Confession: Sometimes, I’m probably not the best participant in a training class. Not that I don’t WANT to participate or learn, but it’s just too easy for me to observe the facilitator and “compare notes”, rather than participate in what the group is doing. It’s not always a bad thing, necessarily…typically, I learn something, take away an idea that I want to recreate, or maybe…get a reminder of what NOT to do. So, today, I’m putting myself in the shoes of adult learners. Not long ago, I wrote a piece on adult learning philosophy (you can check it out here), but I’d like to take that a step further. What is it that really bugs adults about a training facilitator? Here is a list of 11 turnoffs you should avoid when leading a classroom session:
1) The “Infomercial” Trainer
Sure, energy and enthusiasm is a good thing, but too much enthusiasm about your subject matter can be conveyed as insincere. No one wants to be shouted at, even in a “positive” way. Watch your caffeine intake!
2) The TMI Trainer
Keep your personal stories and anecdotes to a reasonable level. Now, it’s a good thing to build a connection with your participants. If everyone is sharing kid and pet photos during a break, feel free to show off your sweeties, too. But when your presentation is full of irrelevant personal stories, you know you’ve gone a bit far. If you have a personal learning moment or endorsement for the training – a tip, perhaps, or maybe how the training helped you understand the subject matter better, that’s absolutely fine. Just keep it professional and remember the reason you’re there….to facilitate learning.
3) The Unprepared, Unknowledgable Trainer
Your participants trust you to give them the skills and knowledge they need for their jobs. They are taking time out of their busy schedule to spend with you. Make sure you are well prepared for your session, down to the smallest detail. And if you aren’t knowledgeable about your subject matter, it will show. Knowledge breeds confidence, and confidence breeds credibility. Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more.
4) The Trainer who Accommodates Latecomers.
“We’ll just give everyone a few more minutes to show up, then we’ll get started.” I know you mean well, and you don’t want anyone to miss anything, but you have a starting time for a reason. Your participants need to show up on time; if they know you will start whenever they decide to show up, you are enabling that negative behavior, which only punishes (and annoys) the participants who made an effort to be there on time. Tough love, perhaps, but if your session starts at 9:00 a.m., make sure you are starting at 9:00 a.m.
5) The Rigor Mortis Trainer
Okay, yuck….sorry if that’s a bit creepy. What I’m getting at here is the trainer who stands in one spot – completely stiff – throughout the entire session. Move around! I’m not suggesting you dance on the tables or run laps around the room, but natural movement is a good thing. Stiff and awkward sends the message to your participants that you are uncomfortable in front of the group, which only makes them uncomfortable watching you. If this is something that you struggle with, a good tip is to ask a trusted colleague or your manager to observe you while facilitating sometime, and ask for feedback.
6) The Out-of-Control Trainer
By “out-of-control”, I don’t necessarily mean crazy or unpredictable. I mean poor classroom management skills. It might be easy to think that “classroom management” is something only school teachers need to deal with, but it is a very, very real thing in the adult learning environment as well. We mentioned late-comers earlier. There are a number of other issues that can plague a training session, such as:
- Disruptive participants – hijacking conversations/topics, asking irrelevant questions, walking in and out, arguing with the facilitator or other participants, sleeping during the session, etc
- Disengaged participants – spending more time on the phone, emailing, or other “multi-tasking”, or simply zoned out and not paying attention
As the session leader, it is your job to keep these situations under control as they arise…even better, create an engaging environment to prevent these issues altogether. Check out some great insights by my friends at Langevin about managing difficult participants for a few helpful tips.
7) The Know-it-All Trainer
“Knowledgeable” doesn’t mean “Know-it-All”. Sure, you might have the answers the learners are seeking, but don’t talk down to your participants. Often, turning a question back to the participants is a great method for overcoming or preventing this turnoff. Adults bring a great amount of experience and knowledge to the table; capitalize on it! As a facilitator, you don’t always have to feed them the answers. Let them come to some conclusions on their own, when the topic permits. If a discussion gets off-base, or if the learners are not coming to an appropriate answer or solution, guide them in the right direction.
8) The trainer who overdoes silly games.
Games and interactive exercises can be a fantastic way to spice up your training sessions. In fact, “gamification” has become a trendy little concept in our industry that relies on the mechanics of games to solve problems or engage learners. If you are a fan of games, please keep the following in mind:
- Keep games brief and relevant, so they are a compliment to your training.
- Be mindful of your audience – not everyone enjoys competitive activities.
- You are dealing with adults. Avoid games that are overly silly or childish (unless, of course, you are training a group of clowns, novelty store owners or comedians. Then you may have some flexibility on this one).
9) The trainer who reads slides directly to the group, rather than expanding on key points.
This is one of my pet peeves. I know how to read. If I could get everything I need from the slide deck itself, just email it to me, and I’ll read it myself. Have you been there before? Trainers, be knowledgeable about your subject matter, so you can speak to it with confidence. This goes back to #3, so I will leave it with this: Use slides or other visual aids sparingly. They should compliment your presentation. They should not be a crutch.
10) The trainer who crams too much content into the session.
And worse yet…doesn’t plan for short, frequent breaks throughout the session. Adults need breaks. I won’t get into the science of timing your modules in this post – that’s another discussion – but just know that planning an agenda is a skill that is learned over time. What I will say is, trying to cover too many topics in one session is only discouraging retention and learning transfer. Learners need ample time to process the content that is being presented to them, apply it in the session and receive feedback about what they’ve learned. Trainers, I urge you…plan your agenda and your content wisely. Find balance, and make the most of the time you have with your learners.
And finally…Adult Learner Turnoff #11:
The trainer who doesn’t end the session on time.
People are busy. If someone is expecting a session to end at 4:00, make sure you end by 4:00. People have emails to answer, voice mail messages to listen to, meetings to attend and kids to pick up from daycare. In other words, they have lives outside the training room. Plan your agenda accordingly, so you can wrap up on time. In fact, people will rarely complain if you wrap up a few minutes early. Even 5-10 minutes is appreciated!
So, that’s quite a list, eh? There are a number of things that can irritate adult learners. It seems like a lot to remember, but GOOD PLANNING and MINDFUL CONSIDERATION of your audience will help a learning professional create an environment that is engaging and conducive for adult learners. The rest is up to you, the facilitator!
Your turn: Can you think of any other adult learner turnoffs? How do you overcome them in your training sessions?
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