I was recently asked by a colleague what I believe the attributes are for a good technical trainer. Here they are:
First, the trainer must create an environment conducive to learning. People who are learning something new often go into the process with some nervousness. This nervousness is an inhibitor of learning. The ability to put the trainee at ease is an important skill for any trainer. I can think of three specific ways this can be done:
- Convey a relaxed atmosphere. Demonstrate that you are patient and that all is well. Allow your words and mannerisms to suggest that this experience is meant to be a positive one. The trainee should sense he/she is in an environment free of stress, free of tension, and one that sends a clear message that the trainee will succeed.
- Use humor if possible, as humor goes a long way to alleviate tension.
- Give some sense of context, addressing both the past and the future. Convey this sense of context by placing the specific learning to be accomplished in a larger setting, showing where this piece of the puzzle fits into the overall structure. By giving a little history, so the trainee understands what led up to this training, as well as by giving some projection of what this training will lead to down the road, the trainee can readily comprehend why this training is important and where it fits in the large scheme of things.
Second, the trainer must be technically competent. Whatever it is that is being trained, the trainer must possess a thorough understanding of the products or processes he/she is training on. There must be expertise. There must be a mastery of comprehension. There must be experience. This does not mean the trainer must be omniscient, but the items the trainer does not know relative to the training topic must be few and far between.
Third, the trainer must be able to communicate effectively. Admittedly, this is a difficult one to execute. It’s even difficult to describe. People learn in different ways, some doing better through listening, some through using their eyes (i.e. reading, watching a video). Others are more comfortable learning through doing – being thrown into a situation and practicing the actual tasks that they are being trained to do. Some prefer to observe, while others prefer to analyze. And on occasion some people best learn through talking out a problem. Therefore, the smart trainer will offer a variety of stimuli to reach as many participants as possible with their preferred learning methods. Smart trainers know what is the critical learning that must be conveyed, whether it involve information, knowledge, technique, mechanics, or any other type of learning. They present the learning in a logical sequence and in clear, unambiguous language.
Finally, the trainer must verify knowledge transfer has taken place. Great trainers regularly field questions from their trainees. But even more importantly, great trainers ask questions of their trainees to assess comprehension. Even though the trainees are often at a loss to correctly answer the questions that test their comprehension, effective trainers understand that the failure of a trainee to answer a given question is, in itself, a marvelous learning tool, as the trainee who failed to correctly answer a question rarely fails that same question again. In this sense, failure is a great teacher. The crowning achievement for great trainers is when they conduct the necessary assessments to confirm that there has been successful knowledge- or skill-transfer.