Has anyone asked you what it takes to become a good training facilitator?
Besides being a good conversation starter and an implicit acknowledgement of your expertise, this question could open the door for you to provide useful information that could have an impact on the person who asked it. Let’s look at some common thinking about what it takes to be a good training facilitator. Are the following statements true or false? • Anyone who knows a lot about something is a good training facilitator. (False. Subject matter expertise is crucial and a good start; however, it does not automatically make someone a good training facilitator.)
• Groups love to get loads of information. (False. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Information overload only leads to minimal retention levels followed by even less application on the job. Facilitators need to spark the audience’s interest and keep them connected. You need to determine the amount of content that is necessary and complement it with examples and stories.)
• Being a good speaker is enough to be a good trainer. (False. Being a good speaker is necessary, but not sufficient, to be a good trainer. Although all good trainers are good speakers, the opposite does not tend to be true.)
• Delivering training is just like teaching a college course. (False. Training is a focused and short-term solution directed at acquiring skills that should be applied on the job upon returning to the workplace. A college course is a long-term experience that may or may not be skills-based.)
• All you need is a detailed presentation to read. (False. Today’s audiences are bombarded with information. They can search for anything that they need online at their own convenience. If a detailed presentation is all that you have to offer, you will not add any value to the audience.)
• The same tactic works for everyone. (False. The days of a one-size-fits-all approach to training are over.)
In our experience, becoming a good training facilitator involves three key areas—subject matter expertise, training and delivery skills, and storytelling capabilities.
Subject matter expertise
To acquire subject matter expertise, we recommend that you:
• Identify a field of some level of proficiency to work from strengths. ATD’s Competency Model and its foundational competencies, such as business skills, global mindset, industry knowledge, interpersonal skills, personal skills, or team literacy may give some initial direction.
• Assess current level of proficiency in that field.
• Set a goal for a desired level of proficiency.
• Determine what is missing (i.e., your gap).
• Decide what to do to bridge that gap, being realistic with the timeline because it will not happen overnight.
Some ideas for bridging your skills gap include the following:
• Read research, topics on the field, opposing views, and other topics that are related to the field. Reading about something completely different may even point out a different direction or new area of interest.
• Subscribe to online feeds about the field and business news. Expertise will be more valuable when it has a direct business connection.
• Observe and talk with people. They can become an important source of content.
• Write about the field and get input from others. Social media posts are a good place to start.
• Attend professional conferences in person or online.
• Speak at professional meetings.
• Follow thought leaders in the field. Study how they do it and emulate them.
• Become the company’s go-to person.
• Be willing to answer questions and help others. Share knowledge.
• Avoid the impulse to learn a lot about everything at the same time. Depth of knowledge and understanding about the field is necessary to gain credibility and respect.
Training and delivery skills
Let’s go back to ATD’s Competency Model. At a minimum, your plan should target instructional design, training delivery, learning technologies, integrated talent management, and coaching. These competencies, coupled with subject matter expertise and storytelling, will assist in co-creating the learning experience and connecting with attendees at a different level.
As you review the model, reflect on your own experiences in training. For example, think about your best and worst experiences in training. What made them best or worst so that they stand out today? What did the facilitator do or not do? What would you have done differently?
Many of the following may have been in those best training experiences:
• Examples were personal and relevant
• Facilitators did not read off slides
• Combined group interaction and individual work
• Participants could choose how to take notes and collect information
• Presentations had some exciting graphics and other visual aids
• Computers and technology added value instead of distractions
• Facilitators showed genuine interest in your individual learning
• Participants felt free to ask questions during and after the training
• Attendees heard stories that they remember many years later
Where does what you do, or plan to do, as a facilitator stand compared to your best training experiences? We urge you to invest in developing your own skills through classroom-based or online training. One competency at a time.
Stories are useful because they help facilitators connect with the audience at an emotional level. They must be based on personal experiences and results to come across as genuine and meaningful. Audiences will remember the facts because they remember the emotions, thus connecting the emotional and rational sides of the issue.
To be an effective storyteller we recommend you do the following:
• Choose examples based on the audience and their needs. Take the story as close to your audience as you can.
• Connect the stories to the training and to the business.
• Encourage thinking and how learners would handle a situation differently.
• Use voice and gestures to convey emotions.
• Rehearse stories before delivering them to get comfortable.
• Establish a relationship between the characters and the main point of the story.
• Be careful with use of humor.
• Using stories as one way among many to deliver training.
Let’s think about some situations that could happen during training delivery. Some of them may have happened while you were in training whether as a facilitator or participant.
• The video can’t be downloaded.
• The speakers or sound system are not working properly.
• The projector’s lightbulb shuts off in the middle of your presentation and you have a room full of people watching what you will do.
• The version of the software that you used to create your presentation is not compatible with the one on the computer or tablet that you are supposed to use.
• The handouts arrived early—at another venue.
• Someone forgot to rent the projector and the screen.
• The connecting cable is too short and you can’t see the next slide before it comes up.
What would you do?
In the end, it is you, your knowledge, and your stories, that will save the day.
Titles matter as forms of recognition and acknowledgement, but experience is more important. Coupled with solid training and storytelling skills, experience may turn a good SME into an outstanding facilitator.
© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.