Imagine a continuum…
At one end are people who prepare thoroughly for everything, especially work.
As trainers, they create detailed agendas timed to the minute. Their training materials are well-organized, well-designed, and well-thought-out. Their attention to detail makes them strong trainers, but can also cause problems.
If you’re one of those people who prepare everything down to the last detail, keep reading – because what follows will challenge you.
At the other end of the continuum are the people who make it up as they go — the improvisers.
They start with an idea and are comfortable chasing it wherever it goes. As trainers, they create a very rough advance agenda (or none at all). Their self-confidence can border on cockiness. Their limited advance preparation can also be perceived as laziness.
If you’re one of those people, keep reading – because what follows can make you more effective.
Where are you on the “preparation continuum?”
To be fair, most people land somewhere in the middle. Where you stand may depend on the particulars — for example, you may require more preparation for something new and less prep for something you’ve done many times.
Some people prepare rigorously to build the confidence to improvise, like the great jazz improvisers who relentlessly practice scales.
When the group won’t follow your lead
No matters how well you’ve done your homework, sooner or later you will find yourself working with a group that doesn’t want or need what you’ve prepared. Some classic symptoms:
- Insistent questions: Several people ask questions about content you hadn’t anticipated.
- Passive behavior: Participants just sit there with glassy eyes.
- Off-topic conversations: When you assign small group discussions, most people talk about something else. If you’re lucky, they’ll all be discussing the same subject: the important one that isn’t on the agenda. If you’re not, they’ll just chit chat.
As a trainer, what should you do? Do you stick doggedly to the script or adapt to the needs of the group?
When in doubt, ask for help
If you’re training a group and it’s not working, try saying this: “Let’s put the agenda aside for the moment. What do you want?”
If there’s no consensus – if people are pulling in multiple directions – it’s probably best to stick with your original agenda. But if everyone returns to the same one or two topics, you need to redesign on the spot.
Encourage the group help you. Ask for guidance. Try these questions:
- Given ____ amount of time to work on this together, what would be a good outcome?
- What do you want to learn?
- Who can help lead this?
- Does anyone have relevant expertise they’re willing to share?
You may want to organize people into small groups, so that everyone will have a larger voice in determining the updated agenda. Then pull them back together to see where the ideas coalesce.
Trust your instincts
Remember, you hold the trump card in this situation – after all, you’re the designated trainer – so don’t be afraid to use it. Even as you share power with the group, your work is to listen, incorporate what you can from their suggestions, and make the final decision.
Whether you are a planner or improviser, to be a great trainer, you must be responsive and flexible to the group’s needs, while also steering the ship.
Trust your instincts about when the veer from the prepared agenda. As you gain more experience as a trainer and facilitator, your intuition will become stronger, and you’ll learn to use it.