Anatomy of a Trainer

What is that exactly? Where do trainers come from? Are they born or made, as I like to ask my students of speakers. Trainers are a little different. Trainers are made of parts, like the human body, and have many interacting functions or working parts. Without some parts they die. With others, they thrive.

Following the basic tenets of leadership, trainers, it seems, are:

  • designated or assigned
  • assumed as a matter of position
  • discovered as they emerge over time with the company
  • discovered as they emerge during a serious situation or crisis
  • educated to be trainers

Like leaders, trainers can be designated or assigned the task and have to learn the material or are a subject matter expert (SME) already. You could hold a high position that includes the training aspect and therefore it is assumed you are responsible–essentially, no training needed for you (not really), or after the company gets to know you and has seen you communicate and present material in a variety of ways perceives you to be a person who has qualities that may be deemed worthy of an in-house trainer. This would be an emergent leader. In your case, an emergent trainer. There is the leadership that emerges during a specific experience for example, a high-stress, extremely important problem-solving situation where your leadership/training abilities are noticed. That is known as situational leadership and let’s say trainer. Perhaps, you are too young for a leadership position, but training is a good place to start. There is another that might be compared to a company bringing in an outside executive. You just finished a graduate program in human resources and training. So, you are educated for the task.

It is nice to be put in the same league with leaders and in some ways I think just as important. Many decisions are made at that level that are not training issues that can be discovered before undertaking extensive measures to train staffs of managers and lower level employees.

However, we run the gamut in the business, in the corporate, and the non-profit world. We are at all levels–from entry-level to senior staff. Where we are in the organization depends a lot on where we came from–how we got to where we are. Some of us were so dedicated we learned all we could from books, courses, and other trainers. Some of us had a training plan all made out for us by our predecessors. Is that wrong? I’m not here to judge your work ethic; I’m just trying to provide some enlightening views. Our goals are the same wherever we are placed in the company or organizational chart. Sometimes we have a chance to move mountains, sometimes not.

My interest in people is two-fold: how do people perform under pressure and what makes people act the way they do in a group.

  • (Photo left) Joy Blatherwick and Jack Shaw in PLAY ON! — photo by David Gold, HPP

After publishing almost 200 training and development blog articles, about a 100 theatre critiques and articles on performance, four books, including a novel, it is about time I introduced myself again and why I write about training as way I do–not as an expert on training with a lifetime of training experience, but more as an observer. If you've read my blog before you know my background as a communicator. As well as having done professional acting on stage, film and commercials, I teach at a couple of Universities when I have an opportunity as a visiting professor. I am retired from the Federal government where I was “discovered” and made a trainer after the training officer saw that I had skills. It had taken me a long time to emerge as a trainer over time. Human Resources is always slow in government.

So why did I bother? I wanted to do something different. The signs were obvious it seemed to me; I was a public affairs officer with years of experience. Before that Federal job, as Air Force officer, I was selected to teach at the U.S. Air Force Academy and ran the Summer Survival Training Camp. I was recruited out of Officer Training School to give presentations about the Air Force around the country–later to talk and lead people through the inside of Cheyenne Mountain. My education is unique: an interdisciplinary dual Masters in English and Speech/Theatre and another Masters in Social Psychology. The interdisciplinary degree is in performance criticism.

I hope you can see why my focus is people-based. I don’t knock the use of technology, but I want to make sure it is getting through, that it is not part of the frustration of taking the training itself. If it is, I try to report it and offer ways to fix it. I know “learning theory.” I've had those classes--maybe not couched the same way as in “Training Programs,” but, in fact, "learning theory" was a very strong interest of mine, why I love teach as well my personal interest in classroom teaching. It may sound egotistical, but I’m good at it. I can talk. I was an actor and a director, a professional speaker, as well as a speech coach for executives. Would you expect anything less? I have to assure my University speech students that my speech classes are not performance classes, that their classes also have to do with organization, and the basics of all around good communication and analysis.

As a trainer, whatever kind of training I am doing, I treat my trainees as individuals; they are not the company name that some trainers add to their resume to give it some sort of credibility. I personally don't use the Fortune 500 company names--especially the executives I may coach in speaking. Because I do custom work in training, it, too, is confidential. That doesn't mean using a company name to give your company credibility can’t or shouldn't be used. It’s just happens to be my choice and my particular situation.

I don’t feel classroom training is in lieu of any other kind of training. Not all training has to be done in the classroom. And I will use technology when it is the best way to present the material--especially with focus of students these days, but I don't just pull all my training from a shelf. Some training can be on a handout–if you trust your staff to read and sign that they read it, or a CD or DVD for them to see, or computer-based or a combination, etc. All this training depends on the type of business, company or organization we are talking about. Training needs aren't always the same.

I turn down work as often as I accept it; maybe, that’s the beauty of retirement, or a wife who is a working professional. If you are an in-house trainer, advise your boss on what you think is needed, but in the end, it is he or she who makes that decision. Again, it will depend where you are in the hierarchy.

To me, there is no one training product or system that does it all. No one trainer that does it all. I know some trainers and vendors will hate me for this: no long term contracts. I know there are in-house trainers who are so insecure they always by off-the-shelf or hire out-of-house. All I can say at this point, is to be careful. Try whatever someone is trying to sell in the short term, check references, and look for articles that may talk about the programs they use in an unbiased way. Obviously, not the vendor’s website.

As for me, the buzz word is customize. Customize with your own creativity. Create in the classroom. Problem-solve in small groups. Use products you know. Test products of which your pretty sure of the results.

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