Have you ever prepared for a training down to a T, only for things to go less than smoothly? From an unexpected lack of audience participation to technology failures, the more sessions a trainer has led, the more likely it is that he or she has experienced a gambit of mishaps. Unfortunately, these mishaps will not disappear. Trainers can only become more prepared to ensure that participants still receive a valuable experience. Here are a few tips for trainers to become comfortable with uncomfortable situations that may arise:
The key is in preparation, which mitigates unpleasant circumstances that could occur throughout the event. Remembering the basics is important; however, the crucial aspect to facilitating with ease is knowing your audience and being prepared for unique circumstances.
Before you step foot in the space where the training occurs, you should know how to set up the context of the session based on the needs and goals of the participants. The less you know about the organization or situation, the more information you should research prior to the event. What topics should you avoid? What is the participants’ attitude toward a facilitator-led session? What are their triggers? Is there a lack of buy-in for the content you’re focusing on? Are there underlying issues or challenges for why you are present? Do your homework, and ensure a wide view of responses from participants, leaders and anyone else who can be transparent with you. This research allows you to be well-equipped for the attitudes, questions, or lack of (or overly) engaged participants you may encounter.
Knowing your content is foundational, but even if you created the training and know it backward and forward, practice it out loud. Whether it’s in the shower or while walking the dog, vocalizing your presentation notes, bullets or slides allows you to find where you trip up, ramble or focus too long. In addition, practice your presentation without looking at notes. Recognizing transitions in content can be the most difficult part of your training, so practice them without a prompt.
- Equipment and Supplies
This is where things can really go haywire. When you use another facility’s equipment, laptops, difference in systems or chords, or small nuances that make entire electronic devices dysfunctional are bound to happen at some point. To mitigate these circumstances, print out your presentation notes in bullet format or, if you are using PowerPoint, print the notes pages. You can use them as a reference to stay on track if you are left to present without your visual aids or to create a handout if the participants need to visualize a complex idea. Always bring or confirm a backup laptop or projection device if you’re using visual aids, and consider saving your slides to the desktop of the computer in use. If possible, check AV equipment prior to the session to ensure it works properly.
When unexpected situations occur during the event, trainers must act as improv artists and respond on the fly. When people arrive to the event, circulate the room, introduce yourself and get to know at least a few people. Meeting participants helps you feel like you have some friendly faces in the room. Go to those individuals for eye contact, or invite them to share when you need participation.
You know the signs that indicate when participants are engaged. Are they taking notes? Keeping eye contact? Responding to questions? Asking questions? Contributing ideas? Using adult learning principles correctly is vital to the success of a training event.
However, there is a popularly misunderstood adult learning principle to address: active learning. Many trainers believe that learners must physically move around the room to stay engaged. However, studies show that cognitive activity is the secret to participant engagement. If the physical activity aligns with the objective, then it’s OK, but moving for the sake of moving is not going to capture the attention of your participants. Consider taking a break if the group is visibly antsy or losing focus.
- Questioning Techniques
Properly setting up questions for your audience allows them to answer the way you intend and keeps the group on track. A well-developed and well-presented question consists of three elements:
- Begin with an image-building phrase like, “Imagine a time when…” or, “Consider this…” For example, “Think about a time when you worked for a great leader.”
- Extend the image you just painted to their answers. Don’t ask a question here; simply use more context to allow the participants to further paint the picture in their minds. For example, “Consider how he or she conducted meetings, communicated to his or her direct reports, and secured access to resources.”
- Ask the direct question. Get straight to the point with one question. For example, “What behaviors did your leader engage in to make him or her a great leader?”
- Responding Questions
When it comes time for participants to share ideas or thoughts, report to the group, or ask questions, their responses are not always perfectly articulated. As the trainer, it is your duty to ensure that you help keep the group on the same page, which you can accomplish by asking responding questions. Use this type of question to keep the participants on track, get more information, clarify what they’ve said, obtain feedback and encourage involvement.
Having a toolbox of these questions will help you empower learners to guide each other to new knowledge and arrive at conclusions on their own, which helps the learning stick. For example, when the group has stalled, you could ask a prompting question to help keep them moving without giving away the answer. Also, if a potential solution has been overlooked, you could ask the group a leading question like, “What else are we missing?” to encourage them to consider additional answers.
Do you have unique tricks or tips you’ve learned? Share them on Twitter, and tag @trainingindustr and @LeashDawg.