I just came back from delivering training on a new software package in a couple of different cities for a major hospitality firm. In one city, I was asked if I had any advice on effective training facilitation for the trainers on-site. This is what I provided.
Change Management: Be prepared to comment on the reality of change, as needed. Change management can be difficult. Often, there’s a need for some event to change the way we think, to then become concerned about the change as we focus on the old way, to eventually let go of the old way, and then the learning really begins. At a minimum, if you’re not doing training on change management as well, focus on a few phrases from change management training. E.g. “What’s the only constant? What do we all know about today’s technology?” Using laughter can sometimes relieve the pressure of change: “Does anyone remember cassette tapes? I still have my Milli Vanilli tape in the car.”
Laughter: Nothing keeps an audience awake, engaged, and positive like laughter. Healthy, positive, professional humor can make all the difference. It can also lend you confidence. Once you get that first sense of mutual enjoyment from your audience, you can build on that and let go of any nervousness that you’ve built up between your shoulder blades.
Explain: Explain, when you feel the need, why you’re presenting material a certain way (e.g. with hands-on, or with teachback, or why it falls in one place and not another). Don’t assume that learners always know why you’re doing what you do, but don’t explain too often — just enough that your audience knows there’s a reason and a method to what you’re doing – it’s not random. That’ll build learner confidence in the training. When learners understand what a trainer is doing, facing, and trying to accomplish, you get more buy-in. It’s then less about you and more about the goal.
Confidence: Someone once said that it takes a certain arrogance to publish your ideas to the world, and stand behind them. He was talking about writers, but it’s true of trainers as well. Even if the material is not your own, to stand up as if “I know it better than you, and know it well enough that I’m going to show you wonderful things” takes chutzpah – gumption. Reach down and grab your inner chutzpah. Be bold, and it will pay off more than apologizing for any lack of skill. A little self-deprecation can go along way, but too much (“I don’t know why anyone would listen to me”) and your audience may start to agree with you. One key to confidence is prepare, prepare, prepare. When you’re done preparing, practice. Then you can walk in with that “knowing that I know” attitude. Just don’t let it go to your head – be prepared to be wrong – you will be, and when you least expect it.
Perfection: It doesn’t exist — not in trainers. You’re going to say things that later you wonder if you pulled out of thin air, or if you had your head screwed on backwards. Don’t sweat it too much; it’s normal. Smile. Using the parking lot. Keep your cool. Laugh at yourself a little – you’ll feel better. Then do it again. If you’re not willing to make some mistakes – if you have to be perfect – you can’t be amazing. Amazing is standing up and delivering training and learners going away knowing how to do something. Amazing is starting from scratch and ending with learners that are 80% proficient in something brand new. Trainers are amazing in this ordinary way every day. Be willing to break some eggs, so you can have an omelet.
Flexibility: Give in to your audience when you can. When you can’t, be polite, firm, and let them know what their resources are. Sometimes you just don’t have time to start over again on something, and sometimes not all topics can be addressed at all times. Sometimes the answer you’ve given has to be the only answer you can give (even after you’ve given it again, in different words). But other times, you can and should let learners help you teach the class. Everyone in the room is a trainer in some sense, and you’ll be a super-trainer if you use the wisdom and expertise around you.
Be Appreciative: When you get great questions, say so. When someone makes a good point, especially if it challenges something you’ve presented, say it’s a good point. When someone disagrees or is vocal about not liking some aspect of what you’re presenting, let them know before you move on, that you welcome input like this, and hope to have more. Put them at ease in front of their peers – they’ve had the courage to say what others were probably thinking – be happy it’s out in the open, where you can be constructive about it, not buried where it will just come out later. And when someone sees the benefit of what you’re presenting, or zeroes in on how it helps them, or gives a good example of how to apply something you’re demonstrating, give them props for getting it. You’ll get more participation, and others will see them as internal resources, and ask them for more.
Encourage Side Conversations (between learning sessions): One of the things every company has learned about communications is that they’re going to happen. People send e-mails back and forth, text one another on Blackberrys…. don’t try to control it. Instead, knowing it will happen, ask your learners to bring back any concerns and questions that come up while they’re talking amongst themselves. Also, this helps draw a line between the class environment, where you need to stay focused, and the outside environment, without cutting the one off from the other. Ask your learners what they think about what they’re seeing, hearing, and doing. Do it especially when you think the feedback won’t be all positive. It’s so much better to give words to something, so it can be thought about and resolved, than to leave it as a general feeling of unease.
Use Existing Expertise: It’s often helpful to think that everyone in the room is better at something than I am. Adult learners need to know that their past experience is being respected, included, and acknowledged. They look to training to integrate what’s new into what they already know. Involve all your learners as “subject matter experts” (SMEs) in their departments and their fields. Defer to your audience on what they excel at, and they’ll gladly defer to you in what you’re doing – presenting to an audience.
Use Real Life: As much as possible, refer to real scenarios in learners’ daily work lives. If you don’t know of one, get your learners to help you think of one. Tell them you’re going to use it in your future training, so this is helping immensely. Some of the best material is collected this way. This involves them in the learning, uses their experience and expertise, and gets them thinking about how what you’re teaching applies to them and their context. You’ll get excellent adoption of the material and great questions this way.
Use Interruptions: Natural interruptions will happen (loud noises, someone sticking their head in, etc.). Use these, intentionally, to distract from the training – enjoy them – segway to something off-topic for a moment, then return to the topic. Where interruptions don’t occur, create one yourself, every hour, with an off-topic anecdote, a verbal survey on something unrelated, or another distractor. This is something foreign to a lot of corporate environments, but is a standard tool in the toolbag of master trainers. Scientific studies have shown that off-topic interruptions about once an hour during the training, followed by refocusing on the topical material, actually create far greater learner retention.
Don’t answer everything: When someone asks a question that you know you’ve covered, don’t answer immediately. You don’t want to embarrass them by immediately redirecting to your audience, but think about it for a minute. Hmm. Give your audience a little time, and often they’ll answer it for you. And now you’ve encouraged them to self-educate and build on each others’ learning. You’re encouraging group learning, which is much stronger for adult learners. Likewise, o n occasion, ask your audience to fill in the blanks for you. “What do I do next? Where would I go from here?” Don’t be discouraged if no one knows the answer. Leave a little silence, and then perform the action slowly, leaving time for the answer to leap to people’s lips. By the time you’re hovering over the next click, you’re hearing it. If not, just go through the action like you’ve never covered it before. It’s not a review, it’s the first time. Never express frustration over this. If they give the wrong answer, say it’s an excellent guess, and I’m tempted to agree, but… this is actually it. Smile at the learner, “Keep it up. We’re getting there.” Just like you can’t be afraid to give a wrong answer now and then or you’ll be paralyzed, encourage your learners that wrong answers are OK – they’re helping us get there. What could be more boring than a class full of people who know all the answers?
Encourage Small Groups: Encourage paired or small group activity. One way to do that, for a class of learners who are used to acting alone, is create a competition. Whichever pair gets the highest score on a “self-assessment” exercise, gets… fame and glory – and bragging rights over the other teams. Always make sure there’s more than one team, if you can. Small ones are always better than large ones. Three is ideal, but it may depend on how many computers are available.
Don’t Skip the Introduction: If you do, start over. Even if everyone knows everyone, introductions are partly about warming up. Ask everyone to tell us one thing we may not know about them. If you have more time, ask everyone to share three things about themselves, one of which isn’t true. The technique matters less than that each person is activated personally, and engaged in learning with each other person in the room. That’s what these small exercises do.
Dry Run: Be sure and prepare for training classes by doing a dry run with a small group of close associates, and get their feedback. Nothing makes you feel more prepared for a new or wider audience than walking in knowing that you’ve done this before.
Breaks: There are as many attitudes toward breaks as there are facilitators, facilities, and learners. Decide in advance whether you’ll take a 5-minute break every hour or 10min every 2-hours, etc. If your learners are the busy, hand-held computer types, who are constantly needing to check in to a department, fewer, longer breaks may be better. For people who spend a lot of time in cubicles, more, shorter breaks are often better.
Parking Lot: Always keep a parking lot of questions you couldn’t answer in class. Assure your learners that you’ll get this to the right people, and get the answers. There are few things that come up in training that can’t be handled with a smile and a parking lot. It’s a good idea to keep the document on your computer (e.g. a word document), and type people questions, so they can see you doing it on the overhead. This way they can make sure you’re getting their question down correctly, and you can easily send this document off to your SMEs (subject matter experts) at meal breaks, or at the end of class.
SMEs: Use your SMEs (subject matter experts) – they’re your million-dollar “lifeline” when you aren’t certain of the answer. Your SMEs may be “champions” of the system who understand it clearly, they may be other facilitators (two heads are better than one, and three is creepy but still very helpful), or they may be the technical specialists who configure the system you’re training, or simply technical support.
Facilities and Equipment: Always arrange the training environment far enough in advance, arrange for all the correct furniture and technology. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the room in advance, arrange it as you need for learner comfort (and yours). Make sure you have water. Test the projector. Make sure the training is installed on all the PCs. Test it. Turn off toolbars and popup blockers that may interfere with it. Determine where you’ll sit, stand, and walk, both when you’re at the front of the class and when you’re at the back. Check the temperature – it’s better to start out a degree cooler, when a full room will make it 2-degrees warmer. Arrange printed materials where you want them, and in what order. Trainers have been known to sleep in their training rooms just to be sure they were ready. Don’t go that far, but be like the Boy Scouts – always be prepared.
Have an Emergency Plan: If you get lost for some reason, or someone is heckling you, or the equipment goes berzerk, or you spill coffee all over the place, give yourself 3-minutes to resolve it. If you can’t resolve it in that time, call a 5-minute break, and offer a reward for whoever brings back candy (it’ll help, especially since you’re using your break to fix things). On the break, ask someone for help – a learner if you can, since they’re right there. It’s best to think in advance of who in your class is going to be your best source of help, and get to that person as soon as you break. “I’m doing something wrong. Any ideas?” will usually get support.
Training Prizes: Do. Peanut butter cups (don’t let them melt on a monitor) or unusual and highly-desirable candy works well. Either way, reward excellent answers, reward challenges, reward good questions, reward criticisms and concerns. If your people are participating at all, reward them. And don’t forget the soft prizes. Whenever anyone demonstrates something for the class, give applause, recognize what they did well. Learners can be very forgiving if they know you’re paying attention.
That’s it. Tips are good – gaining experience is even better. Go forth and facilitate! You are a trainer – may the force be with you.