Having What It Takes to Be a Trainer
Although training may seem like a glamorous profession to an observer, like any other profession, it has its hidden challenges. Having the skills to be a trainer is only one prerequisite. A much more difficult requirement for a successful trainer is to have strong mental and emotional composure. Training is a demanding profession. It requires constant energy output. If you tire quickly, become discouraged easily, or become frustrated if things do not go according to plan, training may not be for you. Here are some aspects to consider about training.
- Are you willing to work longer than an 8-hour day? Even though a training program may be scheduled from 9 to 5, you may find yourself going to the training room much earlier than 9:00 a.m. and staying much later than 5:00 p.m. A well-prepared training session takes thoughtful room and material setup. If you arrive at the training room at the same time as the trainees, you will feel disorganized and unprepared. You may even start late because of last-minute preparations.
- Are you also willing to stay later than your official "ending" time? The same principle applies after the training program has ended. It is usually the trainer's responsibility to ensure that all items you used for the training are removed from the training room. You may need to replace tables and chairs the way you found them. You may need to straighten the room. Also, many trainees stay after the program is over so that they can ask questions they did not wish to ask in front of the rest of the participants. They expect the trainer to be there cheerfully ready to answer their questions. In addition you may have many details to wrap up at the end of the day: add notes to your training manual, review your PowerPoint presentation for the next day, clean your transparencies, revise your schedule for the next day, complete administrative tasks, file your materials in order, send additional resources to a participant, or prepare a flip chart for the next day.
- Can you stand on your feet all day? Trainers do not often have the opportunity to sit down. Because they are facilitating the program in one way or another, they stand during all presentations and during most discussions. Even when the participants are in small groups, trainers move from group to group ready to answer questions, address problems, or know when to move on to the next subject.
- Even if you can literally stand on your feet all day, can you figuratively stand on your feet all day? No amount of preparation can equip a trainer for everything that can happen in a training session. The trainer must be prepared to respond to unexpected questions and events. A trainer must be flexible. Sometimes, the planned agenda doesn't fit the needs of the audience. A good trainer adjusts the agenda and changes the material so that it meets the needs of the audience. An effective trainer also reads the audience and adjusts the level of the training to fit the level of the audience.
- Can you perform even when you feel lousy? Trainers don't often have the discretion to call in sick. When a session is scheduled, it often has been done long in advance, and often learners travel from long distances to attend training. Therefore, trainers must be able to present enthusiastically even when they are a little under the weather. The show must go on!
- Are you prepared to constantly give of yourself without expecting to receive anything in return? Trainers are often viewed by others as "healers" — those people who always have the answers and who can perform "magic." Conversely, trainers are not often perceived as people who have their own needs. As a result, participants may use your training program to get some bad feelings off their chests. Giving may extend to time as well, such as having time for breaks and lunch that may be used by participants wanting to discuss their personal situations.
- Can you be the perfect role model all the time? It is a trainer's job to teach the "right" way to do things. You must also be prepared to practice what you preach. Trainers run the risk of losing their credibility if they are not perceived to be a perfect example of what they teach. And, because no one is perfect, trainers must also admit it when they make a mistake. Trainers cannot allow participants to leave a training session with incorrect information.
- Can you cope with constant logistic problems? Even though it may be someone else's responsibility to make room and equipment arrangements, it becomes the trainer's problem if something is not right. Are you prepared to deal with malfunctioning equipment, rooms that are not set up, reservations clerks who say you never reserved a room, materials that do not arrive, materials that have been typed or collated incorrectly, or any mess-up in general? A good trainer takes full accountability for ensuring that all logistics of a training program are in order.
- Can you be a big lug? Although it would be nice to have all the training materials, supplies, and equipment just magically show up at the training site, it is more likely that you will be the person responsible for getting it all there. Packing, loading, unloading, and unpacking (and then doing it all over again) is simply a part of a trainer's job.
- Are you prepared to encourage your participants even when there is a lack of management commitment? Sometimes, people are sent to training because their managers think that it is "a good thing to do." There may be little serious commitment to support and encourage these employees when the training is completed. Can you provide support and understanding in the absence of managers' commitment?
- Can you deliver hard feedback? Trainees do not learn effectively if during their training process they are not given honest feedback. Are you able to give this feedback, even when it is not good and even if it may impact an employee's job?
- Are you able to process failure, identify solutions, and make improvements? Not every training program is a smashing success. In fact, some are downright bad. Successful trainers are those who analyze what went wrong in the bad sessions and then design changes in the program so that it improves the next time around.
The preceding questions are not meant to discourage you, but rather to introduce the reality of a sometimes glamorous-appearing job. It may be challenging. It usually requires a great deal of work. And it can be riddled with problems. However, you forget all the difficulties when former participants tell you that "you changed their lives." Or that "you inspired them." Of course this doesn't happen on a weekly basis, but it does happen often enough to make it all worthwhile.