Seven Top Tips for Technical Specialists who also train others

by Bob Colclough on July 18, 2012


As a technical specialist, working as a trainer can sometimes feel challenging….

  • How should I plan my training session?
  • What should I include in my training, and what should I leave out?
  • Must I use PowerPoint?
  • Are my slides too detailed, or not detailed enough?
  • What about difficult delegates?
  • I’m nervous about standing up to face a group of people – help!

This article gives seven top tips for technical trainers.

1. Set the scene

A new group of learners may be as anxious about receiving the training as you are in giving it!

So put them at their ease. They’ll want to know…

  • Why you are delivering the training?
    • You might like to describe your experience or the research you have done.
  • What will the delegates learn or know how to do as a result of the training?
  • When are the break times?
  • Are there ground rules for using mobile phones etc?
  • Are there any handouts?
    • We suggest you hand these out at the start.

I have met many trainers who at the start of the training ask the delegates to say something about themselves and what they want from the training. We do not recommend this approach. It can terrify some delegates – not the result you want!

2. Practice, practice the start of the session

The most stressful part of training is usually the first few minutes. Practice this as many times as you are able. You can do this alone or with a trusted friend or colleague.

After practicing, you should find that when you do it for real, you’ll be able go through the opening minutes virtually on autopilot.

You may also find that the rough ideas you had on the opening section don’t really sound quite right when you try to say them aloud. By forcing yourself to practice, you’ll be able to correct any minor problems.

3. Ensure your session is interactive

As a technical speciast, you’ll have a lot of technical knowledge. That’s great – you’ll need this knowledge during the training session.

However, there are risks. It’s very easy to be tempted to:

  • Spend too much time just talking to your group rather than interacting.
  • Cram in as much as possible, in the belief that this is what your learners want.

Resist these temptations.

  • You need to give them chance to actively use their minds. It’s only when people are actively involved that they really learn.
  • If you feel you have a lot to get through in limited time, then consider putting some of the material into a separate handbook, or explain how people can access extra information after the training, either from documents or on-line.

As a guideline we suggest learners are actively involved in the training process at least 50% of the time. Involvement might mean asking questions, doing exercises or being actively involved in group discussions.

4. Limit what you include in your PowerPoint slides

It’s easy to include too much on your slides. Many trainers include everything they might want to say on their slides.This has two unfortunate consequences…

  • The slides are full with lots of small font information. This makes it visually unappealing.
  • There us a temptation to just read out what is on the slide. This can make make your learners feel there is little point in being at the course – you may as well just send them the slides.

So to avoid all this, just include the essential information. Then expand on it through what you say, or questions that you ask.

5. Make sure you have a clear aim for your training.

It’s great for your morale when you finish a training session knowing that you’ve done a good job.

To be sure you’ve succeeded you really need to see evidence that your learners either now know or can now do something that the course aimed to provide. For that, you’ll need to be clear what new knowledge or skill the course aimed to provide.

In setting course objectives it’s very easy or tempting to be a little vague. I’ve seen very many objectives that read like this:

  • “Increase understanding of xyz”
  • “An introduction to xyz”

Objectives like this sound friendly but there is no way to see if they have been met.

We strongly suggest you provide an objective that is both specific and measurable. You may recognise these as part of the acronym SMART objective. A “Smart” objective – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-limited – is often applied to work or project objectives, but you can apply it equally to training objectives. Once you have your specific objective it’s a lot easier to devise exercises that test that it has been achieved.

6. Use the EDIP model to train people in a specific skill

By skill I mean something that is carried out in a number of steps, with each step needing an action – e.g. Turn the stop valve a quarter turn anti- clockwise. A skill will require multiple steps. When you are training people to carry out a specific skill, there are many ways you can do this, some are generally more successful than others. People who have attended our train the Trainer program would have been introduced to the EDIP model.

This is a proven model for successfully teaching a skill. It is based on the training approach used by many armed forces. For them, successful training can be a matter of life or death.

The model suggests that you should split all skills training into four sections:

  • Explain: Provide an explanation for the particular skill that you’re training in.
  • Demonstrate: Demonstrate the skill without users copying.
  • Instruct: Each trainee has a chance to carry out the skill with support from the trainer or from reference materials.
  • Practice: Give all trainees opportunity to practice the skill on their own.

What many, particular new, trainers do is to jumble up the several stages of EDIP. The steps can be mixed together in a number of ways, each with its own resulting problems:

Trainers will often combine the “Demonstrate” and “Instruct” steps.

The result is that as the trainer is showing how to use a particular function at the same time as asking the trainees to copy the steps. This is “synchronised training” which often leads to quite significant problems.

For instance, some trainees may struggle to keep up as they see their colleagues are more easily able to follow the trainer. This can lead to frustration and anxiety. They may pretend to follow the instructions to avoid appearing foolish in front of their colleagues.

All of this can be avoided if you demonstrate the skill first without asking trainees to follow it step by step.

After this you can give them a chance to carry out the skill by themselves. They can then proceed at their own natural learning pace. You can work with individual trainees if they seem to be in any difficulty.

Trainers skip the “Explain” step altogether

Trainers who skip the explain step can leave their trainees feeling bewildered.

Trainees won’t understand the context in which the skill might be applied. Also some trainees learn best when they understand the underpinning theory. The lack of an “explain” step leaves them somewhat frustrated that they cannot understand why you are training on this particular function.

Trainers skip the “Practice” step altogether

Particularly if time is tight, trainers can be tempted to omit the opportunity for trainees to practice the new skill. This is dangerous. Just because someone has carried out a skill once doesn’t mean that they have effectively learned the skill.

They have only really learned the skill when they can carry out it out without support, consistently and to a high standard of accuracy.

7. Add variety to training to meet different learning style needs

We all have different preferences in the way that we like to learn.

  1. Some of us like to hear the information or instructions.
  2. Others like to see something visual eg diagrams or pictures.
  3. Others will want to see written text that gives detailed information.
  4. Finally others will want an opportunity to do something active e.g. practice a skill.

Some of us will want a little of each. Whatever your preference, if the training does not caters for it, then training can be a frustrating experience with little learning.

So it pays to cater for all of these styles at different points in your training. We usually suggest that in any two hour period there should be something that caters for each of the preferences above.

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