What I have learnt from 10 years of running training courses.

It is 10 years since I published The Communications Challenge (APG 2004), which opened the door for me to many opportunities to run training courses – on all continents (except Antarctica) for both agencies and clients.

10 years on – what have I learnt?

I hope these notes are useful to anyone commissioning research or those looking for a satisfying new career in business education or as a trainer.

Most useful preparation for being a good trainer

For me it was learning to design and moderate groups discussions (whilst a planner at Ogilvy). In fact writing a book only gets you business it does not make you a good trainer. Nor does being a great presenter. In fact I fancy myself quite a bit as a presenter- but this can lead you to think it’s all about giving a great performance. It’s not. People learn very little from a power point and get bored after 45 mins with an egotistical presenter.

Remember you are designing an interaction

People learn from the holy trinity of interaction, stories and examples. And of these three the most important is interaction – with the trainer and each other. Quite a lot of the value that people get from training comes not from listening to the trainer but getting to know each other and how to work with each other. In a lot of client organisations people work in silos and the culture is not conducive to team working. As the trainer your are enabling this to happen. People enjoy this and it is a blessed release from the daily grind.

Think of presentation as the introduction of stimulus for the next interaction

As a general rule you should have only about 10 slides before having a break out or discussion – if people are particularly responsive presentation can be done as a form of live interaction rather than “sit and listen”. Introduce only one idea and illustrate it with examples during your 10 slides – which should be mainly pictures and carry as little text as possible.

Make sure your delegates want to be in the room.

The trainer needs to bring a lot of energy into the room – but you will only have a great session if it is reciprocated and your delegates want to be there.  Their bosses need to position training a benefit to delegates and you should avoid situations if possible where people have been “told to go to the training”. It will not go well. Similarly if the organization you are training is about to be “restructured” or “downsized” delegates will not be in the mood for -as they will be distracted at best and pissed off at worst.

Find out about your delegates

It is a good idea to ask delegates to fill in a pre-course questionnaire to find out about their hopes and expectations and use what you have found out in the workshop – be flexible.

Delegates want the trainer to be “on receive” and not just “transmit”

Leadership from your client is vital.

Your delegates need to know that the training is important to the organization so you need endorsement from the leader- preferably in person at the start of the session.

You need to lay down the rules

The bane of your life as a trainer is the mobile phone – it used not to be 10 years ago and now it is very difficult to stop those itchy thumbs – especially if your delegates work for an organization where the culture is to respond to emails very rapidly. You can try taking mobiles away provided you understand that your delegates may see this as an assault on their human rights.

Evaluate at the end

Ask delegates to fill in a short evaluation questionnaire at the end. Over 10 years I have learnt a lot from these- especially the point about interaction above

People almost never reference the quality of presentation – they do appreciate a trainer who listens and interacts. They do also recognize when you “know your stuff” and have asked questions and received a thoughtful replies.

Never get stale

I rarely run exactly the same course twice – I normally learn something from running a session and want to make improvements and/or refresh and update the examples I use. For the topics I cover this is essential and there is always new creative work and, embedded in this work, are new ideas about what will be effective. Especially now.

Best countries to run training

Sadly not my own. Brits can be very complacent. In countries like Pakistan, Brazil, China and Nigeria there is a visceral hunger for knowledge and people bring energy and enthusiasm to the workshops. Training in the USA represents some challenges as Americans think of themselves as top dogs and they see themselves as dishing out the advice and not receiving it. (Brits are guilty of this too). So if you are a Brit training in the USA you need to partner with an American.

 What have been my favorite training courses?

Logic and leap – with Patrick Collister A planner (me) and a creative director (Patrick) take you from brief to creative idea in one day – we ran this with independent creative agencies in various parts of the world including RSA (Jupiter Drawing Room), Ireland and Finland. A privilege and a pleasure

Media Creativity Workshop for Unilever- from new product idea to innovative use of media in one day. Agency people and Unilever folk all in one room. A very good mix people learnt a lot from each other. This ran internationally.

Account Planning for Account Directors – bright and ambitious agency folk are always a joy. This also meets a big need- all those agencies out there that what to be better at the strategy bit yet cannot afford to hire a lot of planners.

Any disappointments?

These days I normally work alone – and the reason is budgets. This is a pity.

In the early part of the last decade I was often partnered up. And this made it a lot more enjoyable and less knackering.  So if there are any trainers out there looking for a partner please do get in touch

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