In part 1 of this column I talked about “professionalism” as an evaluation criteria for trainers and the two parts of professionalism: form and substance. We then looked briefly at some of the “form” aspects: appearance and dress, punctuality, breath, speaking voice, and grammar. This week, we’ll take a look at some of the “substance” aspects of professionalism. Specifically, we’ll examine the importance of product knowledge.
The proof is in the pudding
As a trainer, your “form” is important because it’s what gives your customers and students their first impressions. Once class begins though, it’s “substance” that takes center stage. You can be somewhat lacking in form and still be a successful trainer, but to truly be effective in the classroom you have to:

  1. Be prepared. There is a big difference between knowing a subject and preparing for a class. Have you gone through all the material in advance? Do you know what you are going to teach and when you are going to teach it? Have you anticipated tough sections, possible questions (and their answers), and natural breaking points? Have you planned how to adjust your schedule if the class gets ahead or behind? Do you have anecdotes, transitions, and examples noted in your instructor’s guide? Too many trainers simply show up, open the book, and begin. Teaching is a craft before it is a profession. If you simply show up, you haven’t even reached the craft level, much less a professional one.
  2. Be organized. This is different from preparing the material. This is preparing the room and the class time. Do you have all the handouts on the desks when the students arrive, or do you waste valuable instruction time giving out papers? If there is a form required, do you have enough copies made? Have you checked the projector? Do you know where the extra bulb is? Have you checked all the student computers? Do you have your materials in order, or are they all piled in your briefcase? Are your overheads in order? Do you know where the break room is, where the bathrooms are, where a phone is?
  3. Be knowledgeable. This is where the rubber meets the road. Let’s face it–-some professional trainers spend all their time training and very little time using. If you’re in that group, it would behoove you to spend extra time, on your own, getting your hands dirty with the product. You may have to spend some bucks on a home computer just to keep up, but keep up you must. There are too many cartoons on too many cubicle walls about clueless trainers.
  4. Understand business. Your students are expected to use this software to solve business problems. What you’re teaching them has to relate to their business issues. Don’t be like the engineer I once met who had worked 11 years at an investment firm but didn’t know the difference between a stock and a bond.

Oh, and all you bivocational trainers who are also active engineers or developers: Quit your snickering, because I have a word for you, too. Some practicing trainers I’ve seen are so stovepiped they should be mounted on top of the factory. Take an honest look at your knowledge, and ask yourself, “Do I understand all the aspects of this product, or only the ones I use? Do I know how this product relates to other products? Do I understand the operating system it runs on?” I’ve known developers who could barely format a floppy and engineers who assumed all software dropped out of the sky.
What is your perception of professionalism? If you have some points to add to the substance list above, post your comments here or follow the link provided below.
The bottom line
Ultimately, the most important aspect of professionalism is knowledge of the product. My concern is two-fold:

  • There are some of us in the training world who aren’t really that knowledgeable.
  • Others are letting our lack of attention to the other aspects of professionalism keep us from sharing our knowledge with our students.

Trust me: If you show up late wearing sloppy clothes and trailing dirty overheads behind you down the hall, you will have lost all of your students until at least lunch, and some of them for the entire class. There are already too many jokes about trainers like that. Those jokes need to be put out to pasture by trainers who are professionals in every sense of the word.

Bruce Maples is a writer, trainer, and consultant living in Louisville. His latest project is an approach/avoidance seminar for computer professionals scared of neckties. Follow this link if you’d like to write toBruce .