|Susan's Tip of the Month: Observe Your Way to Becoming a Better Trainer
Every leader of volunteers is a trainer. Sometimes it's obvious, as when we present orientation/induction sessions, create an in-service volunteer training workshop, or speak at staff meetings. Other times it's much more informal, as we convey all sorts of information and offer support through conversations and even e-mails.
How successful are you in the role of trainer? You can improve your skills or add new training techniques to your repertoire by intentionally observing learning situations led by others. In other words, when you are the learner, step back mentally to watch how you are being taught as well as paying attention to the subject matter itself.
Here are some questions to guide your observations. In all cases, you may find examples of great training techniques or bad ones - but you can learn something from either perspective.
When participating in a session with professional conference or workshop speakers, ask yourself:
- How did the speaker/trainer open the session? Was it effective in getting the audience's attention? Why or why not?
- In general, how did the speaker interact with the audience?
- What type of visuals did the speaker use along with oral presentation? How did s/he integrate those? How about use of handouts?
- What small group exercises were used? How did the small groups form? Were the instructions clear? Was enough time allowed for discussion? How did the speaker "debrief" the exercise for the full group?
- How did s/he transition from one topic or theme to another?
- How did s/he deal with questions from the audience?
- Did anything unexpected occur and how was it handled?
- Did you laugh at any time and did it help you learn?
- How did the session end?
During any in-house meeting (staff, committee, whatever), consider:
- How did the leader open the meeting? Was the right tone set?
- What's the balance between reporting and discussing?
- Do all participants feel free to ask questions or make comments?
- Which parts of the meeting felt most useful or informative and why?
- Were written materials provided before or during the meeting and were they helpful?
- How did the meeting end?
Similar questions apply to online training sessions, such as webinars.
The point is to be more intentional in your observations, specifically analyzing how and why one speaker engages you while another doesn't. (This is a great way to make a really boring session useful, of course!) For sessions that intrigue you, talk to some of the other people in attendance and see if they agree with your assessment of what worked. Depending on the situation, you can even talk with the speaker directly to ask why she or he chose a particular exercise or handled an incident in a certain way.
By making it a habit to observe any speaker or trainer (on television, too), you will become more aware of how important it is to present information in an engaging way - and how often the method and tone have a greater impact than the content itself.