Wouldn’t it be easier just to walk, than to walk and carry a car made of boulders?
As a training organization we train our clients as you would expect, but we also develop our trainers. Our trainers are observed regularly in the training room for two reasons. Reason one is quality management: Does the training meet client expectations? Reason two is professional (trainer) development: How can the trainer improve their training skills? From time to time, I get puzzled by how hard some trainers make their own lives. I was discussing this recently with a colleague, and she compared the situation to Fred Flintstone and his car. Do you remember that car? The one which he gets into, lifts up, and walks with? The car is a tool that is supposed to make his life easier. But the way he uses it can surely only make life harder.
What, you might be asking, has this analogy got to do with training? It’s a bit of a stretch but just like Fred, some trainers stop thinking logically about which way of doing something would be the most effective. They end up making some basic training errors as a result. Let’s look at five common training mistakes and some ideas for what you can do about them so you can a) make your training more effective for your participants, and b) easier for you.
1. Confusing training with presenting
As a trainer I’ve often worked with participants who had to train people in something specific. In preparation they wanted to check their powerpoint slides with me. We reviewed the English on the slides, and that was it. This was a shame. Training is not running through a bunch of slides. Don’t you tend to switch off after 5-10 minutes of slides filled with text while the presenter talks you through them? I certainly do.
Effective training is interactive and experiential. Get the participants to talk about their experiences and come to conclusions themselves or with the help of colleagues. This means standing back, setting up tasks which make them talk, facilitating these activities, and giving feedback. Allow participants to learn from each other.
2. Talking too much
This is closely related to the first point. Successful training does not involve a trainer standing at the front of the room lecturing the participants. In a one hour training session, what percentage of time do you think the trainer should be talking for? As a general rule: the less the trainer talks and the more the participants are doing something, the better. That makes life easier for the trainer too.
Some trainers feel that if they are not talking, they are not in control, and that the participants will feel they can’t manage the training room. This is absolutely not the case. Aim to talk less – a lot less. If you’re not sure how much you talk, then film yourself, and watch it later. This can be a really valuable, eye-opening exercise.
3. Giving unclear instructions (and failing to check they’ve been understood)
I’ve been teaching and training for around 20 years, mostly with adults. A while ago in Spain I had to teach 6 year olds. Before this I hadn’t thought too much about how I gave instructions. I did some training before taking these kids on. One of the things that was stressed to me there was the importance of carefully planned out instructions. I started planning what I was going to say, and more importantly how I was going to check that everyone had understood what I needed them to do. This was a bit of work at first, but it was worth it in the end. Have you ever tried to get thirty kids into four groups by giving them the letters A, B, C, D?
Think your instructions out very carefully and make sure you are concise. Find a way of checking that people have understood what they have to do – this can be as simple as asking one person to repeat it back. This may sound silly, but it will save a lot of time and help clear up any problems in your instructions. After all, what is clear to you, may really not be clear to others, especially in an international audience.
4. Keeping things predictable
Variety is the name of the game. If everything is predictable and routine, it is boring. If it’s boring, no learning is going to be taking place.
How can you shake things up? Make sure you vary what you do. Look for variety in pace, activity types, groups, materials, and feedback methods. People learn in different ways, so try to cater to different learning styles.
5. Failing to explain aims and transferability
Sometimes when I am observing a class – fortunately not too often -, I have little idea what the trainer is trying to do and why he or she is trying to do it. If I don’t know why, then I doubt very much that the participants do. If you were taking time out of your day for training, wouldn’t you want to know why you were there and what you were going to get out of it? Luckily this problem is easily remedied.
- Share your aims – write them up at the start of the session and cross them off as they are achieved.
- Explain why you want people to do things. Generally most of us are prepared to do things if we understand the rationale behind them. All you need to do is say for example “We’re now going to ….. so that…..”
So, think about it. Can you make yourself a little less like Fred Flintstone and his car? What mistakes have you made when training? What have you learnt from these mistakes? Why not share your experience with us?