ATD Blog

Adding Style to Your Training

Monday, August 5, 2013


I follow a LinkedIn threaded discussion site for training and development where this question was recently posed to followers: “What qualities should a professional trainer possess to be truly effective?”

One response: “I think a trainer should be focused on his or her learning skills as learning is a continuous process. A trainer can be an inspirational learner as well.” This is so true! As trainers, we need to be thinking about how to evolve and improve on our own skills and grow within our profession. Trainers ask participants to be continuous learners, but are we continuous learners? Do we walk our talk?

Each of us has a style and a particular strength in our training approach. But that style or strength may not be the most effective for some of your participants who look to you for new learning. You may be an interactive and dynamic trainer, but you may have some participants that don’t respond well to all the activity going on around them.

You can reach a certain number of participants with that particular style, but you may be missing others that have a different way of learning. It might be time to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to try different approaches to training.

My own style


We tend to teach the way we like to learn. For myself, I am a very visual and hands-on style learner. Therefore, I am at my best when I facilitate through a “show them, let them do” type of module in the training I facilitate in the airline industry. But not all of my students are keen on performing in front of others or would rather have me explain the “why” and “how” of a task or new concept and then let them go to work and practice their learning.

Do I enjoy lecturing to my people? N-O!!! That is not the way I like to learn! And personally, it is plain boring to me. But I must blend this type of facilitation into my training to be able to effectively impart new knowledge because lecturing will reach those learners who want me to “tell” them about the information and skills. The idea here is to be sure to reach all participants by providing a variety of approaches that address the learning styles of the group.

Discover your style

Feedback is the best method in analyzing if you are on track with your approach. How are your evaluations? Are they coming back with neutral responses? Are you hearing nothing from your folks after a seminar? Not hearing anything means they weren’t excited about what they just saw. Three’s and four’s on the five-point scale mean they were just ‘there’ for your session and filling up a seat! Time to mix it up!

My colleague, Jim Teeters, and I outline in our book, Teach With Style, four ways that we think adult learning works best:

  • A program is logical and has been collaboratively designed with other learners.
  • Learning is challenging, active, and engaging. Participants go away feeling excited, prepared, and confident
  • Program has surprise, humor, and fun, risk taking, and reflection.
  • There is a trust-filled environment. One that is a comfortable place to learn. Differences are respected and there is no ridicule and judgment.

Based on these four ways that adults learn, Teach With Style examines four styles trainers typically use to train. A quick test can help you discover your particular style of instructing.

After taking the test, we ask readers to consider: “What is your style? And are you using only one or two of these in your sessions? If you using only one or two of these, there might be a few learners that will walk away not very excited about the training. Is this effective?”

Try something new

Because balance is good, we ask you to challenge yourself to try styles outside your comfort zone. After learning which styles are predominant in your teaching, you can work on incorporating others so you facilitate a balanced training session based on all the learner styles that are sitting in your classroom.

Being an effective trainer is—and should be—an on-going exercise on continuous improvement. Think about your style. Are you reaching everyone in your class? Are you teaching the way you like to learn? Perhaps it is time to try something new. 


About the Author

Lynn Hodges was first exposed to teaching adults while working as a flight attendant at Northwest Airlines. She became certified as a training specialist and went on to teach a variety of subjects, such as leadership, conflict management, and security response to terrorism in the airline industry. She later became a certified instructor for the Speakers Training Camp. Lynn has a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies of social and behavioral sciences with a minor in communications. She currently teaches adults how to organize and deliver great speeches and presentations, in addition to her regular flight attendant duties. Jim and Lynn have a combined 70 years of experience teaching adults.

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