5 – OK 6 – Essential Skills for Trainers

Over the course of my 25+ years as a corporate trainer, I’ve taught thousands of classes.  Each class requires a slightly different combination of skills from my trainer’s grab bag of abilities. When I teach new trainers, I always start with an exercise where I ask them, “What skills do you think a good trainer possesses?” My goal is to help them begin to fill their bags.  The list is always VERY long and surprising for some. We look at the list and as a group decide which skills are essential to all trainers and which are unique only to some trainers. For instance, being funny is always on the list, but not ALL good trainers are funny. In fact, humor can go horribly wrong in a classroom, too.  After this exercise, the students have a better idea of their own unique assets – humor, compassion, flexibility, curiosity – and those that all good trainers must possess.  The core assets usually boil down to these critical five:

  1. Knowledge – This is a gimme, really.  At a baseline, every trainer should be steeped in their subject matter. Of course, sometimes we’re rushed into the classroom before we may feel ready, but making sure you know more than your audience is fundamental. You also will need to be comfortable with the training materials.  Know the flow of the outline, know what page number each section is on in the manual, and be sure to keep students apace with you in the materials.
  2. Ability to Say Things in Multiple Ways – Not every student is going to comprehend the material you are presenting in the same way. Count on needing more than one example for a concept or lesson. Additionally, count on needing to relay your information in more than one manner. Some students will require a more elementary approach to a topic, and it’ll be up to you to switch up on the fly how you are presenting a topic and what examples you are using to illustrate it. The ability to adapt in the classroom is crucial.
  3. Strong Organizational Skills – The ability to organize the information you are presenting is crucial.  Not only does it mean as a trainer you won’t miss anything vital, organizing information in a logical, natural way will increase your students’ ability to understand the material. Being organized also allows you to expand or contract a lesson in the middle of the class, if needed.  Disorganization is the iceberg that will sink your class!             
  4. Time Management – As a new trainer, managing the clock might be the trickiest skill to master.  It’s part science and part art. As a trainer, when students ask questions we want to answer all of them as fully as we can, even if they are off topic.  A good trainer knows what questions to answer, what questions to table until later, and what questions to take fully offline. As a rule of thumb, if it’s not directly related to the topic at hand and you don’t have time to answer it, tell the inquiring student you’ll take it offline with them after the session ends.
  5. Establishing Credibility, Rapport, and Trust – You are not only the trainer of the material, but you are also the host of the event. One way to begin establishing rapport is by greeting each student as they arrive. Let them know they are welcome and you’re pleased they could take time out of their busy days to be there. Stating your credentials is important, but credibility builds with students when you effectively manage the class. Trust is built by encouraging students to explore and ask questions and then honoring those questions when they come.

There’s one skill that I would add to this list of essentials and it’s one that, despite how many times I’ve run this exercise, never is mentioned by my new trainers as something a good trainer possess.

  1. Humility – A good trainer is humble. What do I mean by that?  It’s easy for a trainer to feel like they are the smartest person in the room.  They possess the knowledge and are in charge of revealing it.  That’s heady stuff! While most trainers I’ve met don’t have ego trips about their roles, a trainer can be knocked off his or her game in a class if it’s discovered a student knows as much or more about the subject, or if a student has had a different experience with the material that allows them deeper or different insight, or if a student asks questions to which he or she doesn’t know the answer. When you enter each class with humility, and with the understanding that you are not only teacher but also student, these situations become positive experiences and not stress-inducing nightmares. You’re willingness to admit “I don’t know” and to be gracious and thankful for the opportunity to learn at the hands of your students will become one of the most essential skills you can possess as a trainer.

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