Posted by: projectsinpractice | June 17, 2012

Tell’m, Tell’m, and Tell’m: More Tips for the Accidental Trainer

Teresa here: Have you ever been a student in a training setting in which you not only learned something valuable, but also were stimulated, entertained, or inspired in the process?

I don’t have to ask whether you’ve also been a student in a program in which you learned nothing more than creative ways to count the interminable minutes until you were finally released. Unfortunately, we’ve all been there.

When you’re the teacher instead of the student, think about what made your past student experiences successful or unsuccessful for you. Use these experiences to make the training program you create more effective for your students.

A couple weeks ago, I posted an article called The Accidental Trainer Discovers Learning Styles. I discussed the effectiveness of varying the activities to speak to different learning styles, whether you’re teaching a hands-on skill or conceptual topics.

Here are a few more snippets of advice to consider for your training program.

Set the motivation and the outcomes

Establish the context and motivation for the training. The student needs to know why the topic is important, before they learn the how and the what. When they know why they’re learning, they’ll give you their attention.

Articulate the goal of the training, along with the objectives of what the student will be able to do at the end of the session. Orient the students to the course outline, essentially your training agenda.

While you’re developing the program, the goal and objectives will keep you focused and prevent you from veering off-topic. For your students, clarity about the outcomes directs their attention to the results of successful training. They’ll understand what they’ll actually be able to do if you do your job and if they meet you halfway.

Create visual representations of your topic

Whether your topic is concrete or abstract, represent it with images. If you’re teaching how to use a piece of equipment, include photos or diagrams of the equipment itself. If you’re teaching a form or a process, show the form and create a flowchart. If you’re teaching abstract concepts, create a visual metaphor that will help students understand and remember.

A great example of a visual representation of an abstract concept is the project triangle. Whenever we discuss the triple project constraint of time, cost, and scope (or various permutations thereof), we use a flexing triangle to show how changing the conditions of one side of the triangle invariably affects the other two sides.

Make your visuals more, well, visual

Related to your visual representations is your use of presentation slides. Create slides that are engaging, perhaps even surprising. Don’t be lulled into the same old format of title and three bullets for slide after slide. What a rut. Use bigger graphics and fewer words.

Fewer words will also help you avoid the bad habit of reading your slides rather than using your slides as prompts to explain each point.

Metaphors or themes can make your presentation more appealing, and they can help your students more easily follow your thread. For example, if you’re walking through the features for a new tool, you might use a journey or tour guide theme. If you’re discussing methods for data gathering, you might draw a metaphor of harvesting fruit.

Animated graphics catch our interest in news stories and documentaries. Personalization and drama keep us riveted to reality shows and movies. Borrow techniques of characterization, suspense, even humor if you can pull it off. These can make your slides, and therefore your training program, all the more entertaining and therefore engaging and effective.

Tell’m, tell’m, and tell’m

You’ve probably heard the old training adage: “Tell’m what you’re gonna tell’m, tell’m, then tell’m what you told’m.”

Your introduction grounds the participants’ expectations. Then you launch into the meat of the matter. Afterwards, the summary provides a short review and closure, giving students the satisfaction of confirming that they have indeed learned the material.

The introduction and summary also serve the purpose of repetition. It’s said that people need to hear a sales message at least seven times before it starts to glimmer in their awareness. In training, in which the student typically wants the message, hearing it three times is still advantageous. The repetition, even in a brief introduction and summary, reinforces the information in the proper context.


If you create your slides and other content without rehearsing, it’ll show. The dangers include too much preamble, too much repetition throughout, too much reading from your slides, and possibly a big rush at the end.

Consider first rehearsing on your own, possibly with an audio tape or video tape, or simply in front of a mirror. Next, rehearse with one or two others, as long as you all won’t giggle too much. Finally, rehearse before a friendly audience of several friends or colleagues, and incorporate useful feedback.

You’ll find that with each rehearsal, your presentation becomes tighter — you’re actually able to convey more information in the allotted time without sounding like a fast-talking auctioneer. Plus, you can smooth out your beginning, your transitions, any motivational moments, and your key takeaways at the end.

Use lively examples, but kill the “shaggy dog” stories

Don’t get stuck in the conceptual and the abstract. Just as you need visual representations to convey information and knowledge effectively, you must tell compelling stories. Your students love to be entertained. In the course of being entertained, they’ll learn. Lively stories and examples help students remember important concepts and points; they’re the framework on which your students hang ideas and acquired wisdom.

However, don’t descend into boring “war stories” or “shaggy dog stories.” Such stories are meant to be examples, but instead, they go on and on without much return. The time it takes to tell the story far outweighs the narrative’s worth as an illustration of the point.

Make sure your examples are concise, lively, and relevant. They’ll end up being the stories your students will repeat to others when they’re explaining what they’ve learned.

Talk back: What kinds of training do you need to support your project? What training tips can you share?


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