Trainer's Diary: First Day Nerves

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Byron KaliesFirst day nerves can get any training course off to a bad start. Byron Kalies has some advice for breaking the ice and avoiding those training disasters.

You know what it's like - first morning of a course, new people, new room. You're waiting, wondering what they'll be like. All those thoughts of "there must be an easier way of making a living?" flash through your mind and the adrenaline starts to kick in.

New people find this 'starting a course thing', particularly difficult. Not the nerves part - that seems to be common for all of us - just the process of starting a course. One of the main reasons is that they sometime feel that a training course scheduled to start at 9:30am actually starts at 9:30. So at 9:29 they're busy reading, re-reading their notes, checking the slides and look up to find a room full of strange people. During the first break they'll remark: "It's hard going with this lot isn't it?"

Well it would be then wouldn't it? You don't start any other job this way do you? If you're working in an office, a factory, a restaurant you start slowly. You chat with your fellow workers as they arrive: "How are the kids? Did you see Cora last night? Guess who's just been promoted?"

Why should training be any different? It shouldn't. As people turn up talk to them, make them comfortable, ask about non-work things. Some participants may be a little nervous in the training room - they may have had bad / boring / embarrassing experiences before. Ease them into the day. Listen to them. Often participants don't know each other too well so help them out. If you can ease their initial anxiety they'll be on your side from the start. Try to pick up any signals about the organisation, the mood, the general 'feel' of the place. It will help sometime during the event - guaranteed.

The other problem is day two, three or four of a longer, residential event. This presents 'different' problems. Many of these different problems are concerned with late evenings, too much drinking, tensions within the group. These need to be managed sensitively. I've seen a fellow trainer conduct a big 'telling off session' with course members. Taking each of them aside in turn for a severe telling off. Whatever the justice in this was it certainly didn't have the desired effect. There was virtually no participation, attention for the rest of that day.

So what do you do? You've a week long residential course and the culture of the organisation (and experience) leads you to believe that not everyone will be perky and attentive at 9am every morning and for the whole of the five days. You suspect there will be occasions when people will feel the worse for wear. So talk about it.

Talk to people and tell them what you want, tell them your fears and discuss your expectations. Don't ignore it. It is like that washing up you don't get around to. It'll just get a little worse each day. Deal with it at the start. Treat them like adults and they'll behave like adults. Really they will. It's not easy and you'll need to role model the behaviour you expect otherwise it'll all count for nothing. But it can be incredibly productive, really powerful and fun as well.

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