Thursday, January 02, 2014

Why I discourage observers in training sessions

I've heard nearly every possible configuration of the request to have observers in my training sessions, whether the training is for public speaking, social media, media interview or presentation skills. Here's a sampling:
  • I'd like to observe the one-on-one training you're doing with Fred, which would seem to be a mathematical impossibility. One on one does not equal three. 
  • Of course, we'd like our entire team to observe the training as good professional development, which suggests I'm really training two groups for the price of one. 
  • We need to be there in case they (the trainees) do something inappropriate. Heavens. 
Whether it stems from an assumption or good intentions, your request to observe a training may not be taking into account other critical factors that I always keep in mind:

  • The climate: Too many observers, or only high-level observers, can intimidate the trainees. If the observing row includes the CEO, department chair or an all-management team, it sure looks and feels like a test instead of a training session. Many observers cannot avoid getting caught up in the session, wanting to add commentary or ask questions rather than "just observe." That, too, can have a dampening effect on the people who are actively participating in the training.
  • Peer disparity: That's also true for a CEO being trained in front of a group of subordinates, by the way. It's also difficult for a trainee to feel comfortable failing, which happens many times in a session, with observers present--and as the trainer, I need trainees to demonstrate their default behaviors if we have a prayer of changing them. That's especially true for the leader of the organization.
  • Privacy and confidence: Many introverts seek one-on-one training for a reason that you may not be taking into account if you're an extrovert. And some trainees have special issues they don't want to demonstrate in front of others--issues about which you may not be aware. It's not at all unusual for the trainee to bring up previously unmentioned issues once we're alone, and those can make the difference between a so-so training and one that resonates.
  • A bad sales pitch: Having a potential client observe a current client in a "one-on-one" training would suggest that my client is there to demonstrate my skills, which I find unacceptable. I'm sure my clients would, too. There are better ways to find out how I do my training without violating another client's privacy. 

Trust and confidentiality are critical to my training and coaching, whether I'm coaching speakers, executives prepping for media interviews, or a presenter. Let's discuss your concerns about observing a training and find a good solution together.

(Photo from Judy Baxter's photostream on Flickr)

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