The following post is an article of mine originally published in the most recent issue (Volume 19.1) of the Canadian Journal of Volunteer Resources Management. The focus of this issue is training and education. The Journal is available to members of the Canadian Administrators of Volunteer Resources, our national association of administrators/managers of volunteer resources. For those involved in the administration of volunteer resources in British Columbia, CAVR membership currently comes free with an annual membership to our provincial AVRBC (Administrators of Volunteer Resources British Columbia) association.
Ask Before You Speak: Questions to Consider for a Successful Training Experience
Some of us thrive on speaking in front of groups while others dread it. Yet training is often an essential part of the job for a manager of volunteers. Here are some questions to consider as you plan your next training event, working towards a successful outcome for both you and your participants.
1. What will my training event look like?
Develop a lesson plan well in advance. A simple table format with three columns and multiple rows will work well. The first column indicates the start time of each of the teaching elements within your plan and the second and third columns capture the content and handouts, audio visual or other materials you will need.
Consider carefully how long each element in your lesson plan will take. It is often most difficult to get the pace right and have the proper amount of content for the time available.
2. How will I make my content appeal to everyone in the room?
There are three types of learners – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – and they learn best by seeing, hearing and doing, respectively. Visual learners relate well to images, videos or demonstrations while auditory learners may like listening to guest speakers or participating in group discussions. Finally, kinesthetic learners may appreciate hands-on activities, role-plays and ice-breakers or other activities which get them up and moving around.
In addition, remember that some people process information more quickly than others. Consider distributing pre-reading or hand outs to give participants more time to digest your content.
3. What stories will I tell?
Think of how you can incorporate stories related to your content into your training session to really deepen participants’ learning.
4. What can I do to enjoy the teaching experience?
First, visualize in advance that your teaching event will go well. When the day comes, just try to relax and be authentic. Participants feel uncomfortable when they can tell that the speaker feels uncomfortable, so just imagine them wishing you well. If the topic warrants, use your natural humour and laughter to engage participants. If you make a mistake, just carry on. Never admit that you are not as good a trainer as you would like to be – chances are the participants will have no inkling of this unless you tell them.
Wear something professional that you feel good in. Try out different styles and you will begin to develop a preference for what “teaching clothes” work for you.
5. What will I do to ensure participation?
Build time for participation into your lesson plan. Ask open-ended questions and include activities that encourage people to contribute to the content in various ways. Pay attention to how much you talk. Allow others time to ask questions or interject their own experience. Remember that – especially with adults – you are likely not the only person in the room with experience in the content.
Guest speakers also may help liven up your classroom and allow your participants to tap into someone else’s experience with your subject matter.
6. How will I stick to my plan?
Sometimes things do not go exactly as planned. Participants may jump ahead or venture outside the scope of your content in their questions or discussion; this is where your experience and good judgment can help. Decide in the moment what questions to address and what to put off. Keep an eye on your lesson plan timings. Incorporate a “parking lot” to capture topics to address later or talk to participants informally at the end of the session if necessary.
7. What will my evaluation process look like?
Evaluate the training event right after the session using personal reflection as well as informal and formal feedback from participants. Consider what you could change for next time, then go back and revise your lesson plan as necessary.
Keep asking these questions of yourself and you are sure to grow your success as a trainer. Whether you deliver short information sessions to your own volunteers or large workshops at professional conferences, it pays to have a plan.