Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Trainer?

By Elaine Biech

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 an Instructor-Led Training (ILT) 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. If you lead a virtual training program with participants halfway around the world, you may start your day at 9:00 p.m.

  • 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.

    Many participants 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, revise your schedule, complete administrative tasks, or file your materials in order. If you have completed an online course, you may need to do similar tasks plus send additional resources to participants as follow up.

  • Can you go with the flow? No amount of preparation can equip a trainer for everything that can happen in a training session. In a virtual classroom, participants may discover they have an incorrect link to join the session or the audio connection may stop working. You may find that the majority of online participants have not completed the foundational pre-work required to comprehend the module.

    In a traditional classroom, 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 cope with multiple logistic and technology details? In a virtual setting, this means ensuring that all participants have their own computer connections, getting links and passwords to everyone who needs them, helping participants troubleshoot technical problems prior to the class, and of course having a qualified producer to troubleshoot when issues arise. In a traditional classroom 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, materials that do not arrive, materials that are incorrect, or any mess-up in general? Today’s trainer is technologically astute and takes full accountability for ensuring that all logistics are in order.

  • Can you perform even when you feel lousy? Whether face-to-face or online, trainers don’t often have the discretion to call in sick. When a session is scheduled, it often has been scheduled long in advance, and often learners travel from long distances to attend training. Therefore, trainers must be able to facilitate 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 sessions 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 learning session with incorrect information.

  • 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 follow up with the managers and help them see the importance to the organization as well as coach them to reinforce the new skills?

  • Can you deliver hard feedback? Your participants will not learn effectively if during the process they are not given honest and candid feedback. Are you able to give this feedback, even when it is not positive 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.

Many of the preceding questions are certainly 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.

Yes, training is a demanding, sometimes hectic, often ambiguous job. There is never a dull moment. It is exciting. It is the catalyst for improvement. It is the process to the future. Training exists to facilitate change and to encourage transformation for a better future. The late Christa McAuliffe, teacher and NASA astronaut, summed it up this way: “I touch the future; I teach.”