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Seven Training Sins to Avoid at all Costs

— by Bill Cushard

Course developmentTrainingWorkforce training

Almost all of us have been stuck in a training class at some point with a bad trainer. So, to help spare the world from these mind-meltingly lame training sessions, I’ve compiled a list of the seven worst habits bad trainers exhibit — many of which were suggested over Twitter — and offered simple and practical remedies.

Sin No. 1: Content overload

The first training sin most people pointed to was over-reading. Tricia Ransom, a learning and development profesional from Chicago, wrote on Twitter that the worst training habit is “reading every word on every slide.” Ineffective trainers read all their slides, handouts, and workbooks, which, besides being redundant and time-consuming, is a disrespectful to a room full of adults who can read on their own. It’s also a function of being unprepared.

Remedy: Cut most of the text on slides and replace it with graphs, images, or videos. Have a conversation with learners.

Sin No. 2: Being boring

You know the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Well, it’s the same for trainers. “All training and no personal connections makes Jack an ineffective trainer.” (OK, it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.) One of the worst things a trainer can do is start a class and go right into the material without trying to break the ice and make some sort of a connection with the audience. A class won’t trust you if you act like some sort of impersonal robot.

Remedy: Make a personal connection with people in your session. Let a little bit of yourself out. Call people by their name, and be a good listener.

Sin No. 3: Repeating personal tics

Most ineffective trainers have some weird, odd, or annoying tic that distracts learners. Allison Michels, a customer engagement professional in San Francisco, was blunt on the subject: “I kid you not, I have met a few trainers with weird ticks [sic] when they talk to people – like chewing their lip or their glasses.” Add to that list the trainer who says “ummmm … “ between almost every word. And don’t get me started on the trainer who juggles keys or coins in his pocket or trainers who don’t make eye contact. These tics are all annoying, but worse, they distract from learning.

Remedy: Record trainers and make them watch themselves. It’s frightening to see oneself repeat these annoying tics. Video is a fast way to create self-awareness.

Sin No. 4: Answering every question

Early in my training career, I would answer every question someone asked in class. When I didn’t know the answer, I wrote down the question, found out the answer after class, and followed up. Then one day, I got lazy. When someone asked a question, I said, “I don’t know. Does anyone know?” Someone did. Bingo! Today, even when I know the answer, I ask the class whether anyone there knows. Someone usually does. This technique works because it engages learners in a conversation. More and more, the class gets comfortable and opens up. Learners do more of the talking.

Remedy: Respond to every question with, “Does anyone know the answer to that?” Make it a habit.

Sin No. 5. Airing dirty laundry

Don’t make excuses. Imagine sitting in a fancy restaurant and having the waiter bring your dinner out. Would he every say, “Here you go. But I gotta tell you, it was a tough one. The cook burned the first batch of asparagus, so we had to start over. Then Terry spilled rice all over your plate. So I had to get a new plate. That’s why I’m a bit late bringing out your dinner. Enjoy.“? Absolutely not. Ineffective trainers do the same thing. When things don’t go according to plan, they make excuses and give reasons that the audience doesn’t care about or need to know.

Remedy: Keep it to yourself. Learners don’t know it’s your first time, and they don’t care. Does a comedian tell an audience, “Oh, I just skipped a joke … let me go back”? No. They just keep going.

Sin No. 6: Not being prepared

Trainers must be throughly prepared before a training session. Ineffective trainers wing it. I’ve had trainers say to me, “I’m better thinking on my feet.” Ugh. Ask anyone who’s ever spoken in public — except maybe professional improv comics (who, incidentally, practice constantly) — and they’ll tell you their best presentations come after a lot of preparation. Not being prepared shows disrespect for learners, and it certainly doesn’t make you look very good.

Remedy: Prepare at least two hours for every one hour of delivery time. If you teach frequently, some of your in-class time will count as preparation for the next day. Training can be like an annuity. A large upfront investment in preparation, and a steady stream of relaxed and easy classes in the future.

Sin No. 7: Failing to keep time

If you learn nothing else from this post, learn this: At about the one-hour mark of any training session, people start thinking about a break. At 75 minutes, the thought of a break consumes most of their attention. At the 90-minute mark, it’s all most people can think about. My advice is to never go longer than one hour and 15 minutes without a break. Also, if a class is scheduled to end at 4 p.m., by 3:50 people are staring at the clock. Every minute past that is a lost minute.

Remedy: Finish sessions five to 10 minutes early. Be like an airline and brag about your on-time arrival percentage. Suprise people and give them back some time. They will always appreciate that.

These are the seven habits of highly ineffective trainers that my colleagues and I have experienced. Perhaps you know of others. Feel free to comment below and share them. Together, perhaps we can put an end of ineffective training.

For even more tips, check out this article I wrote last fall: Nine Ways to Make Training More Engaging. For more Daily Mindflash articles on training, click here.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user

Bill Cushard, Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.

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