Part 1 - Prepare the room in advance
This sounds obvious, but many trainers forget to do it. I always arrive at least 1 hour before I am due to start the session as I sometimes don’t know what the room will be like that I am delivering training in. Leaving it for when participants arrive looks unprepared and unprofessional, it also uses up valuable preparation time.
Make sure any equipment you are using works, not just IT equipment, check pens work. Ensure your handouts and group work sheets are ready etc. Check heating and air conditioning (you will need to do this throughout the session). The front of the room needs to be tidy and uncluttered. All you need is your flip chart stand and projector screen. Have everything thing else out of the way.
Part 2 - Remember the Three P’s and the Four F’s of Training
Before the session ensure you remember the Three Ps:
Practice – Ensure you practice your training. The theory is that you become an expert at anything after 10,000 hours of practice. It may take you a long time to get to that, but put in as much time as you can.
Participants – Try to find out who the participants will be on your session. Find out their job roles and design your group work and target your examples with this in mind.
Prepare – As I wrote in Part 1 ensure you are prepared.
It can be difficult and nerve racking opening a training session. I always start by going through the house keeping. It gets the session started and you can do it from memory. So remember the Four Fs:
Fire – Make sure you know where the fire escapes are located, where you need to meet and if there will be an alarm test or fire drill.
Floods - Know where all the toilet facilities are including disabled, men’s and women’s.
Food - Explain when the breaks and lunch will be and how long they have. Also explain what refreshments are available in the venue and locally.
Fume - Explain where the smoking area is.
Part 3 - Group Agreement (aka Ground Rules)
A group agreement is something all participants agree to adhere to. It is associated with behaviour regarding how everybody will interact with one another during the session. It will be personal to you as a trainer and what you feel needs to be included to help the session run smoothly. They can include things like:
Punctuality, confidentiality and disclosure, mobile phones off or on silent, respect, unconditional positive regard, use ‘appropriate’ language, contribution and involvement, fun, avoiding jargon and acronyms, allowing time for discussion, challenging (allow people to ask questions) etc.
If you can memorise your group agreement expanding on each point it can be used to get the session off to a good start and get your nerves under control. I always include:
I also explain that on each table I have put some memo cards. They are there for anybody that wants to ask a question but feels uneasy/ embarrassed about doing so in a group situation. They can jot the questions down on the cards and I will answer them anonymously at the end of the session.
Part 4 - Keep sessions to the alloted time
In most participants minds there is nearly (but not always) something better than a briefing/ training session. Using VAK training styles for a session is a good way to keep everybody interested. So try to have a combination of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles, methods and activities. If you’re short on time, always cut the lecture, not the activities.
With timings I always say plan for the worse and hope for the best. I add 15 spare minutes onto all my agenda times. If you do run over nobody realises and starts clock watching. Also I have never known a participant to ever complain about finishing early. For most sessions I also have a back up video clip in relation to the subject I can use if I am running well ahead of time (does happen now and then when few questions are asked).
Part 5 - Stick to the subject
Sometimes participants like to challenge trainers, or draw them into personal issues, or work related issues. This can be dealt with quite simply by acknowledging what the delegate has said, but reminding them of the subject in hand, the limited time that is available and the forum is not for personal issues to aired, but that you are able to give relevant contacts, information etc at the end of the briefing session.
Some things I do in this situation:
Depersonalise the situation
Empower the person
Make a token concession – “I see you have a point” “Clearly something has gone wrong here”
Make a deliberately friendly gesture – “Would you like me to find out…. for you?”
Use “we” – “I’m sure WE can” to convey partnership and if you need to use diversions
Part 6 - Content
It is almost always far more important that your participants understand fewer subjects than be “exposed” to a wider range of subjects. In most cases, it’s far more important that your participants leave able to DO something with their new knowledge and skills, than that they leave simply KNOWING more.
Most classroom – based instruction work best with reduced content. Give participants the skills to be able to continue learning on their own, rather than trying to load excessive amounts of information on them. If participants leave feeling like they truly learned because they can actually do something useful and interesting, they’ll forgive you (and usually thank you) for not “covering all the material”. The trainers that get criticism for not covering enough topics or “finishing the course topics” are the ones who didn’t deliver a good experience with what they did cover.
Part 7 - Techniques for dealing with multiple levels
For classroom trainers, the greatest challenge you have is managing multiple skill and knowledge levels in the same classroom. Be prepared to deal with it.
The worst thing you can do is simply pick a specific skill/knowledge level and work to that, ignoring the unique needs of the delegates.
Where possible try to determine the levels of knowledge of participants beforehand – by speaking with the participants or their manager, exchanging emails etc. If you don’t have access to participants prior to the briefing, then learn as much as you can during introductions.
Acknowledge the different levels right up front. Participants with more prior knowledge of the subject are far more likely to get frustrated if they think you don’t realise their knowledge level. By acknowledging it, you recognise their abilities and set the stage for having them act as mentors to the others.
If you notice that some people are dominating proceedings, or always answering questions and that some participants therefore are not participating, a way of dealing with this is to say, “Would someone who hasn’t answered like to tell me the answer?”
Avoid turning your back on any participants, or focusing in on a few at the exclusion of others.
Have multiple versions of activities, a ‘toolkit’. Have a “base” level of activities that everyone must complete, but have additional interesting, challenging options so that your advanced people aren’t growing bored or frustrated waiting for the slower people to finish their activities.
Part 8 - Do group activities whenever possible
You may be faced with assumptions such as “Adults don’t like to do group activities.” or “Managers don’t like to do group activities.” There is a huge social component to learning, regardless of how much we try to eliminate it in the classroom. There’s a way to do interactive group activities that works surprisingly well, and is usually quite easy.
A simple formula for group activities:
Use groups of no more than 3 to 5. Try to go above 2, but after 5 you’ll end up with some people hanging back. With 3-4 people, everyone feels more obligated to participate and be involved.
When you assign an exercise have each person start by working individually for a couple of minutes, then get them into their groups (be sure that they know who their group is before they start any work on the exercise).
Eavesdrop on the groups and comment or just make sure they’re on the right track. Drop hints or give pointers if they’re veering into an unproductive approach.
After the time you have allowed, give a heads-up warning “60 seconds left…” so they can finish.
Be certain that someone in each group has the responsibility to record what the group comes up with. One person should be the designated spokesperson.
After the exercise is done, keep the people in their groups and query each group about their answers, or any issues/thoughts they had while doing it.
Part 9 - Designing activities
The best activities include an element of surprise and failure, the worst ones are those where you spend 45 minutes explaining exactly how something works, and then have them duplicate everything you just said. Activities that produce unexpected results i.e. something that intuitively feels like it should work, but then does something different or wrong; delegates will remember that more than they will remember the, “Yes, it did just what the trainer said it would do” experience.
Work hard to get everyone to complete the activities, but NEVER give out the solutions in advance. Be sure every delegate has been successful at the activities.
Using graduated hints work well. Prepare three or more levels of hint sheets for the activities, with each level more explicit than the last. The first level can offer vague suggestions, the second can be a little more focused, and the third can be fairly explicit. Delegates should be allowed to use these at their discretion, so it’s best if you don’t force them to go to you for each new level.
Part 10 - Leave your ego at the door. This is not about you.
Your participants do not care about how much you know, how smart you are, or what you’ve done. Aside from a baseline level of credibility, it is far more important that you care about what your delegates know, or don’t know; what they have done and what they can bring to the session.
At the beginning of the session, you do not need to establish credibility. You nearly always have a certain amount of credibility in the bank, even if they’ve never heard of you. I always introduce myself and share with the group my background is working with older people (as I train in Adult Social Care this is releavant to the audience I deliver to). I don’t go into too much detail and as I mentioned in an earlier blog I never let my introduction last too long.
You can lose that credibility by doing things like lying (answering a question that you really aren’t certain about, without admitting that you’re not sure), or telling them you ‘don’t really know what you’re doing’.
The best way to let them know what you’ve done is in the context of a question someone asks, where you could say,
”Well here’s how I solved that when I was working on at….”
But even better if you say something like,
“Well here’s how one of my clients/students/co-workers solved it…”
Part 11 - Have a ‘Quick Start’ and a ‘Big Finish’
Get participants doing something interesting very early. Don’t hinder them with a long introduction, the history of the topic, etc. The sooner they are engaged, the better.
Don’t let the session fizzle out at the end, try to end on a high. Ask yourself, “what were my participants feeling when they left?” Too often, the answer to that is, “overwhelmed, and stupid for not keeping up”. Usually, the fault is in a course that tried to do too much.
Part 12 - Try never to talk more than 10-15 minutes without doing something interactive
Whether it’s a group activity, an individual activity of some sort… get participants doing rather than listening. Be sure that the interaction isn’t perceived as a waste of time, either. (Saying, “Any questions?” does not count as interaction)
Don’t assume that just because you said it, they got it. Nor should you assume that just because you said it 5 minutes ago, they remember it now. In other words, don’t be afraid to be redundant. That doesn’t mean repeating the same material over and over, but it often takes between 3 to 5 repeated exposures to something before the brain will remember it, so take the extra time to reinforce earlier topics in the context of the new things you’re talking about. Ask questions/or make statements, like:
‘Does that make sense?’
‘I’ll go over that again.’
‘Shall I repeat that?’ ‘Do you understand that?’
Part 13 - If you’re not enthusiastic or passionate, don’t expect any energy from your participants
Be honest, be authentic, but passionate. It’s your job as a trainer to find ways to keep yourself motivated. Motivation for the overall topic and motivation for the individual thing being learned are very different. You’re there to supply the motivation for the individual things you’re trying to help them learn. Your enthusiasm and passion will keep participants awake. This will be infectious and how this is achieved depends on you as a trainer.
It’s not about what YOU do, it’s about how your participants feel about what THEY can do as a result of the learning experience you created and helped to deliver. Rather than think of yourself as a teacher or trainer, try getting used to thinking of yourself as “a person who creates learning experiences, a person who helps others learn.” In other words, put a lot more emphasis on the learning and a lot less emphasis on the teaching.