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The three stages of trainer development


An unprecedented event and a short ego trip prompts me to think about the three stages in the development of trainers.

Something unusual happened this week.  In twelve years of working as a trainer, it has never happened to me before.  Over that period, I’ve turned up at the venue on the wrong day - the day before, thank goodness, not the day after. I’ve had stuff stolen from the training room overnight.  I’ve had delegates burst into tears, swear, argue or storm out of workshops - not all at once and not on the same workshop.  I’ve turned up at hotels late in the evening and found no room at the inn; no booking, no room available.  

This week, I had to do a keynote speech for a large, multinational company.  I was the final speaker and was closing their two-day conference.  I was, in effect, the climax to the whole event.  I’m often a bit suspicious of keynotes like this because it often means that you get parachuted in to an event with no context - little idea of what came before and little opportunity to link the talk to anything else they’ve been doing.  There are also certain expectations of keynote speakers and speeches, principal amongst which is the need to be entertaining and uplifting.  

That was certainly the case this time and so I put together something that I thought met their needs but was fairly self-contained and wouldn’t rely on having to make links with anything else from the conference.  I am, to the best of my ability, witty, entertaining, inspiring, challenging and informative.  I make them laugh; I hold them in suspense; I get them interacting with me and with each other.  In short, I have a complete ball and so do they.

And then, at the end of the ninety minutes, it happened: I finished my talk and, for the first time ever, I had a group cheer my speech.

I’ve had groups applaud before - often even at the end of workshops - and that’s very enjoyable, but cheer? Never.  I have to say, I liked it very much indeed but it reminded me of a theory I devised about training when I first started doing it.

When you start in training you are, essentially, a newsreader.  You have a script and you’re wedded to it as you deliver the information that you have for your group.  Your ability to go “off-piste” in response to a question from the group, is extremely limited.  After a while, though, you memorize the script and notice that people are paying attention to you.  They laugh at your ad-libs, hang on your every word; attention is addictive and you begin to play up to it.  The workshops become about you and how much attention you can get; trainers enter the second stage of their development and become entertainers.

Some trainers stop there and their workshops are always about them and the attention they can get.  For most, however, it’s a passing phase and they eventually reach the third stage, finally becoming almost invisible as they become proper facilitators.  What Lao Tzu said of leaders applies also to facilitators: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

I like to be applauded and certainly being cheered did wonders for my ego but this week was a good reminder of how seductive that “entertainer” stage can be.

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