Thursday, May 20, 2010

9 lessons I've learned from my trainees

It might be a media training with a client who keeps revealing more than he intends...a group session in which a participant tugs my sleeve and asks the question about public speaking she's had for 20 years...the look on the face of someone who realizes we've figured out how to tackle that thorny social media question.  But every time, I get a takeaway lesson, a reminder of something long known but now assumed, a prompt that tells me others need to know this, too. Here are some of the lessons I've taken from my trainees:
  1. The sooner you start, the more you'll learn. That's true about younger audiences, as they have fewer bad habits to unlearn--and a major reason your company or organization should start offering presentation skills to junior executives or team members.  But it's also true for leaders:  The longer they're in their current role, the less open they may be to changing their presentation or interview style.  Getting training scheduled early in a leader's tenure lets her ask questions and correct assumptions that may get cemented after just a few months.  And it's also true for time of day: The earlier we start, the better the energy levels of the trainees and the more they'll absorb.
  2. But it's never too late to try training.  A more seasoned trainee knows all too well the paved road of regrets and mistakes, and may be wide open to learning, so don't count them out. Whether it's social-media skills or public speaking, it's never too late to learn--and the trainee may be more motivated and focused. 
  3. Introverts can be the most motivated learners of communications skills. I've heard other trainers dismiss the idea of training introverts, with a "why bother?" attitude. But I'd guess the majority of my trainees are introverts, and often, they're the most motivated. I'm always struck when a group of introverts winds up fighting over who'll be on video by the end of a session, but that only happens when the group feels comfortable with its inevitable mistakes (see point 6 below).  Introverts may need to learn different preparation and coping skills, but they can shine along with the extroverts when it comes to public speaking and presentations.
  4. People don't always know what help they can get from their communications pros:  Even if they know the company or institution has a communications shop, there's low awareness that your help is available.  A crisis? No. But consider the trainee--a well-known expert in her field--who told me she just crumpled up messages asking her to do interviews with major media outlets, because she didn't realize she could talk to the press officer and get help getting comfortable with an interview. A cryin' shame.  I always reinforce the on-site help that's available when I train a group, and your trainer should, too.
  5. It's always easier for the outsider to tackle the persistent issues--otherwise known as the things you've said one million times.  Outside trainers can tell your boss to take his hands out of his pockets when he speaks (I have a foolproof fact that does the trick), let the elaborate chart-hugger know that his picture ain't worth a thousand words, and coax the shy but talented person into believing your really mean it when you ask her to speak to public audiences.  You can also blame things on me, of course. But many clients lean on the outside perspective and remind their folks, "What did Denise tell you?"  I'm always happy to be your backup and to reinforce your guidelines.
  6. People need a safe place to screw up, or they'll never try.  It's why people seek out one-on-one coaching and training, but also true for groups. I've got a no-embarrassment rule for my behavior (and that of others) in my workshops, and encourage participants to ask all the questions they want, no matter how basic. "I'd rather have you mess up in here, among friends, than on your own out there," is the general tone--and that's welcomed again and again. 
  7. If you're going to push trainees out of their box, say so.  A group that you know is likely to be uncomfortable might like a little warning. I get thanked for doing this--the pushing and the warning--in feedback forms, so I know that it's good to let folks know what to expect.
  8. The larger the group, the less they can learn together.  All sorts of organizations want to book trainings for large groups, thinking they'll get more bang for the buck--but in fact, we can cover less ground and there's less time for individual questions and help.  I always try to plan small-group activity in a large-group training, but it's a challenge. Participants find the very largest groups frustrating, and say so in their feedback forms.
  9. If you'll agree to training and to practice, you can improve.  You don't need to be a "natural-born speaker" or a social media whiz from birth. The only people I've trained who haven't improved are those who spent the training time explaining why they didn't need help, and those who didn't practice. If those aren't your problems, we can do great things.
Find out more here about my training services and what trainees say about my trainings.  I'm launching very small-group speaker training workshops this summer--no more than 6 people at a time. If you want to get on the waiting list for more information, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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