CXO

Avoid these two surefire ways to lose your audience

TechRepublic's Beth Blakely recently watched two trainers crash and burn because of poor preparation and an argumentative attitude. You can learn from their mistakes by keeping in mind these two rules when you're in front of an audience.


Recently, I watched two intelligent, qualified trainers ruin what could have been perfectly good classes. It was simultaneously painful and annoying. I found it painful because I felt for them, as fellow instructors, and I wanted to jump in and “save” them.

At the same time, I was very annoyed because I was a student and wanted to gain the knowledge I’d come for. I felt my time was being wasted.

Unfortunately, these two trainers followed these rules:
  1. Take the same approach for all audiences.
  2. Share your opinions with the class and argue with students who disagree.

The inverse of these two bad rules are the following guidelines that these instructors could have followed to keep me happy and learning productively:
  1. Know your audience.
  2. Stay on topic.

When you’re teaching, consider the following scenarios and try to avoid the mistakes these trainers made.

Don’t be oblivious to the obvious: Know thy students
I was in a class with four other students with the “oblivious” trainer. Normally, this very small class would provide a great opportunity to get some individual attention. Instead of making an effort at the beginning of the training session to find out who we were and what we needed to know, the trainer jumped right in and as a result, used multiple examples that didn’t relate at all to our field (we all had similar occupations).

In larger classes, this wouldn’t be a big deal. We all know that using general examples to illustrate points is a great way to help users understand processes. But this person had a golden opportunity to individualize our training, and didn’t.

The problem was compounded by the fact that the trainer spoke to a computer screen instead of to the audience. The trainer couldn’t see the confused and dissatisfied look on students’ faces, and didn’t notice that, because his head was in our way, we couldn’t see a thing.

Time is precious so don’t waste mine
After comparing notes (or the lack thereof) with several other students, I know I’m not alone in my opinion. I also know that my fellow students and I will require additional training before we can perform the skills we were supposed to learn in this class. In short, everyone’s time was wasted.

The second trainer I came in contact with was a learned gentleman whose brain I would like to empty into my own. Unfortunately, he also wasted my time, but in a much more damaging way.

Just the facts: Don’t bore me with your IT politics
My mother taught me early on that my opinion is my own and nobody is required to share it. For that reason, I believe that instructors should keep their opinions about many things to themselves.

At a recent training session, I spent 30 minutes of my veryprecioustime hearing the politics and worldview of my instructor. While the topics were connected to the IT community, they were not on the list of things I’d come to class to learn.

Some of my classmates took offense at some of the opinions he shared, and began to argue with him. Instead of getting the clue that the topics were too volatile to be discussed in that forum, he kept trying to change our minds about several issues. When he found several class members unwilling to budge on their stance, he threw down his “trump card” by alluding to the amount of money he makes.

Don’t lose your students’ R-E-S-P-E-C-T
As a result of the instructor leading the discussion so far off topic, I was miserable, I was angry, I was uncomfortable, I wanted to leave, and I lost respect for the instructor.

Fortunately, the instructor composed himself during the next break. Before the end of class he gave a lighthearted apology and a promise not to let it happen again. I was still angry about the time he wasted, but his apology helped me to be more comfortable. I’m sure in time, I’ll regain the full level of respect I had for him initially. But it’s unfortunate that I’ll even have to try.

If he had just stayed on task and on topic, he would have had my admiration and rapt attention every time he opened his mouth. Now I’m constantly waiting for the scene to repeat itself.

Proper class preparation can help
If you know who, what, where, when, and how you are going to teach, you’ll be less likely to break either of these rules. Bruce Maples recently gave a great review on planning a class titled “Creating classes: Ask the five Ws and an H.” He reminded us all how important it is to be prepared before we ever enter the classroom.

Maples wrote: “Surprisingly, not everyone seems to realize the need to plan first, then execute. You would be amazed at the number of projects I've seen, and even been part of, where one or more of these [who, what, where, when, and how] questions hasn't been answered thoroughly or at all.”

James Adams’ column, “Choose your words carefully to avoid offending your students,” gave a helpful list of things not to talk about in class. Highlights on his list of “no-nos” include: religion, ethnicity, gender, and politics.

The next time you find yourself talking to a computer instead of a person, not taking a few moments to get to know a small class, or sounding off about an issue you read about in TechRepublic’s IT News, do your students a favor: Don’t.
What’s the worst sin that you’ve observed a trainer making? Do you find yourself harder to please than the average student? Do you have your own training pet peeves? Write to us and let us know, or post your comments below.

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