Hot Tricks for Trainers


‘Hot Tricks’ are all those things a trainer does to bring his or her training sessions to life. We are using the term to include everything from:

* a warm smile to an unexpected change of pace
* soft background music to brilliantly designed slides
* the pervasive odour of fresh cut lemons to the well-timed quote
* quiet reflective moments to wild unbridled laughter.

From the first risky step into a circle to the fulfilling richness of sharing with other learners, ‘Hot Tricks’ are all techniques and skills used to create learning environments that build human capacity.
Here is the first in a series we affectionately label ‘Hot Tricks for Trainers’.

1. Carry a treasure chest of ‘extra’ icebreakers, energizers and relevant lessons.
Groups of trainees tend to operate at different speeds. I can think of nothing more daunting than heading into an afternoon knowing your group has devoured your process and you are now two hours short of material. Though you may never have to use it, this treasure chest will give you confidence just knowing it’s there in case you need it.

2. Arrive early to insure that the facility has been arranged properly and to prepare yourself for the day.
A bit of lead time will enable you greet the participants in a relaxed, friendly way as they arrive. It also helps to set the tone for the day.

3. Share something personal about yourself.
Personal stories or points can help to bridge the natural ‘gap’ between a trainer and participants. They can be used as an icebreaker at the beginning of a workshop or to illustrate points within different lessons. Manage this strategy with care and be sure not to fall into the trap of showering participants with endless self-centred monologue.

4. Remember the 90-20 communication principle.

Adults can listen and understand for a maximum of 90 minutes. Adults can listen and retain information for a maximum of 20 minutes. Your lessons should be designed with this in mind.

5. Use the 6-to-8 communication principle.

Our minds wander every 6 to 8 minutes unless something keeps our attention. I personally feel that the training world would be a happier place if most ‘stand and deliver’ style presentations were kept under 7 minutes. If your presentation must be longer, be sure to build in ‘hot spice’ every 6 to 8 minutes. This can be anything that captures your audience by grabbing their attention, such as humour, an interesting visual or a question.

6. Look, Listen, Learn.
Look at participants when you are speaking to them or when they address you. Listen to the individuals and the group. Learn and use their names.

7. Get to know your audience early in the workshop.
One of the most exciting aspects of being a trainer is that each group is different. Each group is formed by a variety of personalities, each with their own learning styles, expectations and needs. Your level of understanding of these variables will, in part, determine the tone and success of your workshop. Knowing your audience enables you to use the variables in your favour and reduces the potential for them to work against you.

8. Use the right kinds of humour.
Humour helps to relax participants and create a safe learning environment. Adult audiences love humour, providing it is not demeaning, off-colour or cruel in nature. Dang, there goes most of my repertoire! My experience has been that participants can take far more liberties than the trainer when it comes to using off-colour humour. As the facilitator, err on the side of being ‘politically correct’ – we cannot afford the luxury of offending even one of our participants.

9. Consider biorhythms when designing your workshop.
Here are some points to note:

  • On the first morning of the first day of a workshop, participants may be nervous, wondering what to expect. Building in a fun, non-threatening activity helps break the ice.
  • Most participants appear to be livelier in the morning than the afternoon. You may find it helpful to incorporate more movement and energizing activities directly after lunch and toward the end of the training day.
  • In our five-day workshops we have noticed that Wednesday seems to be a natural low energy time – particularly the afternoon. Who knows why? ‘Hump-day syndrome’ perhaps.
  • In working with students and teachers whose natural school days end at approximately 3:00pm, we have found it best to design the workshop to end then also. It appears to take ten times the effort required to hold students attention and maintain an effective learning environment after 3:00pm.

10. Use eye contact wisely.
What is considered to be appropriate eye contact in one culture or situation may be threatening or offensive in others. Know your audience and manage your eye contact appropriately for different individuals, cultures and situations. For example, looking at someone directly in the eye may be a sign of frankness and openness in one culture, while being a sign of disrespect in another.

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