Kelly Prince is the Senior Instructional Designer at Management Concepts, which does most of their business with the federal government. In this interview, Kelly gives advice and tidbits to enhance your personal training techniques and shares the top qualities of a great trainer.
Q. What are some of the top qualities every trainer should have?
A great trainer has all of the following things:
1: A command of the material. A good trainer knows the material, lives it, breathes it, and can infuse their own experience into it. They may not know every facet, but they know where to get answers if they don’t.
2. Preparation and practice. A good trainer makes delivering a class look easy and seamless. You don’t want the learners to see “behind the curtain.” I was in a spin class last week, and the instructor had his notes out, kept looking at them, was off on timing, and ran out of song before the routine was over. He also wasn’t coaching me or other participants on the best form, and he in fact had his elbows locked (a big spin non-no). I didn’t feel confident I was getting the best he or the club had to offer.
3. Rhythm and energy. There are ebbs and flows in energy in a class. A great trainer is attuned to his or her own energy level and that of the class. A good trainer knows when the more dry or factual content is coming up and adjusts delivery accordingly. A good trainer takes note of when learners are tuning out, antsy, restless or distracted. I prefer to have a rhythm to a class than all “high energy”; that can get exhausting. Engagement rather than entertainment is the key.
4. Readiness to allow and encourage participants to learn from themselves and the class in order to create as many organic learning moments as possible. This doesn’t mean that the trainer teaches by the seat of his pants, but has revived the material for those opportunities and leverages them appropriately. In many professional learning classes, there is a wealth of knowledge in the classroom and cross-pollination can be an effective way to illustrate the material and provide new perspectives.
5. Love for what they do. I have found this is nearly universal among trainers. I was a great trainer, until I got burned out, and I decided to go behind the scenes and an ID rather than give my learners anything but my best. Your learners will notice if you are phoning it in. It’s too hard and energy draining to fake engagement.
6. An excellent organization supporting them. When I worked in retail, we had some of the most amazing field trainers, but their burn out rate was very high because they didn’t have the support of the organization to do their jobs well. Most were hourly employees and rarely had enough time to prep. Train-the-trainers were infrequent, materials were delivery late. There were some outliers who did their jobs well despite these obstacles, but it wasn’t unusual to find yourself in a pilot with a trainer who read the slides and notes word for word.
Q. How do you make your lessons interesting?
I really try to “tell a story” through the materials, make the course relevant, interesting and fun. Additionally, to ensure that the delivery serves the materials well, we create what I have found to be the most extensive facilitator guide I’ve ever produced.
The results from the pilots allow us to see what works, what doesn’t, where the instructor succeeded and where she needed more help. We funnel all that amazing knowledge into the guide.
We also create Exercise Evaluation Matrices, which provide actual learning behaviors for the instructor to observe and the criteria, indicating the level of the learner’s mastery. There are a lot of moving parts to our learning materials, but combined they serve as the blueprint for an incredible learning experience that can be taught consistently in the classroom.
Q. Have you ever been embarrassed during a training session?
I don’t think I’ve ever been embarrassed during a training session, but I can tell you my very first experience delivering a class was both humbling and mortifying. I was hired as an instructor for a software training company because of my knowledge of Frame Maker.
The company had just lost their key expert trainer and at the time not many trainers knew or used the product, so despite the fact I had not delivery experience, they took a chance and hired me.
Though I had worked as a training and marketing coordinator, I had never trained a class, and my lack of experience was all but apparent. Using software and training it are two very different things, and once the class got underway, it was immediately obvious I was so out of my element.
To say I crushed and burned would be a kind understatement. Luckily even at the age of 25, I seized the opportunity for learning from failure and took on prepping for my next class with a manic zeal.
I researched every question I couldn’t answer in class, worked on my pacing and delivery, and knocked the next one out of the park. As it turned out, the client for that class was for a well-known home improvement chain, and four years later I found myself sitting across a desk from a hiring manager who was a student in that class; he recalled how much he enjoyed the class and how much he learned, and hired me on the spot.