Training needn’t be a chore


Train yourself to be a better trainerThese are tough times. Costs are being cut and savings made, whether they are for long term gain or short term balance keeping. Basically, if it can be cut without raising an outcry, it will be.

Unfortunately, one of the first things being cut from many Council spending columns is the item marked ‘staff training’. If it used to be delivered externally then it is now being brought in-house, if it was in-house it is being scaled back. Many managers are refusing or ignoring applications from their team to attend training sessions as they simply don’t have the time available to release them for a day or more; fewer staff and greater workloads is squeezing this training time out.

With central training teams feeling the pinch, officers who perhaps have never delivered training before are being forced to take on the burden of sharing their skills with their colleagues. They often have little experience of doing so to groups of people, being more experienced using their skills rather than teaching them.

Training others effectively is a very, very difficult skill to master. It is more than simply talking in front of people with a powerpoint behind you, it is about helping your audience not just understand the theory but getting excited about putting it into practice. It is about encouraging them to question themselves and their working practices and supporting them to learn something new which will prove useful in their daily working lives.

The following observations stem from some of the many training courses we have experienced over recent years. Some have been excellent and left us enthused and more knowledgable than when we started; others have made us want to have a standing argument with the trainer and shake them until they realise that we will never recover that lost hour and a half.

Know your subject

A simple thing perhaps, but it quickly becomes obvious when the person delivering the training doesn’t actually know what they are talking about. Delivering effective training stems from a degree of confidence which the trainer exudes naturally and suffuces their persona. Imagine walking into a doctors surgery and seeing someone behind the desk full of ums, ahs and I’m-not-sure’s: it wouldn’t fill you with much confidence.

If you are asked to deliver training about something you are not intimately familiar with, decline gracefully or get familiar real quick. You will need to know it from a beginners angle, an average user’s angle and an expert’s angle in order to cope with the range of questions you can expect to receive.  And practice confident delivery by trying to eliminate ums and ahs from your speech.  As an Economist poster once said, to err is human; to er, um, aah is unacceptable.

Beware the curse of Powerpoint

Death by Powerpoint is one of the most common causes of workplace sleep apnia in the western world. Many trainers believe that a greater number of slides, crammed full of ‘useful’ information, will make them look knowledgable and encourage the group to trust them. To be blunt, it won’t; it shows you know how to cut and paste, and that’s about it.

The maxim ‘less is more’ is king here. Like a movie script, if a slide is not moving your training story forward and saying something useful, get rid of it. Do not read every word on screen under any circumstances. Do not use 8 point arial. Do not make too much use of graphs and charts. Do not use too many animations. Do not use clip-art. Avoid plain writing on a white background if at all possible. Do not spend your whole time reading from the screen. And if you want to find out why, here’s a video to tell you:

Handy Handouts

However well you present yourself and your subject matter, people generally have fairly bad memories. Without a prompt or two, it is easy to forget some of the key points from your training session.

Make sure you support your learning points with handouts to give to participants to take them through some of the most important points. You needn’t provide something for every single thing you say, but a few sheets for them to take away and review at a later date will suffice. This also encourages them not to spend too long taking copious amounts of notes, safe in the knowledge that you will provide things for them later and making them actually listen to you.

And no, a print out of your powerpoint slides is not really sufficient.

Play games

Not ludo or chess; mix up your session with a few fun activities and games for the group to play. Be sure to tie each one to a learning point so that it is in there for a reason, but don’t be scared of having fun.

For example, if you are training people as to the importance of communication don’t simply show them some slides which quote academic studies proving that teams with good communication skills work better together; why not play chinese whispers, or word association, or people bingo? Some great activities for most topics can be found on the Business Balls website, as well as via a trusty Google search.

Just be sure to reinforce the lesson you are attempting to convey via a game; anyone can play, an effective trainer can turn playing into learning.

Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

A week or two before your session, find out who is attending and consider what sorts of questions they might ask you. Read through your session notes and make sure you understand what you will be saying. Check any materials or powerpoint slides you will be using to make sure they are all still relevant. Gather all of your materials together and make sure they all work. Print out more handouts than you think you’ll need. Check the venue and refreshment arrangements.

Nothing shows like bad preparation, and it leads participants to believe that your content will be as sloppy as your style. Turn up looking like you know what you are doing and people will believe you.

How was it for you?

Be sure to ask your group for a little feedback. Did they enjoy the session? Do they recall what was discussed? Did it meet their needs? Most importantly, do they have any suggestions for improving it?

The more you understand about how well or badly you did, the more you are able to change and improve it for next time. You will not be able to please all of the people all of the time, but feedback should give you a good idea of tweaks and changes which will make things better for those taking part.

Enjoy it!

Put simply, if you are having fun then your trainees will have fun. A smile and enthusiasm is infectious, and can turn dull subject matter into something people will leave talking about and remembering.

If you have any tips or advice of your own, please do share it here in the spirit of support and openness: think of it as training the trainers of the future.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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