Being a Better Trainer

It takes more than technical knowledge to be a great trainer. If you’re convening 4-5 colleagues for a quick brown bag, you may not need to think too deeply about the training space you create.

There are some basic steps you can take to ensure a successful, effective training.

Before: Plan Ahead

The time and effort that goes into preparing for a workshop can make a big difference in everyone’s experience.

  • Use a pre-survey to gauge the group’s needs if you don’t already know them well.
  • Send out reminders a week before the workshop, a day before the workshop and (if you’re convening colleagues in the office) an hour before the workshop. Every reminder should include everything you want participants to know, bring, or do to prepare.
    • Does everyone know exactly what to bring? Will they need a laptop? A phone?
    • Should participants do any pre-reading? A couple of recent news stories that give context to the material are always helpful.
    • Do participants need to download or install anything? Avoid a bandwidth fiasco by having everyone at least complete any downloads before you gather.
    • If your plans call for participants to install software in the session, make sure they all have the ability to actually do so – check with the organization’s IT department beforehand if necessary.
    • Every email reminder should include everything that participants need, even if you’ve sent it all before. Don’t make folks dredge up an old email to remember where to go or how to prepare.
  • Consider offering office hours ahead of time, especially if you need folks to complete an installation.
  • If you’re planning a software walk-through, even if you’ve done 100 times, do it one more time on the machine you’ll be presenting from. You’d be surprised how often a new version of something thoroughly scrambles your plans.
  • Don’t be afraid of a slide deck. Powerpoint probably deserves its bad rap, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a slide deck that adds context and visual aids.

During: Run a Smooth Session

There are lots of great resources in the introduction that can help you facilitate a session that helps participants grow instead of alienating them. Here are few tips that will help you make the most of training time:

  • When someone asks a question, repeating it back to the group is a great way to make sure that everyone hears the question. Plus, the practice helps make sure that you didn’t misunderstand the question.
  • There are no stupid questions! It’s the golden rule of training. For every “stupid” question that someone asks out loud, there are three more people who are kind of wondering the same thing but afraid of sounding dumb. So encourage participants to ask questions, even questions that they think might be kind of dumb.
  • Know what you don’t know. If you’ve put yourself forward as an expert, it’s easy to think you have to have an answer to every question. If you don’t know the answer, you can say you don’t know and promise to follow up with an answer.
  • Watch out for rabbit holes – you almost never want to try to solve a new problem on the fly in front of an audience. Especially if you’re already nervous but even if you aren’t, if you don’t know the fix off the top of your head, table it. Set aside a place – it might be a board, it might be your notebook, to log questions that you’ve punted during the training. Do come back to them later (see “After,” below), but don’t make the rest of the room sit through a lot of troubleshooting.
  • It’s okay to be nervous. Take a deep breath, make sure you have water handy, and you’ll do fine.

If the group is larger than your own newsroom, definitely establish a code of conduct and some ground rules about photos and quoting folks.

After: Follow Up!

  • Send everyone a “Thank You” note within a few days. It should probably include:
    • Next steps. If everyone left with a lot of good intentions, a short list of action items will help them make good on those intentions.
    • If you set aside any questions during the session, capture them in the follow up email. If you’ve figured out the answer, share it. If you haven’t, just say so: “I haven’t had a chance to take a closer look at this one.” Follow up on any questions you promised to come back to.
    • Links to any sites that you mentioned.
    • A copy of your slide deck or handouts, so folks can refer back to it.
    • A repeat of any instructions you followed (or a link to them).
  • Review and revise your session plan within a day or two of the session. Look back over your plan and update it to reflect what actually worked in the session. Make any notes you wish you’d had handy this time, while those thoughts are still fresh in your mind.
  • Mark your calendar: if you gave participants any next steps, or even if you didn’t, follow up with everyone a week or two later to check in about whether they took any action, how it went, where they got stuck.

Getting Better

If you’re ready to start improving your skills as a trainer, there are some fantastic resources that can help you out. Some of our favorites include:

  • Do you need to read about something to understand it? Or would you rather play with it with your own two hands? Not everyone learns the same way, and Level Up’s guide to adult learning will help you think about lessons that work for different learning styles.
  • Level Up’s guide to Creating Safe Spaces is also an excellent resource to get you thinking about making everyone welcome in your workshops.
  • Integrated Security maintains a number of guides that cover facilitation, learning styles and creating safe spaces.
  • Aorta is a fantastic collective that does among other things, great work training facilitators and trainers. They publish a number of excellent resources.
  • Aspiration facilitates nonprofit technology convenings and they work hard to create collaborative and rewarding workshops. Their facilitation guidelines and workshop design advice are both worth checking out.
  • Open News led the process of creating the curriculum resource you’re reading right now. Their roundup of OpenNews posts on session design is a great resource for planning and facilitating your own training sessions.