Training Tips

Master 1I was recently approached by an esteemed wireless colleague who was tasked with putting together a day-long training seminar for non-wireless installers. We talked about shared opinions on what Wi-Fi specific topics would be right for this particular group, as well as general procedural steps that he might take to keep it all on track. After all, a “day” really isn’t very long when you factor in breaks, lunch, questions, distractions, and Murphy’s Law. As we chatted back and forth, he made the comment to me “you really out to write some of this down for others”. And so here we are.

Before I dig in- let me address the “what makes you qualified to give this sort of advice?” question that some of you might be thinking.  Here’s the quick and dirty: in my 10+ years in the Air Force, I spent the second half of my career as a Technical Training Instructor. More re less, I was dragged into it – and was a bit angry about the turn of events in the beginning. After all, I was an Electronic Warfare “field guy”, and liked what I was doing on aircraft like the F-4 and A-10. Once I got over myself somewhere around the third week of Instructor school, I came to realize the tremendous value in being able to confidently deliver complex materials and keep a group heading towards a series of objectives- both for me and the folks in the seats in front of me. I eventually achieved the Master Instructor rating, was certified as an Occupational Instructor, and amassed thousands of hours in the classroom and developing curriculum that others would use as well. After the Air Force, I taught basic electronics, CWNA, CWSP, undergraduate classes, and (still do) graduate networking classes. I’ve also done hundreds of hours of informal training and presentations for my employers and at a number of IT conferences. I don’t know it all or claim to be the best, but I do have a lot of experience and have valued both the high ratings and criticism I’ve received along the way.

Now, back to topic. Here’s a quick primer for anyone that has to do training/presentations, but nay not be particuilarly comfortable in that role.

Before the Session:

  • Research the audience. What level(s) of expertise will you be dealing with? Don’t assume anything without asking whoever requested the training.
  • You may have to adjust your favorite “canned” presentation a bit for each audience.
  • Develop a lesson plan/presentation AND a time budget for each topic
  • Don’t be a mile wide and an inch deep- ever- on any topic. Cramming a week’s worth of content into a single day rips everyone off.
  • Accept the fact that YOU will determine the success of the training, and are driving the boat. Your management of the topic and the clock are nobody else’s responsibility.
  • Understand well what you will be talking about. Thin credibility will absolutely shine through.
  • Ask that whoever is in charge of those you are training ensures that the group is expected to be attentive and present. No running in and out taking calls, etc.
  • Make sure you have your material prioritized- should the session go wrong and fall apart, make sure the most important topics are identified so you can focus on them.
  • Test the audio-visual equipment well before the start of the session, and have a Plan B in case something goes wrong.

During the Session:

  • Share your time budget with those you’re training or presenting to. Hopefully everyone will help it to stay on track.
  • Embrace the notion of Intro/Content/Summary. Or “Tell ’em what you’re GONNA tell ’em/Tell ’em what you HAVE to tell ’em/Tell ’em what you TOLD ’em” – for each section, each major part of the day, and for the entire session.
  • Take questions that are easily answered along the way.
  • Save long-winded, complicated discussions for the end of the section, break, or lunch. Don’t bust your time budget by being led astray.
  • Occasionally, something WILL go horribly wrong during the session. Roll with it, make the best of it, and make sure the priority material gets conveyed.
  • Watch for signs that you’re losing the audience, and pop an easy question to draw them back in. Example: “So, who has ever done ___?” Then when a hand is raised, let someone respond so another voice breaks up the monotony of your own.

Closing/After:

  • If appropriate, leave your contact information for further discussion if anyone is interested.
  • Figure out some way to ascertain whether your session had value. It may be an email to whoever set up the session the following day, or a survey you leave behind. You want to know if you’re hitting the mark and what might need to change.
  • Don’t convince yourself that you can use the same presentation every time- as mentioned during “Before”, you may have to adjust for the next session to be effective.

Training or presenting to even a small group of people is a skill. Public speaking can cause people great anxiety, but having a simple checklist like the points above can help take the nervous edge off. Even those of us with lots of podium experience get jittery, but get through it by being prepared for both what WE WANT to happen and for  WHAT MIGHT happen.

Best of luck to you as you train or present.

Do you have any training pointers to share? Please contribute to the discussion.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Training Tips

  1. Jussi Kiviniemi (@JussiKiviniemi)

    Great points, agree and learned a lot from this post. Thank you!

    To me, a couple of things usually work:

    1. Live demonstrations of any kind, ideally mid-presentation, usually wake up the audience from coma.

    2. Humor: Even bad humor (as long as nothing inappropriate) is usually well received. And after a couple of embarrassing attempts you will know if not. For Wi-Fi presentations, including images from bad-fi.com never fails.

    3. Real-world comparisons, even as traditional/obvious as “Wi-Fi vs highway” often work. I have compared setting up a proper Wi-Fi network to setting up a bar and a football team, for example.

    4. Any not-obvious statistics, and real-world measurements / observations (especially if made by you) are great.

    5. Prepare for cultural differences:

    In the US, people will ask questions even if just to be nice to you.

    In Germany, people often demand technical explanations (as Lee pointed out, be prepared to repeatedly use “let’s take that offline” or risk spending 3 days instead of 1).

    In Finland, no one may ask or comment anything the entire day. That doesn’t mean your presentation isn’t great – it’s just how we are.

    Reply
    1. wirednot Post author

      Excellent points, Jussi. Thanks for all of that. I really admire folks that are more Citizens of the World than I am these days… It can’t be easy traveling to another country and either leading or taking training without some anxiety and adjustment. And I fully agree with your take on humor as tool (and the cautions about going too far).

      -Lee

      Reply
  2. David Coleman

    This is a great blog. I usually summarize all the points that Lee has made into three bullets:

    > Expertise: Technical training requires that you know your topic inside and out.

    > Dog and Pony: You have to keep the learning experience lively and entertaining. Use humor where appropriate. Stories and analogies are helpful. Make learning fun.

    > Questions, Questions, Questions: If the audience is asking questions you will be a better instructor. If you do not know an answer… don’t BS… try and find the answer later and follow-up.

    I also agree with Jussi’s cultural assessment. Some Asian cultures do not ask questions because they view it as disrespectful to the instructor. Which is why I always prefer to be dis-respected 🙂

    Great blog.

    Reply

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