What Great Trainers Do

Summary Written by Kate Cadet
"Our simple attention, offered to another person, is the most underused of human resources, one of the least costly, one of the most freely available, and – without a doubt – one of the most powerfully beneficial"

- What Great Trainers Do, page 95

The Big Idea

The Power of Two

"Content and process are always present in a workshop and the quality of each greatly affects participants’ learning."- What Great Trainers Do, page 9

When it comes to workshop content, many trainers are not given adequate time or resources by their own businesses to become experts in the content they will be teaching, nor are they supported in learning about or handling different kinds of group dynamics. This problem is extensive; Bolton and Bolton quote “more than a million people are given first-time responsibility for training….with little, if any preparation in even basic teaching methods”.

Take a moment to think about your current training or presentation methods, and ask yourself this question: “Do I focus on content or process when I deliver workshops?”

Well, according to the authors, even though the most successful trainers pay equal attention to both Content and Group Process, often, when we have a lot of course material with multiple units, modules and components to cover off during a workshop, we tend to focus on the actual subject matter being taught – the ideas, approaches, systems and techniques being learned – while completely forgetting about observing and enhancing the group dynamic of the participants.

So why is just concentrating on course content an issue? Effective group process enables learning. Poor group dynamic undermines it.

So learning and actively concentrating on generating effective group process within a training situation, while at the same time having the ability to fix disruptive and negative interactions from within the group are key attributes that will take you from being an average to a first-rate trainer.

Insight #1

Debriefing Sessions

"The trainer’s ability to create a positive learning climate is one of the crucial factors for success in leading a workshop."- What Great Trainers Do, page 186

The idea of debriefing to discuss key takeaways from business meetings, brainstorming sessions and planning discussions is common within the corporate context, yet rarely do presenters or trainers take the time to debrief material, learnings or participant doubts after workshops.

In What Good Trainers Do, “debriefing” specifically refers to the idea of “after-the-fact review discussions”; that is, discussion designed to promote conversation about knowledge learned, individual responses or feelings towards your workshop content including activities, subject modules, practical application of concepts or other components of the training.

Introducing (and practicing) debriefing in your workshops will add a surprisingly handy and effective training tool to your skill set; providing you feedback on your sessions while the experience is fresh in the groups’ mind, enabling you to continue to refine your dynamic trainer content and group process based on collective learning.

A good debriefing session has the added benefit of increasing levels of participation because it provides an opportunity for two-way communication between you the trainer, individuals, and the broader group, fostering an interactive environment.

Here’s the six-step process from the book that will get you started in leading debriefing sessions today:

  1. Make sure any smaller breakout groups are joined back to the larger group. This brings focus.
  2. Pose a clear and relevant question to the whole group, and then wait patiently.
  3. Keep silent even if it feels like an eternity. Give the group time to collect their thoughts and answers.
  4. As participants provide input, listen carefully and acknowledge their statements with reflection such as “so your learning is”, or “so you noticed that”…. Avoid evaluation-type comments such as “good point”.
  5. Invite other responses until everyone who wants to contribute has spoken.
  6. Then, your debrief is complete. Transition to the next part of the workshop.

Bolton and Bolton advocate encouraging as many participants as possible to participate in giving comment during your feedback session. Why? Because their training efforts have seen a high frequency of debrief contributors actually using what they have learned and discussed when the workshop is over.

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Insight #2

Are you delivering?

"A really good talk generally has been outlined, re-outlined, written, edited, tweaked, and perhaps honed some more…"- What Great Trainers Do, page 71

One of the key skills consistently used by dynamic trainers is their ability to fine-tune not only their presentations but also their delivery. According to the authors, “good delivery greatly enhances our (trainer) results”.

They suggest making it a habit to deliver all presentations extemporaneously as opposed to giving an impromptu presentation, because this will elevate us from being a mere trainer to a facilitator of content. Let me explain.

To be clear, Bolton and Bolton differentiate the terms “impromptu” and “extemporaneously” in the following way. Impromptu speaking implies presenting with little or no preparation or rehearsal, versus extemporaneous delivery that is created through rigorous preparation and comprehensive run-throughs.

Extemporaneous sounds time consuming, I know. But if there is one GEM, one improvement you can start today to set you apart as a trainer, start learning your subject matter thoroughly by reading, re-reading, editing, modifying it and so on. Why? Because once you have learned your course content inside out, you will be able to tailor the workshop for the groups you are working with, cut it back to fit condensed timeframes, illustrate your material with anecdotes and other relatable examples, or make it an interactive experience.

English Poet John Dryden is quoted in the book as saying “you owe it the participants in your workshop to be a subject matter expert” while marketing guru Zig Ziglar comments “the more I knew about my subject, the more creative I could be in presentations.”

Commit to knowing your material thoroughly and you will be prepared for the most unpredictable and challenging situation, while continuing to achieve the group learning goals of the workshop you set out to deliver.

Read the book

Get What Great Trainers Do on Amazon.

Dorothy Grover Bolton

Robert Bolton, Ph.D., and Dorothy Grover Bolton, Ed.M., are known for their expertise in training trainers. They are cofounders of Ridge Associates, a training and consulting firm that serves many Fortune 500 companies, and the authors of several books, including the perennially popular People Styles at Work . . . And Beyond.

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