Anyone who has ever done any type of training knows how demanding the job can be. Successful trainers have a unique skill set and attitude. As the director of training (and a trainer) for Technology Advisors, a leading training center for top customer relationship management systems, I have had to recognize and understand the things that drove me to the life of a technical trainer to hire the right people and maintain the success of our training center. These qualities are difficult to rank because I believe they are all important to have on some level, as I will explain in my observations that follow.
Empathy is a must. I'm sure most of you have experienced a situation, whether in training or a meeting, where the discussion leader was more interested in hearing himself or herself speak than anyone else in the room. Although this style of teaching/learning is still used throughout the world, it doesn't do much good in the classroom, especially with paying customers who want to address specific problems they've amassed. A good trainer will listen to his or her trainees; hear their problems, and conduct the training accordingly. As a trainer, your sole responsibility is your trainees, and your interactions with them should convey that throughout the entire course of the training.
Good communication skills
I don't think I need to spend much time explaining that a trainer needs to be able to project his or her voice, and make sure he or she is heard. Likewise, in conjunction with the section on empathy, a trainer needs to be able to listen to his or her audience—this is pretty inherent to the nature of a trainer. There are, however, a few communicative skills that are related, but sometimes overlooked. The first one that's important to mention is "over-explaining/rambling," which I am often guilty of myself. When your descriptions and explanations get long-winded, you are sure to lose your audience. In this age of instant information, it is really difficult to hold anyone's attention for longer than a few minutes. A good trainer will be able to get his or her point across effectively without over-explaining. This ability is something to look for when evaluating a possible trainer candidate.
Another form of communication a trainer needs to be able to read and project is body language. Body language goes a long way toward making people feel comfortable in a foreign environment. I try to portray a welcoming classroom by smiling, maintaining eye contact (without staring), and facing them as much as possible. I also avoid crossing my arms. Doing these simple things is enough to set a person at ease, which is exactly where I want them when I begin training. This is another easy thing to pick up on when looking for a new addition to your training team.
Students attending training have most likely paid to be there. The last thing a trainer needs to do is get upset with paying customers because they do not understand something. There are many different learning styles out there. The first thing I ask myself when I have someone who does not understand something is 'what can I do differently to present this?' It is important for a trainer to ask himself or herself this, as they are, after all, supposed to be enabling students to learn. Again, this all goes back to empathy. A trainer needs to be able to walk in the student's shoes and relate to where they are coming from. Of course, this is not easy in the least bit when you have a room full of people who understand, and one or two who do not. When I am in this very common situation, I stay patient and calm with those who don't understand and tell them we will work to catch them up during breaks, or after we are finished for the day. If no one understands the material, you need to take a step back without getting frazzled, and present the material in a different manner.
This is not always easy, especially with the variety of personalities you have in the room. I had a situation in my training room with a student who did not understand a particular subject I was presenting AND knew how to push my buttons by making snide remarks. In that instance, I diffused the situation by laughing, taking two steps back, and covering the subject matter in a different way to appeal to a different style of learning. This was not the easiest thing to do in that situation. My patience was definitely tested, but I felt a lot better about what actually happened than I would have if I had taken the easy way out and exploded!
I started out in the training field by accident. I was asked by my boss at the time to lead a training session for a product we supported because our previous trainer had been deployed to Iraq. I said yes because I thought it would be a good opportunity. This was despite the fact that I was a shy, awkward kid at the time. The one thing I did have was the fact that I knew more than those I was training. I started with this simple confidence, which is what got me up in front of that room. This, combined with the other qualities mentioned in this article that I've acquired over the years, helped mold me into a highly successful trainer. It's easy to tell the difference between confidence and cockiness. Make sure your potential new hire is confident, but has enough of the other qualities we talked about to not come off as cocky.
These are a few of the main qualities I look for in a successful trainer. Some may seem fairly standard, but with stories I hear, and from trainings I have attended, many organizations seem to ignore even these basic qualities in their training staff. Hiring individuals with these qualities has definitely worked to our benefit, as we have/had some great individuals work in our training department.
Brett Friell is director of training for Technology Advisors, Inc.