A Woman of Dysfunction?

I recently had the opportunity to deliver leadership training at a provincial conference. Geared to the presidents and vice presidents of their local chapters, I liked and appreciated this particular organization’s emphasis on identifying emerging leaders and supporting them to develop and grow.

As a result of this priority, they encouraged a young and somewhat nervous vice-president to hone her ability to speak in front of a crowd by having her introduce me.

With my bio in hand and a rueful smile, she proceeded to read a bit about my background.

Among my credentials is an award of which I am particularly proud — a YWCA Woman of Distinction in Training and Education.

Unfortunately when she got to that part of the bio, she was overcome by nerves and it somehow came out of her mouth as a “Woman of Dysfunction”.

Everyone thought that was hilarious but to her credit, she joined the ensuing laughter.

As for me, it calmed the butterflies and allowed me to claim the title.  Somehow the idea of being a woman of dysfunction reduced the pressure I always feel in delivering training.

While I know there are some who really enjoy being in front of a crowd, I’m definitely not one of them.  However, it does seem that, like a lot of other things in life, the more you practice the better you get.

What does it take to be a good trainer?

It is critical to be clear about what you know and what you don’t know. One time I agreed to do a workshop on a subject I knew little about simply to help out the conference organizer. Definitely not a good call on my part and something I have never repeated because a good trainer needs to be knowledgeable enough about the subject matter to take it beyond theory by providing analogies and real life examples.  I sometimes describe my role as a trainer as being about curating, condensing, and simplifying.

Personally, I always begin with articulating the outcomes of the session. Being clear about what participants will walk away with at the end of the training, helps clarify what will be delivered. It is also essential for directing the design of the session content.

Humour and stories are also essential in keeping one’s audience alert, listening, and learning.

Another key for being a successful trainer is being ready to start and stop punctually. It takes some practice but a good trainer will always end on time even if it sometimes means adjusting material on the fly.  I recently had to shave 15 minutes off a one hour presentation because the conference organizers were late getting started.

Flexibility is also critical as a good trainer needs to be able to adapt her delivery to accommodate different learning styles as well as provide examples and materials that will be relevant to each particular audience. Sometimes flexibility is also needed just to accommodate last minute hitches that arise. At one workshop, I had to do half my presentation without technology because organizers were trying to film at the same time and somehow managed to shut everything down. I had my speaking notes with me so just carried on until things were up and running again. 

Ultimately though, good training is about engaging one’s audience.  Rather than having participants simply sit and listen, they need to be engaged in the training.  As a trainer, one can ask questions, have participants provide examples, role play, or break into small group discussions or activities. It’s also important to leave time and space and encourage participants to ask questions.

In the end though, my guess is that what will keep me from being a woman of dysfunction is being authentic. I have learned that audiences in general seem to be really good at sniffing out someone who cares.  When they know you’re real and that you care, trust and credibility will follow.

Posted on 02-12-13

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