What I’ve learned in nine years as a trainer

Matthew Cooke reports from the coal face of food and health & safety training. 

Nine years ago, I followed my passion for staff development and formed a training company. Over the course of nearly a decade, I’ve learned a lot about what makes a good trainer — and what doesn’t. So what are the most crucial things I’ve learned in that time? Probably these eight lessons.

Set expectations right away

Begin each training session by answering everyone’s burning questions. What will they be doing? How long will they be there for? How will they be assessed? When are the breaks? This will help ease any anxiety that your trainees might be feeling.

Trust me, if people are busy worrying about whether they’ll have a big test or when they’ll next get a cigarette, they won’t be concentrating too well on your material.

Read the room

No two courses are the same because no two groups of people are the same. Every group has its own dynamic, so the moment a trainer walks into a space they need to be able to read that group and respond accordingly.

For instance, if your delegates seem like a lively bunch then you could get them up and moving around from the word go, even if that means tweaking your training plan.

Make it relevant 

When people believe that a course really matters to their role or organisation, they’ll be much more motivated to learn. You need to address their specific role and industry, rather than using the same generic spiel time and time again.

If you can get delegates to connect your course to their day-to-day work, they’ll be more motivated and will be more likely to pass their knowledge onto colleagues. You need to start by making it clear why the course is worth their time and effort. If you can convince people of that, you’ve won half the battle.

Engage, engage, engage 

A poor trainer will suck the oxygen out of the room by being in love with the sound of their own voice and generally dominating proceedings from the word go. As you might guess, that usually results in trainees switching off.

Instead, build a rapport with your group by showing a genuine interest in everyone. Of course, it’s important to take command of a training space and lead a group, but to get people motivated, you need to be willing to drop your ego too.

Pitch to the right level 

This might sound obvious but it can be tricky to get right. Pitch your course too low, and your trainees will feel bored and patronised. Pitch it too high, and they’ll feel stressed or defensive. Plus you need to find a way of managing mixed abilities in a group.

Yet again, it’s all about learning to read the room and be willing to adapt to people’s needs, rather than following your plan rigidly.

Embrace individual differences 

Everyone learns differently, so you need to use different training methods to reach them all. For instance, you might love to lecture but that doesn’t mean everyone in your group wants to listen all day.

Take into account the needs of all learners by making sure you have a balance of ‘chalk and talk’, videos, infographics, group sessions, mnemonics, props and role-play in a course.

Get the managers into the room 

If you really want your training to have a impact on an organisation, then make a case for supervisors and managers to attend too. That way, they’ll be accountable for making sure that the learning is actually implemented in the workplace.

Offer on-going support 

Training doesn’t have to end the moment delegates walk out of the door. In fact, it often shouldn’t. By offering regular top-up and refresher courses, your training is much more likely to become fully ingrained in an organisation.

The main thing I’ve learned in the past nine years is that a good trainer is always prepared but never rigid. They’re like the captain of a ship that’s sailing to a specific destination, but who is willing to adapt en-route to changing weather conditions and the needs of the crew.

As long as they reach their destination successfully with everyone still on board, that’s what’s important.


About the author

Matthew Cooke is the owner of The Training Co., which offers accredited courses in first aid, healthy & safety and food safety. He has a background in hotel, brand and arena management, and was previously the operations manager of Blackpool Pleasure Beach.



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