New to training? Avoid beginners' blunders…

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Slip upSally Poyzer provides some advice for new trainers on how to skirt around the common pitfalls of being new to the job.

As all of us who have been training for a while would agree, training is not as easy as it looks. And, unfortunately, new trainers are often thrown in at the deep end. That's the reasoning behind this list. If you're a new trainer, it gives you the chance to learn from the mistakes most new trainers have made before you, and come out unscathed through the minefield.

Photo of Sally Poyzer"Don't be afraid of silence - it means people are thinking. If you don't get any response to a question after 10 seconds, try asking it in a different way."

Mistake 1: Making assumptions

If you assume a level of previous knowledge about a task, you might not allow enough time. For example: how much time should you allow to show someone how to use a new phone system? If they've worked in an office for a long time it may take a few minutes. If they have never worked in an office before you will need to go back to basics.

Mistake 2: Not checking equipment

Always organise for someone to teach you how to use the equipment and how to deal with common problems, preferably a couple of days before you have to use it. Then get to your training room at least half an hour early to check that it's working, so you have time to get it fixed or find another way to deliver your training.

Mistake 3: Not checking the room setup

Even if the training room has been set up reasonably, you should spend time adjusting the room so it's exactly right for your group. Consider things like:

  • Do you want to encourage small group discussion (if so, arrange groups of chairs around desks) or whole group discussion (use a U shape design)?
  • Is there enough room for everyone to get into and out of their chairs?
  • Are you the ideal distance away from participants? Too close is unnerving, and you'll spend the session gradually moving your chair backwards; too far away and they won't be able to see.
  • Will you be able to easily access your resources?
  • Is the lighting bright enough but not too bright?
  • Are the desks clean and chairs tucked in neatly?
  • Mistake 4: Not finding out about participants

    Every training session should be tailored to your participants' needs, so you need to find out about each of them. Where do they work? What kind of work do they do? How long have they been with the company? What are their motivations for coming to this course? What are they expecting to learn? What do they know already?

    Some of this you can find out beforehand, other information you can find out by asking questions at the beginning of the training. Knowing this information will result in far happier participants and a much more successful training session.

    Mistake 5: Lecturing

    Very few people can listen for more than 20 minutes at a time to someone just speaking. Lecturing is also one-way communication - you have no idea whether your participants are learning. Instead, use a range of appropriate methods, such as small or whole group discussion, questions and answers, case studies/scenarios and practical activities. Where possible, don't just talk for more than five minutes at a time.

    Mistake 6: Not using participants' existing knowledge

    Involve your participants by asking them questions about what they already know, then just work on filling in the gaps. This is a good way to avoid lecturing and it prevents you from accidentally patronising participants. Also, if you ask a question and no one knows the answer, they are far more likely to listen for the answer.

    Mistake 7: Winging it

    Some trainers think they are more skilled if they can make it up as they go along. But you should always write a plan (it can be in simple bullet form) of how you will go through the course content. Include the planned activities, questions and what you will say. You need to be flexible because your plan might have to change on the day. But you'll be far more confident if you know what you were going to do.

    Mistake 8: Not writing down questions

    Asking questions to use participants' knowledge or check their understanding will help make your training session interactive and interesting. But good questions are hard to think up on the spot, so try writing them down beforehand.

    Mistake 9: Forgetting the little things

    Enthusiastic trainers often forget to offer little things like breaks and refreshments. These little things will help participants be more comfortable and less distracted during the course.

    Mistake 10: Fear of silence

    "Some trainers think they are more skilled if they can make it up as they go along. But you should always write a plan."

    Many trainers are afraid of silence and so rush to answer their own question themselves. This sends a message to participants that you don't really want to hear their answers. Don't be afraid of silence - it means people are thinking. If you don't get any response after 10 seconds, try asking the question a different way. Wait another five seconds. If you still don't get an answer, then you can give it yourself. To make the silence less uncomfortable, slowly look around the room, smiling as you do.

    Mistake 11: Not using other trainers' knowledge and resources

    There are so many resources out there that already exist for trainers. Rather than trying to figure it all out yourself, take time to ask experienced trainers for advice.

    Mistake 12: Not having contingencies

    Imagine the worst case scenarios and what you would do about them. What about a power failure or fire drill? What if half of the participants don't show up? What if one of your participants is way behind or ahead of everyone else? Coming up with contingencies for each scenario means you will handle them with confidence.

    For general contingencies, build a 'buffer' into your course. For example, if you are running a three-hour session, only plan for two hours and 45 minutes, so you have an extra 15 minutes up your sleeve. If you don't need the time, you can let people go early.

    Mistake 13: Not getting participants to practise

    You can tell someone how to play golf, but until they get out and have a swing, what you've taught them will mean nothing. And so it is in training. Don't give participants the option of whether to practise, just say: 'Okay, now I want you to have a go'. Try to get participants to practise on a range of scenarios that best reflects what they will face when they have to apply their learning in the 'real world'.

    If you can avoid these mistakes that new trainers often make you will find that your sessions run much more smoothly and are far more successful.

    Sally Poyzer is a corporate trainer at Territory Insurance Office

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