There’s a new trainer in town. That new trainer is you.
Relax. I, too, never wanted to become a trainer and builder-of-staff at my own company. However, I also never wanted to feel as if I was a hostage to my existing employees. That was reason enough to swallow hard and do what needed to be done: Learn how to get really good at training.
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It was a painful learning curve. My very first training center was an old expansion tank filled with water to simulate a boiler. It had holes for inserting an aquastat, a relief valve and an electric element I’d recovered from a failed electric water heater. And before you laugh know that I was able to get the training started — even if it was not nearly as good as it would become.
My next attempt at a training center was in the damp and dimly lit basement of my old shop. It was a warm air unit, a water heater and a boiler all salvaged from the scrap heap. Once again, the results of the training got better.
But I had no structure to my training, no course curriculum and no idea what I was going to say or do until the class started. Yikes! What a mess!
Little by little, I kept notes about what went right, what went wrong and what I’d do better the next time. And from that I’m happy to say it’s 25 years later and the “kids” I trained back then are the service manager, install manager, warehouse manager, top salespeople and field supervisors at my family’s business today.
One of the first breakthroughs on my way to becoming a better trainer came when I learned to video myself and my classes. I looked at the tape (yes, it was a video camera on a tripod, not something done with a smartphone!) after each class and let me tell you, it was scary. I would do things such as turn my back on the class and write on the whiteboard for 15 minutes. It’s surprising they didn’t throw something at me.
Ready for more training failure? I would speak in a monotone that would actually make me fall asleep while I was watching the video. And I did the usual stuttering and other cardinal sins like being frozen like a deer in headlights. I also hung onto the podium like it was a ship’s wheel in a raging storm.
Wow, I was bad!
Here’s the good news … even though I was really bad, when I started to watch video of myself training, it made me better. The result: I was able to produce some really good employees. Here’s the other good news … you can get started today and can be as bad as me when I started yet still get good results.
Here’s the even better news … you can learn the simple techniques I learned: how to create a course curriculum; how to engage the people I was teaching so the learning would be more impactful; and how to build a world-class training center that would simulate what service technicians would encounter in the real world, but in a much more controlled and safer environment.
I’ve taught my clients for more than 12 years to build their staff the right way and you can learn these techniques, too.
Keys to great training sessions
Here are just 10 of the many techniques I teach clients that will make you a better trainer.
1.Speak loudly enough to have your staff’s attention and be enthusiastic enough to build their interest.
2.Augment your speaking with overhead computer projection of digital photos, online video clips that speak to the topic at hand, books and handouts. Most importantly, spend the majority of time doing hands-on work in the training center.
Don’t have a dedicated training center? Use your building and your own home for now.
3.Know the media resources by heart and keep the use of them to short intervals. It’s recommended they be used for no more than five to 10 min. at a time without you interacting with the trainees to say one of the following things:
• “Good point. Make sure you’re doing this when you’re out in the field.”
• “Good point, but we have an even better way to do this. I’ll show you shortly.”
• “If I ever catch you doing this, there will be trouble. So pay attention because I’m going to teach you the right way to do this.”
4.Move around as you speak. This is where video feedback is very helpful. You want a natural balance between being stiff like a statue and moving so much you’re like a target in an arcade game.
5.Try to keep training at two to four hours maximum. Remember, the mind can only absorb what the butt can withstand.
6.Take a 10- to 15-min. break every 60 to 90 min. Typically, training is late in the day or early in the morning. Sitting a long time is an invitation for the mind to wander or just fall asleep. Get up and get the blood flowing.
7.Use your personal stories and experiences in the field to help relate to them as an apprentice, a young tech first starting out, a senior tech and as a supervisor. Use these stories to illustrate what you’ve learned that can benefit them.
8.Have some fun! It’s OK to kid around but don’t pick on anyone. The most effective and best humor is when you make fun of yourself and what happened to you on your way to getting to where you are today.
9.Have the people being trained spend little or no time reading from the book while in class. Try to keep it to a specific topic and only one to two pages at a time. It’s the hands-on work, for both techs and inside staff, that counts the most.
10.Establish and maintain room control — maintain eye contact with them on a one-to-one basis as you walk around. Make sure you’re smiling as much as possible when you do this so it’s not intimidating, but it’s also clear that you’re in charge and drifting off will not be allowed.
And use assigned seating that varies each meeting and each training session.
Teaching resources I recommend include Dan Holohan’s eBook “How to Teach Technicians without Putting Them to Sleep” and Dale Carnegie’s “High Impact Presentation” two-day workshop.
With practice, you can walk into your work-place as the confident new trainer in town!
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