Whether you're a novice or an experienced trainer, it's helpful to periodically review some tips for making training programs impressive as well as effective.
As the trainer, you represent the topic. Your enthusiasm for the material should establish a conduit to learning for the trainees. Unfortunately, stage fright can interfere with the energy you want to share with the class. One way to conquer stage fright is make sure you have stage "right." Do all you can to keep the presentation flowing as smoothly as you have planned it, and remember, planning is the key.
In the classroom, you are in control. You create the atmosphere for learning. You don't need to be a special effects wizard to keep the trainees engaged. There are many tips for presentation "do's and don'ts" that will help you keep the public speaking jitters at bay while subtly enhancing the learning experience.
Make sure the training location fits the needs of the class. Some of these do's and don'ts require you to scout out the location in advance:
- Always check the room before each presentation.
- Know how to operate the room's lighting and temperature controls.
- Provide enough seating. The trainees should have enough tabletop room for materials and note-taking, and make sure the seating allows a good view of the presentation.
- If you're working with a caterer to provide snacks and beverages, confirm the order and delivery instructions the day before the class. Make sure there is a place set up for the food.
- Close windows and pull the curtains to avoid distractions, especially during a lecture. Consider opening windows or curtains during breaks or when the class is working on group exercises.
- Ask trainees to turn off cell phones and pagers, and remember to do the same yourself.
- If you're going to conduct demonstrations or drills in production areas, be sure to get clearance ahead of time, and try to schedule your activities when they won't cause too much disruption.
- If you can't visit off-site training locations ahead of time, get a very detailed description of the facilities. Specify your needs for the room in as much detail as possible.
- For off-site training, provide trainees with written directions, including where to park and what entrance to use.
- When you start a class in an off-site location, tell the trainees the locations of emergency exits, bathrooms, phones, drinking fountains, snack machines, smoking areas, etc. As the trainer, you're also their tour guide.
- Don't expect to set the thermostat to the perfect temperature. Stick with the setting that is fairly comfortable for the majority of the attendees. Someone will always be too hot or too cold.
- Don't turn the lights down too low during PowerPoint® presentations, videos, etc. Allow enough light for trainees to take notes.
Trainees expect an entertainment portion of the class. You may not think of PowerPoint presentations as entertaining, but in the dreary working world, they're dazzling compared to a lecture. Videos, slides, music, overheads, flip charts, white boards, and demonstration items all support your show. Follow these do's and don'ts to avoid that sinking feeling of: lights, camera, ... nothing!
- Make sure the technicians who set up the audio/visual equipment put it where you want to use it during the class.
- Always check the operation of all audio/visual equipment before each class.
- Know who to call in case of technical difficulties. Make sure they'll be available the day of the class.
- Load the PowerPoint presentation, videos, slides, etc. before class so all you'll have to do is click and go.
- If you're using a microphone, test it before class.
- Consider playing background music to establish a relaxed atmosphere before class starts and during breaks.
- Mark your presentation notes with prompts for when to change slides.
- Have a back-up printout of you presentation ready in case of total equipment failure.
- Bring paper and pens/pencils for the trainees' use.
- Don't leave overhead and slide projectors on while you aren't using them. The light and fan motor are distracting.
When it's so hard to get everyone to agree to set aside time for training, you don't want to waste even one minute. Practice these scheduling do's and don'ts:
- Practice your presentation to ensure you can include all of your material in the allotted time.
- Arrive in the classroom with plenty of time to check equipment and make last minute adjustments.
- Make sure any snacks and drinks are set up several minutes before any trainees are expected to arrive.
- Always start on time. Briefly acknowledge latecomers as they arrive, but continue the presentation. Be prepared to schedule make-up classes for the people who do not show up.
- At the beginning of the class, provide a quick overview of the itinerary and the schedule.
- Explain your policies for breaks.
- Keep up with the itinerary. If you have to make adjustments during the class, tell the trainees what you've decided to cover at another time.
- Allow time for questions, discussions, demonstrations, and exercises. Design this into the presentation.
- If you schedule several sessions during the day, allow enough downtime between each session so you can catch your breath and properly prepare for each class.
- Don't get bogged down in a discussion. If an individual is pushing a point, offer to discuss it with the person during a break, after the class, or another day.
- Don't try to keep trainees in class longer than scheduled. End the class, and take breaks, as scheduled.
The trainees see you as the expert, even when you aren't. These do's and don'ts will help you polish your image:
- Use a team teaching approach with a guest expert (a knowledgeable employee, perhaps?) when you aren't completely familiar with a topic.
- If a translator is with you during the presentation, talk to the class, not to the translator.
- Write the training goals on a flip-chart or white board. Refer to them during the class, and check them off after you've covered that material.
- Briefly summarize each section of the training program before you start the next activity.
- Stay on topic.
- If you don't know the answer to a question, ask the class; and if no one knows, tell the trainees you'll get back to them later with the answer.
- Don't get sidetracked into tangents. You don't necessarily need a trainee to help you make this mistake, especially if the topic is technical or detail oriented.
When you go to a workshop, don't you just love to break up into discussion groups to tackle a case study? Neither do your trainees. But, since adults learn through experience and by applying what they've learned, exercises are an important tool for effective training. Follow these do's and don'ts to make class activities more enjoyable:
- Have all handouts ready at the beginning of the class. Don't take up class time to pass out materials.
- Arrange the seating so there will be minimal disruptions when the trainees break into groups.
- After you introduce a new procedure or piece of equipment, follow up with a brief demonstration, drill, or exercise.
- Practice all demonstrations until you can perform them flawlessly.
- Spend a little time with each group during discussions and exercises. Make sure they understand the instructions. Don't take over, but be curious about the direction they're taking, and be open for questions.
- Don't leave the room during group activities, videos, or quizzes. Your attendance shows that you're the most interested person there.
- Don't schedule a long lecture after lunch. Start the afternoon with discussions or exercises to keep the trainees interested and awake.
Showmanship is part of being a trainer. These do's and don'ts will help keep all the trainees' eyes on you:
- Practice your presentation. You don't need to memorize it, but the more familiar you are with the content, the more knowledgeable you will appear.
- Learn the trainee's names before the class.
- Dress one step up nicer than the trainees, but don't come in dressed to the nines. Wear comfortable shoes.
- Practice speaking in the room ahead of time so you know how loudly you'll have to talk. Bring in a volunteer listener to help you.
- Finish your coffee and use the restroom before class starts. The trainees get break times, you don't.
- Always introduce yourself and any guest presenters.
- If the trainees do not know each other, use name tags, but don't spend too much time on having the trainee's introduce themselves to the class. Consider doing these introductions during group exercises.
- Make eye contact and smile as you talk.
- Make natural movements during your presentation. Step away from the podium once in awhile.
- Refer to notes sparingly, but keep them handy in case you need them.
- If you need to turn your back to write on a board, stop talking as you write.
- If you introduce new terms, acronyms, or initialisms, repeat them and write them down.
- Use examples and the occasional story to reinforce the material, but don't illustrate every point with a personal story.
- Don't make a show of taking class attendance at the start of the class. Instead, have the trainees pick up pre-printed name tags as they enter the room, or check the class roster while the trainees are working in group activities.
- Don't sit down during your presentation unless you're with a small group and everyone can see and hear you.
- Don't use a microphone unless you have to. If you face the group and speak in a clear voice, you probably won't need the microphone.
- Watch the "ummms." Avoid using your favorite verbal placeholder as your speak; replace it with a silent pause as you collect your thoughts.
- Don't bring a lot of reference material with you to the class unless you plan to use it. Be sure to bookmark the passages you're going to use so you can find them instantly. Being surrounded with piles of books and papers makes you look disorganized.
Interesting training presentations result from an orchestration of "behind the scenes" preparation. These tips can help you keep up with a hectic training schedule, but always have a Plan B ready in case something goes wrong during class. Backing up good planning with flexibility and resourcefulness is perhaps the best tip of all.