Exceptional innovation trainers can propel an organization toward breakthrough innovations. They teach teams how to culture-shift, push beyond creative blocks, and streamline the innovation process. The best ones are also engaging storytellers who have firsthand experience with innovation. But how can you discern an expert trainer from a master of hype before investing in a session?

Expertise plus relevance 

Seek trainers with certifications and backgrounds in creative problem-solving, innovation program-building, brainstorming, improvisation and experiential training. Familiarity with your industry is important, especially in highly regulated categories such as energy and pharmaceuticals. But it shouldn’t be the only consideration. In fact, successful strategies from outside your industry’s bubble usually give participants new ideas for solutions. Ask prospective trainers which case studies would be used with your teams and make sure their content and examples are fresh (no decade-old case studies).

Real-world results

Experienced trainers can provide quotes from clients about how their training translated into real-world innovation results for an organization. Ask for examples of innovative ideas generated in their training sessions. What tangible changes or innovations emerged as a result of their work with an organization? If you don’t see accolades from clients on the trainer’s Web site, request a list of referrals and make inquiries.

Training style

Think about your session: will it be a large-scale group or small gathering? Are the participants extroverts, introverts, or a mix of both? Choose three words that describe the appropriate training style for the group (provocative, humorous, coaching-centric, etc.) and seek trainers whose bios or client quotes contain similar language. For example, some trainers teach the same content, but some are upbeat edu-tainers who excel in managing large groups, while others specialize in drawing out introverts in smaller-scale settings. Contact the trainers who have a proven record of working with your group’s size and type.

Diverse learning methods

Research suggests that lectures and PowerPoint presentations are less effective for long-term retention than short, sharp training experiences with immediate application. To this end, look for trainers whose methods include experiential learning, which enables people to learn through action, drawing, collaboration and implementation. Look for professionals who offer a balance of both knowledge and dynamic interaction to make innovation stick.

Crowd control

Many of today’s leaders possess a well-honed skill: professional skepticism. Good innovation trainers can confidently lead a room of professional skeptics through an unorthodox exercise, despite pushback. Ask prospective trainers for examples of how they’ve previously handled difficult participants. Experienced trainers often assign a task to a troublemaker (diverting their focus away from others), or ask naysayers for ideas on how to solve a problem, which shifts their mindset toward solutions. If a trainer dodges this question, he or she may not have the experience or skill necessary to handle a diverse group of executives.

The five checkpoints above are designed to cut through the hype and help you identify an innovation pro whose style and skill set complements your group’s needs. Seek out trainers who offer much more than fun and games, but also won’t subject people to an eight-hour lecture. Hire the highly recommended trainer who believes in communicating why techniques work so employees actually understand how to apply them to their daily work. Following these fundamentals will lay the foundation for a session of practical learning that translates into tangible innovation for teams.