Have you got the skills of a good trainer? 11 tips to improve

You’ve been thinking about a career as a trainer but you’re wondering what are the skills of a good trainer? Delivering great training is no mean feat – there are a lot of skills involved.

Take a second to think of a time you attended training, either face to face or online and it was great.

What was great about it?

What we’re those component parts that made the experience better?

Whatever it is you’re thinking of right now. All that positive learning experience is as a result of the skills of a good trainer.

Have you got the skills of a good trainer? 11 tips to improve.

Before we get into the list, take note of what is not on this list, technical expertise. Technical expertise does not make you a good trainer! It makes you knowledgeable, just because you know a lot doesn’t mean you can transfer that knowledge well.

The top 11 skills of a good trainer and top tips to improve

1. Adaptable

The modern-day trainer is skilled to deliver across multiple platforms, such as face to face, webinars, online virtual training, conferences etc. Therefore, the skills of a good trainer, must be transferable across all different types of training. A successful trainer is not one that whose style only works for one learning method only.

You need to understand how to adapt your delivery style for each delivery method (i.e. online, face to face etc.) to meet the audience’s needs. What works in the classroom doesn’t necessarily work online and vice versa. A slow steady pace might work well in the classroom, but this doesn’t necessarily transfer well online.

How to adapt your style

Ask for feedback on your style! Being open to feedback as a trainer is so important as it’s the only way you really get the opportunity to learn about how you come across. The other option is to record your online training and re-watch it, this time from a learner’s perspective. I personally prefer to ask for feedback from colleagues and run pilots, this ensures I keep my delivery style polished.

2. Listens

One of the most important skills a trainer can have is to listen. There is obvious listening i.e. when you are discussing with a learner. But to be a great listener you need to go beyond this. Listen to discussions you’re not part of in group activities – I see lots of trainers use group activity as an opportunity to check their email, but you miss golden information.

How to better listen to your learners

Put your phone down during activities! When learners are working on activities focus on listening to their discussions ready to pick up on the main points in feedback or to ask further questions on their discussions.  

3. Questions

Great questions can help a learner to reflect on a situation and access deeper thoughts on a topic.

Have you got the skills of a good trainer? 11 tips to improve

How to ask better questions

There is no best way to ask questions. My main advice here is to prepare some reflective or challenging questions in advance to probe learners with on a topic. I’ll usually prepare 3 or 4 questions in advance, then following those I’ll make some up on the spot. It means I never get caught out in those moments when my brain isn’t working fast enough!

4. Challenges

If you aren’t listening, you aren’t setting good foundations for challenge. You can only challenge what you’ve heard. Challenge, however, doesn’t mean questioning everything that is being said and being difficult. The purpose to challenge in training is to open someone’s mind to a new perspective or thought pattern.

How to challenge

Listen to the conversations taking place. Be ready with coaching style questions to challenge thinking. I.e. you might overhear a learner say “I’m never going to be confident enough to do this” to which you might respond simply with “never?”. Then explore times in which they’ve found confidence in other areas they once struggled with.

There are also more provocative challenges i.e. “Why haven’t you done anything about it then?” to someone who is complaining. Provocative challenge is there to push learners, this can be effective when used at the right moment but make sure you know your audience.

5. Able to read the room (or the virtual room)

An important skill that’s hard to figure out when you first start is how to read the ‘energy’ in the room and make a judgement call on the content. This might mean you need to skip content, change content on the spot or even in some cases, stop the training.

A personal example from me: I once delivered a workshop and one manager dropped a verbal bomb part-way through. This totally derailed the session. Although no one was specifically saying anything, I could see from their faces and the energy in the room that it wasn’t right to continue. An hour and a half in I stopped the workshop and rescheduled. I asked the group to reflect on what was said and bring their thoughts along next time. The following week the learners said how I’d made the right call to stop the workshop as they couldn’t move forward in that moment. That’s the importance of reading the room – no value would’ve come from the rest of that session.

How to read the room

Be attuned to what is happening in the room. Keep a close eye on body language queues such as glazed over or rolling eyes, big sighs or restless behaviour.

Similarly silence or just general lack of energy is a good indicator something needs to change to bring the session back on track. If it’s a virtual session, with video all the above still counts. Without video lack of engagement is an indicator.  

6. Is flexible with content and thinks on feet

Once you can read the room this is the natural next skill. The session is way over time, you’ve received a curveball you weren’t expecting, or the energy has gone flat. Either way, by being flexible with your content you’ll bring it back on track.

Perhaps what you’re delivering really isn’t hitting the mark, you have it within your gift as the trainer to either skip content or change the delivery method.  The skill of a good trainer lies in your ability to improvise when things don’t go to plan.

Have you got the skills of a good trainer? 11 tips to improve - quote "you have it within your gift as the trainer to either skip content or change the delivery method"

How to be more flexible

By firstly, reading the room and accepting that just because your lesson plan states the times and activities doesn’t mean its gospel. Be prepared to change it up if necessary or have alternative exercises available. Remember, every group is different and will react differently. Sometimes the content just doesn’t land for a group and you need to be ready to move on.

7. Engaging presentation style

There isn’t a carbon copy best presentation style although there are some pointers below to help. I honestly find the trainers with the best presentation style are the ones that are authentic and passionate about the topic.

How to be more engaging

The main pointers are;

  • Keep an eye on your pace, if you’re going to fast the learners can struggle to keep up, too slow they’ll get bored.
  • Share stories or personal examples, they help to bring the content to life and learners remember stories.
  • Don’t rely too heavily on your slides, they’re their to provide visuals to help aid learning, they’re not the be all and end all.

8. Passionate about the topic

Have you got the skills of a good trainer? 11 tips to improve - quote "Bring driven is not the same as being passionate. Passion is a love for the journey. Drive is a need to reach the destination."

As I just mentioned previously, passion is important. It’s a difficult skill to convey if you aren’t necessarily passionate about the subject you’re delivering. To reference the quote above, being passionate is about the love of the learning journey.

How to find your passion

Find the elements of the topic you are passionate about. You may not be passionate about ladder safety, for example, but you are passionate about keeping people safe at work. Focus on this element to bring your passion out and the learners will too.

9. Prepared

One of the underrated skills of a good trainer is preparation.

Ever heard the five P’s saying? (Preparation prevents pi** poor performance), perhaps a little provocative but it gets the point across. It’s a saying that sticks with me throughout my career as a trainer.

I could honestly write a long, and not very exciting book about all the things that have caught me out over the years. I now realise the best way is to prepare for everything, then if you get a curveball you’ve done the best you can.

I’ve had complete tech disasters, worst one being I once arranged training in a PC room, got there and it had no PC’s! That was interesting improvisation. On the people side, difficult learners, either because they’re difficult people generally or because they’ve received information that derails the session.

How to better prepare

To negate any tech disasters, I take every possible method of delivery, laptop, email, memory stick everything just in case.

For the people side you can try to limit the need to think on your feet by doing some groundwork in advance of the session, if you can. Find out a little bit about the group, it’s always good to know if anyone is vocal or challenging in advance. Equally, is there anything happening in the team/company that could be an issue or raise its ugly head.

10. Open to feedback

I find a lot of trainers are fearful of having colleagues observe them and provide feedback on their session. Open your mind to it and actively encourage it, your future self will thank you!

When I first started training, I was terrified of delivering presentations. So, I joined a public speaking club where I could practice my skills. Five years later, I’m comfortable speaking in front of any audience and my presentation style is slick. I’m confident that I’d not be anywhere near the trainer I am today if I didn’t take the time to learn through practice and open myself up to feedback.

How to be more open to feedback

Get feedback from others, ask them to critically analyse your training. It might feel difficult at first, but nobody improves in their comfort zone! A role model for learning

11. A role model for learning

Have you got the skills of a good trainer? 11 tips to improve. Quote - "being a role model is the most powerful form of educating"

This is so important, those who work in training, I believe should be life-long learners. If you think you know it all and have nothing more to learn, then your training will reflect this and your learners will likely think the same.

How to be a role model for learning

Practice what you preach and keep on learning. Try a new delivery method, learn a new skill. Don’t just roll out the same old training each time, learn a new fact to share each time to keep you researching the topic too.

Summary:

The skills of a good trainer are varied but all attainable with a few simple tweaks to either your mind-set or your behaviour. You’ve got all the resources you need to be the best possible trainer you can be; you just need to take the time to unleash them.

Good luck on your journey!

Found this blog post useful? Read more from me here. You may particularly enjoy new to a career in L&D – 12 things I wish I learned earlier.

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