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How to Conduct an Effective Training Session
Learn tips and techniques for effective workplace training.
All the planning has been done. All the preparation is taken care of. You know your training needs, you’ve set goals, management is behind you, you promoted your training schedule, and prepared materials, space, and people. The time has finally come: Training day is here. Here are some specific tips and techniques to help you run an effective training session that accomplishes your goals in an enjoyable and engaging way for everyone involved.
Here are 12 proven techniques to conduct a successful training session:
Tell trainees what you’re going to cover. Introduce your session with a brief overview of the training subject’s main points.
Tell them the information. In the main portion of the session, explain key points, go over policies, demonstrate procedures, and relate any other information trainees need to know.
Tell them what you told them. Conclude with a summary of your opening overview. Use repetition to help trainees grasp and retain information.
Always explain what trainees are going to see before you show a multimedia portion. This practice creates a better learning environment by guiding trainees to know what to look for and what to remember. Explaining the purpose of the multimedia ensures an effective reception for its information.
Use as much hands-on training as possible. The most effective training uses all the senses to affect learning. Demonstrate and apply teaching points to create greater understanding and knowledge of the subject.
Test frequently. Tests are most effective when students know they will be quizzed, because they’ll pay close attention to the material. Testing is an objective way to determine whether training achieved its goals.
Involve trainees. For example, ask participants to share their experiences with the training topic. Many trainees are experienced personnel who have valuable information to contribute. All trainees will get more out of sessions by hearing about their co-workers’ experiences with the subject—and not just the trainer’s lecture points. Hearing different voices also keeps sessions varied and interesting. Structure interaction time into all your sessions.
Repeat questions before answering them. This practice ensures that all participants know what the question is so they can make sense of the answer.
Analyze the session as you go. Always be on the lookout for what works best. When you discover a new technique or method that clicks with the group, note it on your training materials so it can be incorporated into the training outline to be used in future sessions.
Keep your session on track. Start on time and finish on time. Don’t hold up class waiting for late arrivers. Run the class according to the schedule and don’t get too far off course. Opening up discussion among participants may lead to some pertinent tangents, but don’t let side issues take over. Ask if there’s enough interest to pursue a separate session on that topic, but get this class back to the lesson plan.
Put yourself in their shoes—or seats. Give frequent breaks, especially for half-day or all-day sessions.
Solicit feedback on the training session. Critiques work best when they are written and anonymous, unless a trainee volunteers to discuss his or her thoughts in person. Trainee input is vital for making the next session—and the overall training program—more
These 12 steps are the basic foundation for a solid training session that runs efficiently and that conveys the necessary information for meeting the session’s goals. They also incorporate ways to begin improving training on the fly. In other words, you can’t go wrong by following these steps in every training session you run.
It is possible, however, to get a little more creative—and memorable—by using some of the following innovative techniques.
Make Training Memorable
Here are some softer training methods that are not necessarily essential to conveying information, but that can make receiving data or instructions a much more enjoyable experience, which will keep trainees involved and help them retain more information.
Make learning fun. Why? Trainees will not be enthusiastic if training sessions are dry and dull. Few employees respond to or remember complicated concepts or theories; they want to learn practical information about what they can do to get better results today. If they don’t find the message entertaining, they won’t retain it. Since variety is the spice of life, use several different training methods to engage trainees in a variety of ways. Also work to alternate the pace of each session to keep trainees’ interest level high.
Use humor. Humor helps keep enthusiasm at peak levels. Trainers can make a point more effectively by using humor than by drowning trainees in statistics or theories. Avoid telling jokes, however, because humor is so subjective that someone in your audience may be offended and lose track of training for the rest of the session. Personal, self-deprecating humor is the safest way to go.
Use attractive packaging. Use materials that are well-packaged and that communicate value. Professional packaging is a powerful tool for setting a good first impression.
Encourage participation. Make the session lively by engaging participants in the learning process. In fact, try to spend close to 80 percent of training time on group participation. Encourage everyone in the training session to speak freely and candidly, because learning occurs most readily when feelings are involved.
Build self-esteem. Employees understandably want to know what’s in it for them. They know that most training programs are designed to make money for the company, but rarely does training lift employees’ spirits or help them to become better in their own lives. Create a win-win environment by using the training program to build the participants’ self-worth and self-esteem.
Training Day Checklist
Here’s a handy last-minute checklist to make sure everything is ready for your training session:
□ Dress appropriately. Use your audience analysis to figure out what to wear. In general, match your manner of dress to that of your trainees—or go slightly more professional.
□ Arrive early. Give yourself time to check last-minute arrangements and get yourself mentally geared up for the session.
□ Check seating arrangements. Make sure the set-up is ideal for the training style you want to use and have some extra chairs for any last-minute trainees.
□ Check room temperature. Adjust it appropriately for the number of people who will be in the room and the size of the space you will all be occupying.
□ Check audiovisual hardware. Conduct one last run-through to make sure everything is still running smoothly.
□ Check electrical outlets. Make sure all your connections are safe. Don’t trail cords across walkways or overload surge protector strips.
□ Check light switches. Know which switches work which lights so you can achieve the ideal lighting for audiovisual materials and note-taking.
□ Check window-darkening equipment. Make sure blinds or shades are working properly.
□ Check arrangements. Make sure you have everything you need—including the training space for the entire time you need it.
□ Lay out classroom supplies. If you will be demonstrating tools or equipment, make sure you have everything you need.
□ Lay out course materials. Decide whether to put handouts on a table for trainees to pick up on the way in or to lay them at every seat.
These are all effective techniques for running a successful session, but what kind of person does it take to do the training? The best trainers have several qualities that make them good at what they do. Check the list below to see which qualities you already possess—and to determine which areas you could improve.
Qualities of Effective Trainers
While some of these qualities are obviously necessary for anyone in a teaching position, others may not seem as necessary, such as being patient or open-minded. All of these attributes, however, contribute to making top-notch trainers. All the best trainers are:
Good communicators. They speak well, express their thoughts clearly, and have an engaging presentation style.
Knowledgeable. They know their topic cold. They understand all the concepts and know all the details. They can answer questions thoroughly and at a level that trainees understand. If they ever can’t answer a question, they know exactly where to go to get that answer and they promise to do so as soon as possible.
Experienced. They know what they’re talking about. They’ve been in the field doing what they teach in training.
Good with people. Their personality styles may vary, but they enjoy working with people. They can engage groups of people and work with them to meet training goals.
Interested in learning. They recognize the value of learning in their own lives and want to help others learn. They find satisfaction in sharing with others the skills and knowledge they have acquired through hard work and persistence.
Patient. They understand that people learn in different ways and at different paces. They take the time to make sure each trainee understands what’s going on and leaves training sessions with the skills and knowledge he or she came to acquire.
Open-minded. They respect other people’s points of view and know that there are often many ways to achieve the same objectives. They don’t assume they know everything, but instead are willing to listen to and learn from trainees.
Creative. They bring ingenuity and their own natural curiosity to the task of training. They create an environment in their training sessions that encourages learning and inspires trainees to reach beyond what they already know to explore new ideas and methods.
Well-prepared. They know their material, their objectives, and their plan of presentation. They’ve checked to see that any equipment they expect to use in training is in place and operational. They’ve made sure that all supplies and supporting materials are available in the right quantities.
Flexible. They are able to adjust their training plan to accommodate their audience and still meet all training objectives.
Well-organized. Good trainers can handle several tasks at once. They know how to manage their time and their work.
Classroom or Instructor-Led Training
This is still the most popular training method because of its personal interaction and flexibility. Here are tips for getting the most out of classroom learning:
Outline lecture notes; don’t read them.
Design each part of the lecture to reinforce a training objective.
Always use visual aids, such as overheads, flip charts, or slides.
Encourage trainees to participate by giving them note-taking guides and handouts to follow during the lecture.
Break up the prepared presentation by inviting trainee feedback and telling stories to illustrate points.
Whenever possible, combine lectures with other classroom methods such as workshops or role plays to reinforce and illustrate points made in the lecture.
How to Use Handouts
Well-designed handouts serve many useful functions in a training session—but only if they are well thought out and used appropriately. Here’s how to create helpful handouts and make the most effective use of them during training:
Make your handouts look professional by using quality paper and a good printer or high-quality copier. If you have the budget, use full-color handouts.
Leave plenty of white space on handouts by keeping information simple, straightforward, and uncluttered. Give participants room to make notes.
Use large type that is easy to read. Don’t mix typefaces.
Use bullets and borders to organize information and make points easy to follow.
Use headings for important issues and titles.
Use graphics whenever possible to illustrate important points.
Use different color papers for handouts on different topics.
Number handouts for easy reference when going over them with participants.
Wait until the end of the session to pass out handouts that you will not discuss in class to prevent distracting participants during the session.
Remember: Handouts supplement a presentation, they are not the presentation itself.
PowerPoint presentations are one of the most popular and powerful training tools in use today. As with any tool, there’s a right way and a wrong to use it—and the tool’s effectiveness is directly proportional to the way it is used. Here’s how to get the most effective use of PowerPoint presentations:
Outline your presentation’s main points and message before creating a single slide. Story comes first, then slides.
Keep slides simple. Use only three to five bullets and one or two graphics per slide.
Keep animation to a minimum. Don’t use it just because it’s there. The software allows you to make text and images move, blink, fade in, swoop over, etc., but most of this movement is only a distraction and actually hinders audience retention of the points you’re trying to make. Trainees may pay more attention to the pretty colors or the impressive effects as words come flying in than to the information those words contain.
Limit the number of slides to between 20 and 30. This is generally a comfortable amount of information to give out in an hour-long presentation. Fewer slides may not cover a topic adequately and more slides may cause information overload in trainees.
Run your completed presentation a few times on your own computer to fix any glitches. Also run it a few times on the computer you will be using in class to make sure it works smoothly on that machine.
While running your presentation in the training room, figure out the best place to position yourself. Choose a spot that gives you easy access to advance slides as well as availability to audience members so that you can see whether they want your attention to ask questions or comment on a slide’s points.
When rehearsing your presentation, experiment with lighting in the room to make sure that slides are easily visible and that there’s enough light for trainees to take notes.
Begin each session by giving a brief overview of the topic and/or asking participants what they expect to learn before getting into the slide presentation. This establishes a connection between you and the audience in which you can set up an atmosphere of
interactivity before lowering the lights, which could inhibit audience members from speaking up if you haven’t set the stage for them to feel free to do so.
In an ideal world, training will always be successful. There are ways that training can go wrong, however, and forewarned is forearmed. According to a 2001 strategic planning workshop on human capital sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ (NIEHS) Worker Education and Training Program (WETP), there are several possible problems that can lead to either trainer burnout and/or a less-than-successful training program. Here’s what can go wrong, along with ways to make it right:
How Trainers Develop Burnout
They get in a rut by always training the same topic.
They get in a rut by always using the same training methods.
They are discouraged because of management’s lack of support.
Their hands are tied by an inadequate budget.
They do not receive ongoing train-the-trainer instruction.
They do not receive proper materials or instruction for training across language barriers or cultural differences.
They do not get into the field enough to customize their training beyond book learning.
How to Keep Trainers Fresh
Rotate trainers onto different topics.
Encourage using a variety of training methods.
Promote your program to management and get their verbal and public support; ask management to personally encourage trainers.
Present a realistic and ambitious budget that provides for all your training needs.
Encourage and provide for ongoing training and career development for trainers.
Assess your training audience ahead of time and provide trainers with language-appropriate materials and cross-cultural information.
Arrange for trainers to visit the operations in which they train on a regular basis to keep current on new methods.
Why Training Programs Fail
No training goals are set.
Training goals are not in line with company goals.
No accountability measurements are set up for trainers or trainees.
Training is regarded as a one-time event and not as an ongoing need.
Little or no support is given from upper management.
How to Make Your Training Program Succeed
Set specific training goals with a committee that includes top management.
Align training goals directly with the company’s strategic and financial goals.
Set up an accountability system to measure the effectiveness of trainers and trainees; determine whether trainers successfully communicate information and whether trainees successfully apply what they’ve learned to improve their job performance.
Design a training schedule that includes ongoing training, such as beginner, intermediate, and advanced as well as refresher training. Incorporate this calendar into the company’s calendar of holidays and other company events.
Always have a representative from upper management on your training committee to ensure that training is an integral part of your company’s present and future plans for success.