Training Professionals- Lessons Learned from the Trenches
by Radhia Benalia, PhD, PMP, PMI-RMP, Green Project Manager
I have almost always been a trainer. I remember I was 7 when my French teacher asked me to take over the class for about 30 minutes to train my classmates on reading with intonation. It didn’t necessarily help me make friends then, but in spite of the nervousness paired with the anticipation, I was excited.
The first time I formally trained professionals I was hardly 20 and I panicked a little when I found out that many of the trainees were much older than I was, but the person I reported to believe in me and I persevered and eventually gained confidence in what I was doing.
I don’t know if ‘non-trainers” realize that, but training can be exhausting, frustrating, very challenging and at the same time exhilarating and extremely rewarding. A trainer needs to be extremely resilient, determined, and consistent in keeping and even growing the momentum.
In any event, I wanted to share some precious lessons learned that I have gained over the years offering training in Canada and in the MENA region. The list is certainly not exhaustive, and I'm looking forward to having some of you share their valuable lessons learned.
Be extremely curious A good trainer needs to be a lifelong learner. She needs to keep abreast of changes in the industry, in education, and in executive training. One of the things I do to learn every day is read voraciously – still less than I’d want to-, but I preserve a morning routine where I visit my primary websites, such as hbr.org and cio.com as well as the write-ups of some LinkedIn publishers. It’s worth noting that there are some really interesting writers on LinkedIn that are not necessarily “influencers”. I also have Google alerts on a variety of topics and that ensure I receive daily emails on new articles. The challenge, however, is not to be overwhelmed by the number of emails received. I’m usually fast at selecting which I want to keep and “store” the article in a folder related to the specific topic. I also keep a log for genuinely interesting statements and concepts.
In addition to practitioners’ websites, I find it very helpful to read academic research. I believe it is a big misconception to consider that academic papers are always purely theoretical and completely disconnected from the practitioner’s world. In fact, many researchers glean their data through interviews with practitioners and the process is extremely informative. For example, in my PhD research around success factors for Executive Managers in leading projects, I have been talking to very experienced and talented people that have undoubtedly added to the knowledge I carried.
Be Warm Participants in a training program often leave their offices, sites, or universities in the midst of complex projects and tight target dates. The least they need is to have a dry and distant trainer give them instructions around tedious exercises. They need to be able to see that the trainer is accessible, open to discussion, and that he understands the challenges they work with.
Learn from Feedback Do not wait till the end of the course or workshop to collect feedback. Ask at the end of the first day whether the pace is suitable; what they’d like to see changed. In fact a “How are we doing?” can give you quite an accurate echo of how the participants feel towards the training. Read the evaluations of participants at the end and learn from them, especially the tough ones. The harshest feedback you get might be the reason you improve the most, provided that the feedback is objective and mature. Be careful with “conflicting” feedback. In the same group, you might see that some people want more hands-on whereas others want more conceptual knowledge. The idea is to prepare trainees to apply quickly and surely the news skills on the job and interactive, hands-on activities are paramount for this requirement. You also need to embrace the fact that you cannot please everyone.
Set Clear Expectations I always ensure to ask participants in the first hour of training what they expect from courses and workshops. My response often helps alleviate some of the discomfort they might feel towards the course, especially if they are a “captive” audience, for their organization made their presence mandatory. Besides, their expectations might be a little too high for a 3 or 5-day course, so it’s always good to define clearly potential outputs and outcomes.
Challenge Assumptions , including Yours Even if the profiles of the participants show, for instance, that most are juniors, do not assume they will not have tricky questions to ask or that they will not be as serious. I have trained hundreds of people and have seen that sometimes a 20-year old can show much more diligence than a 50-year old senior executive. On the other hand, do not assume that senior executives will not be taking things seriously. I have had some great ones in the class who actually showed a great deal of humbleness and desire to learn.
Preserve Audience Centeredness Ensure the material suits this specific audience. Cater and always be on the lookout for stories, activities, and case studies that will be more relevant to a particular group of trainees. Learn about the organization if it’s internal training. People are always grateful to see that you understand the dynamics of their own organization.
Listen as if Your life Depended on It As I said previously, carefully monitor your assumptions. Experienced trainers sometimes think they’ve seen it all and heard it all. Ensure to keep active listening skills and take notes for anything that might sound a little out of the ordinary. I actually document some activities class feedback when I see that trainees have brought to the game something new and unique.
Build an Environment of Trust Even if it is for a short time, you and your group of trainees are a team. It’s important they feel at ease when sharing their concerns and asking very specific questions.
Don't Bore them to Death Ensure a mix of activities, group work, audio-visual material, and mini engaging 'lectures" that offer an interactive and interesting day. I'm always glad to hear a participant say that even though they feel they've learnt a lot, the day seemed so short.
Written by Dr. Radhia Benalia on 08 April, 2015 - Edited 08 January, 2019
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