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Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach

In a high speed “do more with even less” workplace environment, disaster sometimes rears its ugly head.

Imagine you’re in a highly technical training class with subject matter that would bring strong emotional viewpoints to the table. There is no doubt that there will be conflict and heated arguments.

This article covers a not-so-perfect training session being conducted by a contract company that specialized in the technical subject. As someone who also provides training on technical subjects and training technical people how to present information effectively, there are some lessons we can all learn from this.

How could a technical training session being conducted by a highly qualified company come unraveled at the edges and set us (the customers) up for potential failure?

The training class was being organized by our group at the corporate office to train and educate technical workers on a radical change in the way they would normally do things. My boss and I had attended this training class a year previously when it was conducted by the owner of the company, someone who was highly respected in industry. The training had been of a very high quality.

A few days before the recent training session, we were informed that the owner would not be conducting the training; it would be an employee that we were not familiar with. It surprised and concerned us that the owner would only be attending the training session in a support role. When we talked to the alternate instructor by phone before the training session, we started to have concerns.

Fifteen minutes into the training, a trainee in the seat to my right, nudged me to get my attention, and whispered sarcastically, “Is this his first time doing training?” Not a good sign!

What went wrong during this training?
1. The trainer appeared nervous and inexperienced.
2. He did not provide a very clear up-front description of the concepts that would be covered, and how all the different parts would fit together to help our company move forward with the significant change. He should have provided a detailed example to help portray how the technical information was to be actually applied.
3. He appeared to be unfamiliar with the material on the slides, his awkward long pauses between sentences gave the indication that he was frantically thinking about what to say next. He was also spending a lot of his time reading the words from the slides using his laser light to annoyingly “bounce” from word to word. He would fly past information when it was clear that attendees needed clarification on specific points.
4. Occasionally his boss, the owner of the contract company, would interrupt him and tell him he was wrong, and correct him.
5. The owner of the contract company was taking notes (as the employee was delivering the training) and developing new slides on a laptop (it appeared that our training session was also being used to help develop better training materials).
6. At times, there were emotional disagreements between the class attendees and the owner of the company that made for awkward moments.
7. I give the instructor some credit for trying to use humor in his training, but he was off-target. The trainees were already grumbling about blatant sales pitches being included in the training material (the contract company also provides services to help mitigate identified hazards). He would make comments such as, “I will not go into this in too much detail because my company does not provide this service – ha, ha, ha”. With groans from the trainees, his boss, the owner of the company scowled, cringed, and politely told him to stop using humor.
8. The instructor had not taken the time to customize his presentation so that the calculation tools and methodology and spreadsheets would mirror those that our company uses. These differences made an already complicated subject even more confusing.
9. During breaks, there were trainee conversations that gave a clear indication of frustration.
10. The emotions were very high during the training. There were even times where people were even portraying “violent agreement” (emotionally charged arguments where everyone was actually in agreement!).
11. Side conversations were not controlled by the instructor, and were disrupting to the training session.
12. The trainees filled in the training evaluation sheets, and it was indicated that they rated it “fair to poor”.

What Were The Results?
1. The contract company, and particularly the instructor, lost a lot of credibility (I would be hesitant to recommend this instructor to anyone).
2. My boss and I lost a lot of credibility as we had organized the training session.
3. The new program we were trying to “sell” to the trainees was off to a very rough start. We knew that they would be grumbling to upper management and hurdles for progress would potentially appear.

What Could We Have Done To Make Sure The Training Was Successful?
1. We should have spent a lot more time preparing for the training session:
• We had assumed that we would get the owner of the contract company doing the training; we should have confirmed this.
• We should have spent time with the instructor customizing the training using our company-specific spreadsheet tools, terminology, etc.
• We should have made sure that there was a very clear picture of the training structure up-front. This would have helped the trainees understand how all the different parts fit together

What are some of the other things I learned during this three day training?
1. Before the training session, we had prepared numerous “actual” technical examples for the trainees to work through, and for the trainer to facilitate. These were scheduled for day three. The trainer and his boss suggested that we split the class up into five groups, get them to solve the problems, and present the results to the rest of the class one by one. They indicated that this would be more effective and more controlled, given the emotionally charged atmosphere. This was great advice and worked exceptionally well.