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Annie Ward


Editor, HR Zone

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Trainer’s Diary: Playing Safe?


Byron Kalies
Byron Kalies urges trainers to take risks and make it real; read on and add your comments.

So, what is it about trainers? They're either dead sensible, chilled individuals who really like a joke and have a sort of 'we're all in it together’ mentality, or they're nit-picking and anally retentive with no sense of humour. They're either people who live and let live or people who espouse trust and forgiveness and treat everyone with dignity only to then attack any individual who dares to say something that’s not totally ‘pc’.

Do other professions experience this? Do you get groups of doctors who laugh at the futility of it all, or are they arguing that even though you saved a life you need to put it in the right code? Probably is the answer.

OK so rant over for the moment, but it is a serious point. Working with trainers with no sense of humour is worse than training with an incompetent trainer. At least when you're working with an incompetent trainer you can help and coach them. When you’re working with someone who lacks a sense of humour, actually it's not a lack of humour that's the problem it's a lack of perspective, it's that sense of smugness they convey that is so irritating.

It's hardly any wonder training has had such a bad reputation. How often do we come across comments like;
"Well what would you know about that-living in your ivory tower!"
"Well in the real world? ..."

Training should be about being real, taking risks and looking for support from your colleagues. It shouldn’t be about looking for things to go wrong then showing off that you've spotted a mistake. There are a fair amount of trainers out there that don't do anything wrong. Of course they don't because they don't do anything different. They just use the same, safe, boring 'developments' they've always used and people sit through it and smile and finish early or give them sweets (don't start me on that one) so they'll give them a decent assessment.

The best trainer I worked with often had the worse assessments as he was forever challenging people skilfully and guess what they didn't like it but they did actually learn something.

9 Responses

  1. Just Curious
    I agree with the points in the article, training should be a profession where the audience is challenged and so is the trainer – it makes for the best learning environment and enables learners and the trainer to feedback on each other to get the best from every event.

    I also agree that the trainer doesn’t always need to be liked by the audience to be effective.

    But, I am curious as to how you measure whether someone is a good trainer – in the case cited here where the trainer always recieved poor feedback, but you consider them the best trainer – how did you tell?

    Because in my book part of training succesfully and well is gaining your audiences buy in to your experiments and that they enjoy at least some of the experience (except maybe when you are trying to stop someone from bullying through training/coaching) and if they didn’t I feel that I would be letting my delegates, my employer and me down.

    I do want to say though, that I think it’s a good article and a point well made.

  2. Training ?
    I think the actual terminology of ‘trainer’ conjures such a mixture of expectations that rarely do people know what they are actally want,let alone what they get and as a consequence the industry (for want of a better word) is fraught with misunderstanding, poor representation and a raft of people who call themselves trainers.

    There is clearly a need for people who present detailed information such as legislation where there is almost no scope or opportunity for ‘risk taking’ but this certainly doesn’t discount (or shouldn’t) the prospect of the presenter being individualistic in style OR using material creatively however, I guess the point I am attempting to make is that everyone has a perception and opinion on what is a trainer.

    Some of the people I have met over the many years do not in my personal opinion own the role or qualify to call themselves trainers.
    They own information and have been pretty smug about sharing it and crashed through the delivery of it. It was as painful as watching Big Brother.

    I have had some insight into oberving others who were clearly focused on the learning, engaged with the group and picked up on every opportunity to use discussions and feedback to explore and carry the learning forward and they did it without a script, thank god, and skillfully.

    Personally, I doubt if the trainer in this instance was uppermost in anyone’s mind other than they steered, facilitated, and engaged the group. The trainer read the delegates, and introduced humour where necessary and challange where appropriate -leaving the group with a great deal to go away and think about. They didnt need to be brash, liked or disliked but they clearly did a damn good job. The risk taking for me, was in just what were those delegates going to take away and do with that new found food for thought.

    My answer to this all this is intertwined in the ‘perception and expectation of the organisation’ but personally I dont want to see any more comics, boring, stumbling bumbling people who would be better suited to another profession like ‘stamp licker’ and I dont want anyone to use its delegates as a verbal bunch bag to drive the point forward,

    Simply find real people with real passion and give them what they need. Then the job will get done.


    This influx of ill trained and ill placed people has compounded the problem and

  3. Be authentic….
    Humour is part of being human. In learning the art of training you come to a realisation that taking the risk of being yourself, being authentic, is key to success. Perhaps I am lucky in that I have a deep seated belief in the leadership material I put across. This belief allows me to be authentic in the things I talk about. Being authentic quickly establishes relationship and trust. In trusting each other we can talk candidly about things which leads us to relax and have a laugh or two along the way.

  4. straight man/ funny man
    Maybe training attracts these extreme opposite personalities because of the bi-polar nature of the job.

    We are asked to think outside of the box, but get ticks in all the right boxes.

    We are asked to empower our delegates to discover for themselves, how to follow the company mission, vision and behaviours.

    We are asked to allign our creativity to the competency framework.

    We are asked to be original within a template.

    We are asked to measure the ROI of spontaneous learning.

    Whilst the facilitative style suits ‘softskills’ training, the prescriptive style is better suited to knowledge/procedure based material.

    Personally I like to see trainers working in pairs, straight-man/funny man or facilitator/assessor and in my experience this works very well in both training delivery and producing new courses. This is how I used to work 10 years ago, but unfortunately this is cost prohibitive these days.

    It’s like the cost/quality/speed trichotomy. You can have any two but not all three. Quick & cheap lacks quality. Quick & good costs money. Good & cheap takes time. Promise all three and you set yourself up for a failure/learning experience. The key is good management of resources and putting the right type of trainer with the suitable style of material.

    I’ll leave you to make up your own mind as to whether I was the straight man or the funny man. I’m not sure myself.


  5. Risk taking
    Trainers now work in a world where value to the business is drummed in every day, I understand the need for this, I do believe this to be correct. I encounter problems from the start, when new training programms are being developed. I have my Organisational development colleagues breathing down my neck to ensure the right message is being driven home.
    I have time constraints e.g. One day to deliver two days content and so on. Why do I bother training, I do it because I get a lot out of seeing the lights come on when delegates get the message. I take risks, these are calculated risks. I give out evaluators out at the end of every course, I do not want names I want costructive critical feedback, I also send out evaluators at the three month point. I evaluate and will change what is not working, if I get three people saying the same thing.
    What anoys me with some trainers who do know what they are talking about. They know their subjects well, they are SME’s. What some trainers forget is that the subjects they have to deliver are quite complex, they also forget, they probably had a lot more time to learn about the subject they are now delivering. The key to being a good trainer I feel is trying to keep subjects simple and maybe not take risks but be adaptable. How many workshops are exactly the same? None of mine, isn’t it the people that make it fun or hell for you. One thing I would like to see is external evaluation by someone independant of my organisation, I would be happy to have someone come and give me critical constructive feedback on my training skills. Wouldn’t all trainers like this?

  6. Building bridges
    Great discussion! The term ‘stamp licker’ made me wince a bit! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trainer who was that bad!

    Ok, here are some thoughts. Training is about building bridges, i.e. providing information/environment/tools for moving people from one place to another either skill wise or knowledge wise. Often, because of time restraints trainers are only present for the start of that process – we don’t always see the end result (which is why transfer of learning evaluations are so important).

    Risk taking in the classroom, for me, is always a calculated risk – you assess learner’s needs and learning styles (as much as you can) and try different ways of meeting them. The trainer’s experience/professionalism gives them a ‘bag of tricks’ to dip into and vary their presentation on the spot. So it appears like a risk, but is usually a reasonably sound decision.

    All training should be learner focused with the purpose of ‘moving’ people. So, there is NO place for being smug! But there is a place for sharing knowledge and assisting people through an uncomfortable process (learning) to achieve tranquility (sorry, I’m getting all Zen on you now!). Learners don’t always recognise when they are putting up barriers to their own learning, so the trainer’s job is to respectfully move learners through that barrier by challenge, by making learning fun and meaningful, by modelling learning behaviour.

  7. authentic performance
    enjoyed the article and some of the comments.the big question is what constitutes a risk.We all know the outcome is increased learning and performance,but how many trainers really focus on the performance.This in my opinion is where risk is polarised, and where often your assessments may be marked down on the basis that great trainers push/challenge the comfort zones of delegates.My own approach is that if half or even less of my delegates go away and act differently in a positive way then i have succeeded and so what about the happy sheets!!.I fully endorse the point of being authentic which to me means real{not playing music or giving sweets}Begin with the end in mind that means performance,be adaptable that means taking the risk of change,be light and humourus where appropriate that means showing empathy.These are the words of an old sage in the training business.Who still reads his happy sheets and sometimes has a momentary bout of depression.The great thing but also the challenge of training is of course people,with all their diferences.You can’t please all the people all of the time,but by taking risks/challenging you will change some of them to make a real difference for themselves and their organisations.Try a different approach with risk and have someone you know/ respect sit in and give you feedback with specific focus on what you are doing that is different

  8. “Softness is a thing called Comfort”
    Apologies for the tagline from an old advertisement but it makes the point that Byron has already highlighted — trainers who are not taking risks are not learning so risk becoming stale if not set in their ways and thus purveyors of so-called country club training.

    Nick’s point that trainers are caught between the need to be creative and the straitjacket of the corporate templates will strike a chord with most of us. But training has become subject to the time compression that surrounds all of business life such that people (learners?) appear to want content/solution plus a tick in the appropriate box rather than to be challenged. Perhaps this comes back to the very telling observation of two education researchers (Downs and Perry) more than two decades ago who stated that “the products of our current educational system do not know how to learn the only know how to be taught.” Charles Handy recently lamented that people want answers rather than having to work through problems for themselves. Organisations need to do more to encourage thinking rather than creating the misperception that there are instant answers which can be gleaned from the net or a regular dose of training.

    But I digress — take a risk and remember how it feels since if we’re going to challenge our learners we have two be mindful of what it feels like to be challenged ourselves. Oh yes — 1 last whinge: less is more particularly when it comes to content. The weapons of mass instruction such as PowerPoint coupled with organisational development demanding that the correct messages are delivered sounds distinctly Orwellian and nothing to do with helping people learn — seems information overload is preferable since it ensures people have no time for thinking!

  9. Good Trainer/Bad Trainer?
    I have found this a very stimulating thread and was particularly interested in the comments made by Nik Kellingley.

    Clearly we need to challenge delegates when appropriate but we also need to ensure that, overall, they enjoy the experience.

    As a self employed trainer for whom repeat business is crucial it is often the delegates “word of mouth” feedback which generates it. We all know how difficult it is to persuade employers to buy in to an effective evaluation process rather than just happy sheets. If it’s just the happy sheets that keep customers coming back then I for one will continue to ensure that, overall, delegates feel that they have enjoyed a valuable learning experience.

    For my business being liked and respected is as important as delegates being challenged. If delegates haven’t liked their experiences and, at the very least respected me, I get no business and I never get the chance to help delegates learn and grow.

    So let’s continue to challenge where appropriate but let’s also ensure that delegates leave us feeling pleased to have met us.

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Annie Ward

Editor, HR Zone

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