Become a Master Trainer in 6 Easy Steps

I read recently that training is only for animals, not for humans, and that I should be educating not giving training courses!

Whichever word you prefer to use I hope that like me you enjoy teaching and learning; I have always believed that a day without learning is a day without living, and I strive to find something new to appreciate every day.


Several of my major clients recently asked me for help in improving their br and building efforts. Whilst this is certainly a good thing, I do wonder sometimes how many courses and workshops really make a difference to the way things are done. I am not dismissing workshops at all, in fact I regularly give training courses but I do appreciate it can be a challenge when you’re facing a roomful of adults and peers.

Adult learning is very different from teaching younger people in that by nature we are not as open to change, preferring to stay with our habits, even when we have been shown that a new way of thinking or doing might be better. As if that isn’t bad enough, we also generally don’t like group-learning experiences led by a professional.

Since I know many of you get involved in adult training within your own organisations, I thought it would be useful for me to share some of my own learnings, to help you do it with even more success.

To quote one of my favourite masters, Confucius:

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I underst and”

Keeping this in mind and applying it to adult learning here are my 6 tips:

 #1. Underst and the motivations for attendance

Adults usually have high expectations, so it is important to clarify and articulate objectives within the first hour. Collect and review them before you get into the content, as well as at the end of the course to get agreement on whether or not they have been met. If people believe they have been heard, they are much more likely to at least be open to considering the new ideas and processes you will share.

Participants will also have many different reasons for attending a workshop or training session and you need to accept that perhaps very few will have actually chosen to be there. They might therefore resent their participation, have little if any interest in the topic, no respect for your experience and knowledge, or the ideas you have to share. Whilst it is unlikely that you will make them all change their minds, it is critical that you become aware of these opinions as they will remain undercurrents during the whole duration of the course.


#2. Keep sessions very focused

This (lack of) motivation will also mean that adult learners tend to be less interested in st andard courses, because they feel they are different from most of the other participants. They are more likely to prefer courses around one precise concept or idea, and which will focus specifically on the application of the tools and processes designed to respond to a relevant problem or opportunity. It is therefore usually better to run a number of shorter one-topic sessions, than a week-long course covering several different ideas around a subject if at all possible. This will improve the likelihood of participants actioning their learnings afterwards, as well as reducing, if not completely eliminating, the need for frequent interruptions or absences due to the dem ands of work.


#3. Build new learning on top of known processes and tools

Participants will bring a large amount of their own experiences into the classroom, which can be a tremendous asset if you can tap into it. They will learn much better if they engage in dialogue and it will anyway be difficult to stop most of them from sharing their ideas, so best to control rather than stop them from doing so.

People are not naturally open to learning new tools, processes and ways of thinking, so you are likely to meet with more success if you base your new ideas on what is already known. Build and exp and on current processes, showing how the additions and changes will be more beneficial. Learning is a means to an end for adults, not an end in itself as it is for most kids. Increasing or maintaining participants’ sense of self-esteem is a strong secondary motivator; adults can take errors personally, so they tend to take fewer risks and push to defend known solutions rather than to try new approaches.


#4. Vary speed

Adults have a similarly short attention span to children, but not for the same reasons. Again whether due to a lack of willingness to consider different ways of working, or a feeling of superiority, adults will want things to progress fast and will lose interest if the program is not presented at their own personally preferred rhythm. For this reason you should vary the speed of sessions, covering some topics deeply and some more quickly. Don’t worry about missing in thoroughness though, as you can always go back to resume and deepen the topic later in the day or in a follow-up session.


#5. Include breakout sessions

Another solution to this increased likelihood for boredom is to provide more frequent breakout sessions. Whereas in normal workshops a coffee / tea break is provided in addition to lunch, you should include more reasons to have people get up and move around. Use group breakout exercises, physical tasks, sortings, puzzles, Q&A and even exercise or races to get the juices flowing in mind and body and revitalise their enthusiasm.


#6. Contests and competitions

Adults are very competitive especially when workshops are being run internally where people know each other, even if only by reputation. Being able to beat the boss, or lead a team make the learning even more enjoyable. The contests could be as simple as the exercises mentioned above, or a full blown case study to be completed during the workshop. And don’t forget the prizes; however small, people love surprises and adults in particular appreciate them, as they are a rare occasion as we grow older.

Following these six tips for improving your own training sessions should help you achieve even greater success and perhaps more importantly lead to increased enjoyment for both you and the participants.

Do you have a question or challenge about training? I am sure I can help; just contact me here and I’ll respond personally.

Have I forgotten something? What other ideas do you have for making adult learning more enjoyable? I would love to hear about your own tricks and tips for improving the learning experience for us all.


For more on knowledge-sharing processes, check out our website: and/

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