Three tips for leading better training sessions

A good chunk of my time is spent building and leading training sessions for a variety of development professionals – from support staff to fundraisers to faculty members to volunteers. Each workshop/seminar is different and two sessions that may be identical in content always end up with distinct experience. My favorite trainings have ended up being those where the line between instructor and learner are blurred. As a quick Friday post I want to share my top three tips for hosting or leading your own training sessions:

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Tip #1 – Find Variety in Media and Learning Format

The human attention span is getting shorter (falling from 12 seconds to 8 seconds – a goldfish’s attention span in 9 seconds). With the rise of technology we are conditioning ourselves to seek out new stimuli and split focus. For facilitators and trainers this means that we have to be diverse in the formats we use, especially for trainings that last longer than an hour. Finding the right best practice (or humorous worse practice) video, integrating both flip charts and table work, and proactively shifting the dynamics in the room (eg: moving from a powerpoint at the front to an anecdote delivered from the side) helps learners focus and targets the different styles and learning preferences across an audience.

Tip #2 – Lean In to Grey Areas in Your Subject Matter

Lectures on theoretical best practices grow dull quickly. Adult learners need to identify applicability for them to be engaged in training sessions. Instead of recapping trends or recommendations build your training around those areas within your subject that have no clear answer and instead rely on judgement calls, contextual strategy, and team dynamics. This will play into a more interactive session and trigger learning centers of the brain. Participant involvement in building conclusions makes them more likely to walk away with new ideas and motivation to implement new practices.

Tip #3 – Find Comfort in Flexibility

I’ve seen it happen a dozen times – a training session hits the beginning of a good discussion but there are 50 more slides to get to and the session is already 10 minutes behind schedule so we speed through the interactive sessions. Any training session involves a trade-off in content breadth versus depth; the more topics you want to cover the less participation and investigation your learners will be able to experience. We also never know when a secondary subject might spark a bigger conversation or be highly applicable to one audience in particular. The best trainers I have ever seen are able to adapt to the room, whether it’s inventing an exercise on the spot to help answer new questions or being willing to go out of order to fit the natural flow of the conversation. As for content areas you might not get to? Put them in a “parking lot” – if the discussions are engaging and well-received attendees will be receptive to follow-up sessions and outreach for what you didn’t get to. Remember-  after a training learners will rarely recall your slide count or whether you finished the full deck. They will, however, remember the discussions in which they participated and whether their concerns and curiosities were heard.


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