Tips for Effective Training Sessions
If you asked 10 people for a list of what to do for a successful training session, you will likely get 10 different opinions: Humor vs. no humor, a strict schedule vs. flexibility, PowerPoint vs. no PowerPoint, give out manuals at the beginning vs. give out manuals at the end. With such contrary advice, how do you know which to follow?
Most volunteer managers train their volunteers to one level or another. It may be called orientation, but it is still some level of training.
Here are 14 suggestions for you to ensure success:
1. Address detractors such as room temperature, blocked visual lines from participant to you, flickering lights, loud noises etc.
Check out your training room ahead of time and correct as many issues as possible before your training starts. Acknowledge to the group that you are aware of any remaining detractors. When a distraction is acknowledged, participants are often able to find a way to tune it out or to otherwise deal with it. Give permission to have windows opened or doors closed if temperature/noise/etc becomes an issue.
2. Ensure there is a clock set out in your visual path – not on your wrist.
Having a clock in your visual line of sight means that you can keep track of time without having to take your attention from the group. If you get caught up in the training, you are more likely to see the clock in front of you than you are to see the watch on your wrist. When a clock is not available, take your watch off and put it on the desk or table that holds your notes.
3. Post an agenda.
Have a flip chart or chalk/white board that lists the day’s agenda. Leave the agenda in a place for participants to refer to throughout the day. It should include, in order, the topics to be covered, breaks, and lunch. It is up to you whether or not you include time lines on the agenda.
4. Cover group guidelines and housekeeping issues at the beginning.
Have a bulleted note to refer to for yourself so you don’t forget anything. Include in the housekeeping section information on the various methods of learning and identify how those needs can be met during your training. Introduce quiet hand toys for those who need to keep their hands busy in order to concentrate and scatter them about the tables. Have lined paper available on each table for note taking. Provide blank paper as well, and let participants know that there are some people who need to doodle in order to stay present and the blank paper is for that purpose. Also, acknowledge that some people prefer to add notes directly to their manual or handbook as the course is being taught. Ask the participants to refrain from flipping ahead and doing exercises or work ahead of the group. Let the group know up front whether there will be small group exercises, presentations, role-playing or other experiential exercises to assist in their learning. Tell them that if there is anyone who really has a hard time getting up in front of others to come and talk to you on the first break. Give permission to go to the washroom, stand and stretch, ask for the temperature to be adjusted, or to bring up anything else that will either interfere with or enhance their learning. It is important that those who are “rules bound” know they have permission to do those things without asking. It is also important that participants take responsibility for creating the best learning environment they can for themselves.
5. Use icebreakers.
Don’t let past experience or uncertainty keep you from using icebreakers. There needs to be a way to focus the participants and shift them from their day-to-day world. An icebreaker can be as simple as asking what people hope to gain from the session. If you’re looking for something more structured, there are numerous sites on the Internet with free icebreakers. Find two or three that suit your style and learn them well. Become comfortable with each and develop variations that will be useful with different groups. Have one chosen for the day of training. Assess the energy of the group and whether or not there is any interaction between participants as they arrive and settle in. If the exercise you had planned suddenly does not seem appropriate, then choose one of your back-ups. By having a small number of exercises that you are comfortable with, you can switch your plan right up to the moment you begin and no one will know.
6. Have adequate breaks and refreshments.
Someone once said, “The mind can only take in what the bottom can endure.” If your training is 2 hours or longer, you need to schedule breaks that are 10 to 15 minutes long. Also, feed the body while you feed the mind. Coffee, tea, cold water and snacks are important.
7. Include time for questions.
Be sure to include time in your planning for questions. It is up to you whether you take questions as you go, at the end, or at some other identified time. It depends on your personal style and the type of training or orientation you are delivering. If you do hold questions until a given time, allow for some mechanism to keep track of questions so they don’t "get lost" along the way.
8. Have back up exercises and material ready.
Most presenters will have enough material to fill the given time for their presentation. However, there are always those groups who already have some of the information, who don’t ask many questions, who want more information on a particular topic, or who have already done your planned experiential exercise a few times in the past. Making them go through it again can create resistance and even resentment. Have back up exercises at your fingertips so that you can meet the needs of the group. Having extra material allows you to expand your presentation to meet the desire for more information, engage those who already have some of the base knowledge, and to fill in that extra time. Of course, you can always allow the group to go early if you finish ahead of schedule.
9. Accommodate a variety of learning styles.
People have different learning styles – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. If all your material is delivered in lecture form you will only reach a minority of your audience. Always include visual aides and, whenever possible, experiential exercises, small group discussions or exercises, and group presentations.
10. Provide stories or examples that add to your written or visual materials.
Don’t just read to the group. If you must use notes, make bulleted or point form notes for yourself. Alternate between two complementary fonts to make it easier for you to keep track of where you are. Then practice until you are comfortable with the material. Visual aides such as overheads or PowerPoint slides are valuable when used correctly. Make sure they are short and to the point then add extra information verbally. Tell an anecdote or in some other way illustrate your point. Anyone can stand up and read to them. Participants need to know that they are learning from someone who is knowledgeable on the subject.
11. Utilize methods of delivery that you are comfortable with (e.g. Flipcharts, overheads, PowerPoint).
Using technology that you aren’t proficient and comfortable with will detract from your training. Participants care that they are learning something new and useful. How that happens is not near as important as whether it happens. If you do use mediums such as PowerPoint, be prepared to deliver the material in an alternate manner if there are technical difficulties.
12. Provide the right amount of detail.
Don’t overwhelm them with too much information. Give them what they need to know in order to effectively do their jobs. Provide handouts or material with extra information along with website addresses and names of other resources. Better that interested people go away and research the topic on their own than to have half the class sleeping through your presentation. On the other hand, a broad sweeping overview with little or no detail will leave your audience with unanswered questions and the feeling that they have wasted their valuable time. Find the balance between too much and not enough detail. If you are uncertain, try out your material on a friend or colleague. Ask others who are not knowledgeable on the subject to look over your presentation and to provide you with feedback.
13. Tell them why they need to know what you’re teaching.
Adults need to know why they are doing something and they like to know how whatever they are learning applies to their job. Use stories to give real life examples of the impact their job has on others and how it fits in with the overall operation of the agency. When covering the rules or policies of your agency, provide examples of what can happen if they are not followed. If there is a reason for doing something a certain way, provide the explanation. Comprehension of why it is done this way will increase compliance with your policies. Sometimes policies are in place because of liability issues. Explain that a lawsuit, and in some cases just an accusation, can cause financial hardship and/or put your programs at risk. Your volunteers are much more likely to adhere to the policies once they have that information.
14. Above all – be yourself!
One of the best ways to make your training effective is to be yourself. Trying to follow someone else’s style can come off as stilted, insincere, and uncomfortable. If you are not a naturally funny person, telling jokes should not be part of your presentation style. If you are a person who does not handle change well, ensure that you have adequate back up material complete with instructions and time frames attached and a clear idea of the point in the training it could be inserted and why. Or if you are someone who makes adjustments on the fly, have a couple of possibilities in mind that you can insert as needed. If you are uncomfortable with role-playing but must include them in training, ask an experienced volunteer or colleague to guide that part of the training. Be brutally honest with yourself. Know your strengths and use them. Know your weaknesses and develop strategies to accommodate and compensate for them.
Proper preparation allows you to present in a professional and confident manner, and following these simple guidelines will ensure a positive learning environment for all your volunteers.
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