I would normally advertise it as beginning 15 minutes before I actually wanted to start to allow for those inevitable traffic problems or late trains and undependable buses.
Location, Location, Location
OK, you've decided to book your dates and depending on your choice of venue, assuming you have a choice, you may have to book them well in advance.
So don't leave things to the last minute or you might find yourself all prepped up and nowhere to go or at best with a list of erratic dates and times that can cause chaos with the attendance of even the most committed trainees.
The venue in which you host the course should ideally be quite central if possible and well served by parking facilities, which are preferably free, and good local public transport links. You should always post out a map of the location with details of how to reach it.
This helps people find you and can actually remind them at which venue the training is being held. It's not uncommon for some folk to get the venue wrong or make an assumption of where it will be (e.g. your company head office when you're actually at the local town hall).
You should liaiase with staff at the venue about numbers of attendees and names for fire regulations and also as a courtesy as they may be greeting people and have them gathering in a waiting area at reception. It might also be necessary to put signs up in the corridors directing people to your room for when they return from breaks. It's easy to get lost in an unfamiliar building.
The best venues for a training course are those which offer comfort, warmth and quiet. The room you chose should not only be large enough to seat the numbers that you have invited but also allow for freedom of movement if you are conducting exercises. I once attended a course as a trainee myself and the first 10 minutes was spent helping to re-arrange furniture and move equipment out into the hallway as the room chosen was too small and cluttered.
You can imagine what first impression your trainees would have about your professionalism and organisational skills when they're asked to manhandle a heavy trestle table through the door. You may also need an extra room if you want to split the group, it just depends on what you plan to do. It can help for group work as it allows people to talk together without a huge conversation buzz dominating the main room. It can also obviously help if you don't want teams to know what the others are preparing.
The room should be warm but not too stifling unless you want half your trainees to nod off to sleep during your enthralling class. Needless to say a cold room would be a disaster and you would deserve to face open revolt or a mass walk-out. Therefore if you are going off-site to a venue that you are not familiar with then you must do a reconnaissance and check out the facilities.
If not possible then ask your contact at the venue when you book and don't be afraid to ask the pertinent questions. Of course the venue should have access for disabled people such as disabled parking, ramps and lifts if possible. The internal layout of the building should offer good manoeuvrability for wheelchairs and appropriate toilet facilities.
Your room should have good ventilation and reasonable sound-proofing as well as minimal distractions from the street outside or within the building. A training course I used to run was held on the ground floor next to a busy street and on hot afternoons I would have to open a window or two. An open window at street level is an irresistible magnet for local kids to stick their head inside and yell something totally inane in the guise of inspired wit.
But sometimes you just have to accept the imperfections and deal with whatever is thrown at you the best you can. That can depend on your budget and if you're offered a room free then there's no point in looking a gift horse in the mouth. Just accept you might have to compromise and make the best of things.
Are They Sitting Comfortably?
It goes without saying that comfortable chairs are always welcome and it helps if you have enough of them of course. Depending on how many people are attending and the level of formality of the session will determine how you lay out the chairs. I usually prefer a large semi-circle with me as the focus but you can go full circle if you have the space although I think that can reduce your 'leadership' role a little in guiding the session.
And don't forget the tea and biscuits either as you will find that's taken for granted nowadays even if your course is free. If you don't have refreshments then watch those faces drop as they enter through the door and scan around the room for that hot pot of coffee and tray of chocolate digestives.
A crestfallen gathering of coffee lovers denied a little caffeine and sugar burst is not a conducive start to proceedings. In addition you should offer bottled water or fruit juices as an alternative drink and at one course on health and welfare that I attended pieces of fresh fruit were available which was quite imaginative. If the session lasts a whole day then lunch can be provided on a paid course as that's usually included in the price anyway.
As a trainer in the Voluntary Sector I had an excruciatingly tight budget and for a free course for volunteers I wouldn't feel obliged to provide lunch. But that is something you would have to clearly point out in the invitations to avoid expectations of such. In preparation the devil is in the detail and I always write out a checklist of items I need and tasks I must do. An exercise can stand or fall on a piece of blue-tak or a dry-wipe marker of a certain colour.
And if you think that someting is so obvious that it doesn't need to go on the list then think again. You can bet that'll be the one item that flies out of your mind until T-minus 5 minutes when the panic button flashes red. You don't want yourself or someone else having to run around to the local shops for a packet of tea-bags or turn the building upside down looking for fresh flip-chart paper.
You should have already checked that all electrical equipment is available for your use as sometimes audio-visual equipment needs to be booked. Never assume that any piece of equipment will be available.
A colleague of mine once travelled 30 miles to conduct a presentation with a wonderful set of acetates only to find there was no overhead projector at the venue. Also remember, in the half hour before the session, to make sure all equipment is plugged in, working properly and that you're familiar with it. The AV channels on TV monitors can prove strangely elusive when you want to play that instructional DVD in front of 15 pairs of eyes.
I would always prepare name tags for everyone, even if they are only handwritten on sticky labels with just the right adhesive quality. Those white ones on strips of wax paper are ideal, they won't fall off but they won't leave any gummy residue on that expensive pullover. I would usually pass the strip around and ask people to write their own names. This avoids misspells and also lets people write the name they would be prefer to be called.
And don't forget to name-tag yourself, be humble and don't assume that everyone will remember your name. At the same time ask everyone to sign in the attendance sheet but also make sure that they print their name too. Again that avoids the chance of misspelling someone's name, a cardinal sin especially if it ends up on their course certificate.
The most important point at this stage is to provide a warm and friendly welcome to all your trainees. They may be nervous and unsure of themselves and if you gently break the ice it can help people ease into the session. That's why refreshments are actually so important to help folk relax as you mingle like a party host engaging in small talk and bringing people together in conversation for 10 minutes or so.
Now you've got everyone signed in and settled down on their comfortable chairs you can put the 'Do Not Disturb' signs on the door and get started on your training session.
How to be an Effective Trainer : Part 2
- How to be an Effective Trainer : Part Two
Ice-breakers and Rule-makers: Proceeding with the actual training session. Presentation and communication with an understanding of different learning styles.