Today’s training participants demand more than credentials. They want to learn from our experiences, connect with us as people, and apply what they learn to their own circumstances. Thus, as a learning and development professional you need to be more proactive and resourceful than ever before to balance your credentials and your experience to succeed as a facilitator.
Have you ever wondered what is the most critical element for success in training? Conversations among learning and development professionals often include addressing participant learning styles, creating an inviting atmosphere, using music, or allowing ample time for questions and venting. Others refer to addressing participant preferences, such as interactivity, few slides or handouts, daylong sessions, and so on.
What about you and what you bring?
Step back for a moment. Think about your own learning experiences. What stands out? Have you ever attended a training where the facilitator suddenly says or does something that changes your perceptions of her positively or negatively or reduces (or increases) your engagement in the learning process? If so, what did you do? What impact did those incidents have on your own attitudes towards future trainings?
Let’s meet Lilith. She is the barista training specialist for a local chain of upscale bakeries entering the competitive coffee service market. Her primary responsibility is to ensure that all new hires deliver coffee products of consistent quality across stores. Lilith remembers clearly what happened when she was a new hire beginning to learn about the coffee business.
At the end of a lengthy first day of lectures and more lectures, Lilith asked Justin, her instructor, about his personal preferences of acidity levels in coffee and how these compared with those of the typical bakeries’ customers. His answer was, “I don’t know. I don’t drink coffee.” So much for Justin’s credibility. “How could he make and sell something without having direct personal experience with the product? How can I trust Justin? Preparing and selling coffee is not only about the beans,” Lilith thought.
What do you think most participants do when they are in situations such as this one? Many of them lose interest in the topic and complete the training to move on to what they have to do. Others speak negatively about the facilitator or the training itself.
Lilith did otherwise. She decided to take an active role in her own learning and tasted every product that she prepared. Her knowledge of the business, its products, and her ability to connect with peers and customers positioned her to become an instructor and allowed her to influence the redesign of the company’s training for new hires into one with ample guided opportunities to taste products and practice coffee making techniques.
However, not everyone is as astute as Lilith.
Let’s meet Marcia. She is an external consultant who designed a development program for incoming future leaders at an insurance company. Marcia earned several prestigious academic degrees and certifications. She can quote facts and figures about leadership and its impact on business. She remains impressively up-to-date on books about leadership. She speaks clearly and authoritatively.
On the program’s second day, focused on the topic of influence, Quentin asked Marcia to share an example of when she had to influence a group of employees to follow a company policy with which she disagreed. At first, Marcia gave Quentin an example from the last book that she had read. When Quentin insisted on a personal example, her answer was, “I cannot give you a personal example because I have never been in charge of a group of employees.”
In total disbelief and disappointment, Quentin picked up his materials and left the session. Other participants followed soon afterwards and the session had to be cancelled. Marcia lost her credibility and trust from the group, as well as the contract with the insurance company, because of how she handled Quentin’s question.
What would you have done in Marcia’s situation? She had strong credentials and solid subject matter content knowledge, yet her lack of experience with one particular issue and her inability to still position herself as an expert led to a major career setback.
The outcome of Marcia’s situation could have been different if, for instance, Marcia referred to the book that she read and connected the content with an experience at a personal level. She could have drawn from an instance when she had to convince a friend, child, or relative to follow a rule or an instruction with which she disagreed. She could have also asked the audience for examples of similar situations and inserted her own recommendations based on what she had read, thus demonstrating how to apply information to real-life scenarios. By establishing a link between the training’s content and “real life,” Marcia could have forged a critical connection with her audience that would have allowed her to complete the leadership development program successfully.
What do Lilith and Marcia’s experiences mean for you as a learning and development professional?
Even though everything that we do in a session contributes to participant learning, your experience is a critical element for training success.