A Day In The Life of… A Professional Trainer

Part 1

I love my job and embrace every part of the role, it is sometimes a little annoying that people don’t always see the ‘iceberg’ effect of a trainers life and inspired by a good friend of mine who has written some amazing mini blogs on Facebook, I thought I would outline a typical day or week in the life of a commercial trainer.

I was lucky to find myself in the role of a trainer in the automotive industry and working for a very focussed and hardworking organisation. This company not only gave me the framework to learn and develop as a trainer, but also kept my diary pretty full, and I spent just over 3 years with them on a salary developing and delivering sales training which served as a full on apprenticeship for me and allowed me eventually to move on confidently to do my own thing.

However, there were some challenges along the way.

What most people saw when attending one of my courses was a trainer coming into the waiting area of the training centre or hotel lobby and bringing all of the delegates together to take them through to the training room, and after a day of doing theatre, they then send the delegates off late afternoon or early evening. Personally, I always like to have my courses finished before 4.30pm as most of my groups have long journeys home and if I could achieve the desired learning outcomes within a shorter timescale then I absolutely would. So what they saw was someone working a slightly short day in a comfortable environment and if training is delivered well then it doesn’t even look that hard to do.

The reality is somewhat different! Here’s how my week would look.

Most of the day on Sunday would be spent preparing. Preparing materials or learning content, printing off routes, maps and packing my clothes. Usually a long drive south would be followed by a late check-in to whichever hotel I would be staying at. Sometimes I’d be lucky and be in the same hotel for 2 or 3 days so I could unpack and get settled. Other times I’d be repeating the process every day in a different location.

Now, hotels at the time were something of a challenge for me. I love being in a nice environment that’s functional and comfortable and to enjoy some good customer service. Not too much to ask you’d think?  All I can say is that overall, the general hotel experience has improved dramatically over the last 10 years or so, but in the early days it could be quite challenging.

So, once I’d unpacked what was needed, ironed my shirt for the following day and organised my stuff ready for an early start the following morning, I’d settle down for the night.

The next day would normally start with an early rise and a scramble to find my training room. Here’s the challenge. If I was delivering training in the hotel I was staying at, I’d need to find the conference manager and gain access to my room. I like to get my room set up, then have some breakfast and then be ready to start when delegates start arriving – anytime from 8.30am onwards. This isn’t so easy if the manager doesn’t start work until 8.30am.

I have timed this and I can confidently set up a training room in under 12 minutes. Assuming it’s been booked correctly and everything is in order. That’s not always the case though.

One example, we were delivering a seminar for 80 delegates and the office manager had requested 2 screens. She meant that she wanted a large projector screen at the front of the room and an additional large TV screen halfway across the room for the audience further back to be able to see the detail of the content.

Upon my arrival at the room booked for the event, I was confronted by 2 x 4ft projector screens. Now, I can understand that the order form probably only said 2 screens, but I have no idea how an outsourced AV (Audio/ Video) company expected us to use 2 small projector screens for an audience so large.

It’s now approaching 7.30am and I’m waiting at reception in a line of guests checking out as I need to speak to the conferencing manager urgently. I have 80 guests arriving and no way to project the materials well enough. Eventually I get to the front of the line and ask for the conferencing manager, no problem, as soon as they arrive, she will send them to me?! They are due to start work at 8.30am.

After some assertive prodding I managed to get the attention of the duty manager who said, after explaining the situation, that they would sort it for me. 15 minutes later the duty manager came into the event room with a big smile, “all sorted Mr Scott, I’ve spoken to the AV company and they are on their way with a large screen and an additional flat screen tv (65”) for the rear of the audience.”

Excellent, problem sorted. Just as they were about to leave, I enquired, how long do they usually take to get here?

“Usually about 45 minutes but due to it being rush hour may take them twice as long”

Now, my day hasn’t even started yet, my audience hasn’t arrived, and my clients are also on their way. Through no opens fault we don’t have the right screens and the replacement ones are due to arrive half an hour after our start time.

PLAN B! So now I’m busy running around trying to create a waiting area for the guests, manage the clients as they arrive, set up a projector and switch box without screens and keep the appearance of calm all at the same time.

Eventually the AV team arrived, installed the equipment, we set up and got running. We had a fantastic day with a great client and their team of franchised dealers, and we wrapped up just after 4pm to give everyone enough time to get home without it being too late. On the way out one of the delegates thanked me for the day and said, “I wish I had your job, starting at 10am and finishing at 4pm, must be an easy life?!”

I died a little inside but kept my smile and replied, “I try hard to make it look easy.” Once everyone left, I had an hour or so to pack up, tidy the room, collate the feedback, email the results, pack my bags into the car and travel 230 miles to the next location.

I’m known as being quite a bit of a diva during the morning set up. Once I’m set, I can relax and start to focus on the job, the job I love doing and feel I was destined for. However, as you can see from the example there are often some challenges to overcome. As well as developing the materials, adapting the materials several times due to the clients changing mind, proof reading and editing, printing and production, logistics of getting them to the venue, managing room bookings and joining instructions, liaising with conferencing managers and eventually getting to the day job.

Now that’s just one day, multiply that by 4 or 5 each week, every week and you can start to get an impression of the workload. That’s all ok on its own, as most people in business have and manage heavy workloads, but when your role requires you to then ‘perform’ in front of an audience, manage a technical learning environment and deal with any and all delegate issues (work related or not) then it becomes a little bit pressured.

So next time you enter a training room and see that the room has been prepared and materials are ready for you, a whole days’ worth of slides, handouts, guides and tools have been prepared give the trainer some credit. It’s not all 10-4pm!

 

Part 2

I started writing this blog at the start of lockdown and now, several months in I feel it prudent to add more, based on some experiences over this transitional time. At the start of lockdown, I offered free advice and support to anyone in the training/ coaching field who were being forced into using virtual training applications without previous experience. Two things came of this, firstly it’s startling how little training and coaching professionals actually know about training and coaching, relying on their experience and personalities to deliver their results, rather than any depth of knowledge around pedagogy. Secondly and equally startling – how quickly people became virtual experts after a short conversation.

The majority of the considerations required to deliver an effective and engaging virtual classroom training can be focussed into 3 areas:

  • Pedagogy – The framework behind the learning
  • Subject Matter Expertise – Knowing the subject inside out
  • Technical Knowledge – Knowledge of your chosen platform and the ability to guide your delegates through any technical issues

Pedagogy

I was introduced to this term early in my training career by a very driven and focussed Director who guided me through the process of understanding how to create and deliver effective training. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of deliverers who can stand in front of an audience and deliver an engaging and informative session, but to consistently write, create, develop and deliver measurable improvements requires a little more in-depth understanding of certain subjects such as:

  • Blooms Taxonomy – Blooms allows us to create definable and measurable learning outcomes – the basis of any structured training piece.
  • Detailed Running Order – A common document that maps out the session timings, methodology, learning outcomes, key information, handouts/tools/guides, etc.
  • Kirkpatrick’s ROI Model – A structure that defines the return on investment and expectation of outcomes linked to specific interactions with the session.
  • Dual Coding and Coherence Factors – Methods to ensure the creation of information and engaging materials that support and encourage learning and knowledge retention.
  • Ebbinghaus Curve – The behaviour of knowledge retention – this should be related to defined sustainment activities and be evident in the materials as described above.
  • Kolb’s Learning Styles Theory – Mapping out learning behaviours and directing methodology based in the desired learning outcomes.
  • Software (PowerPoint/ Publisher/ Prezi) – The medium in which we transfer knowledge, create focal points, reinforce learning and create recognition, whether as a knowledge transfer or reinforcement after the session.

This is not an exhaustive list but goes somewhat to demonstrating the specialised knowledge that should be evident in every trainer’s arsenal. If not, the resulting approach will lack focussed results, engagement and overall a return on the investment of time and effort on behalf of the learner.

Subject Matter Expertise

All too often I am involved in projects whereby the ‘trainer’ covers many subjects and is often required to increase their knowledge of specific subject just prior to delivery of the training. This is a common challenge and I have often found myself ‘cramming’ knowledge just before a delivery. Sometimes though we are delivering on our true specialists’ subjects and this allows a much deeper exploration of the subject, always a pleasure when this is the case.

Technical Knowledge

Now, the tricky one. Currently there are a lot of platforms that can be used to deliver basic meetings through to complex training. Without an in-depth knowledge of the system you are using and an understanding of why you are using that system will result in a less than desirable outcome.

For example, both Zoom and Teams offer a fantastic platform from which to deliver meetings and Adobe Connect will offer a less usable meeting format but a more complex training structure. It’s important to get beyond the basics of sharing a PowerPoint and getting a better understanding of the work required to make virtual training as effective as face-to-face learning.

Firstly – The Equipment: If you’re going to take virtual learning seriously then take it seriously. The right desk, seating, laptop/ desktop/ materials/ sounds (microphone and speakers), backdrop, etc.

Secondly – The Materials: Truly effective virtual learning requires far more in-depth supporting materials for all aspects of the training (knowledge transfer, behavioural change, knowledge retention).

Thirdly – The Delivery: Explore the media, lighting, positioning, audio, etc. and become the expert that can lead the learning, manage the technical challenges and deliver a highly effective session.

There are 2 simple points I hope have come across in these ramblings. Firstly, if you experience an engaging and well delivered virtual training session, take time to consider that it wasn’t just thrown together and that there is still as much preparation required to deliver as a face-to-face session. Secondly, if you are just throwing together online training sessions with little preparation and delivering from your sofa then take some time to rethink your strategy.

For me, I was thrown into the virtual world over 10 years ago with much resistance and clinging on to the ‘but I deliver face-to-face’ argument. Now I’m fully embedded and enjoy the challenge of making virtual session as valuable if not more valuable than face-to-face sessions. 

 

Thank you for reading

– Alan

 

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Photo: Kath Occleston Photography

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