They are often an odd group of people, adult work-related trainers. They are not consultants, though many aspire to be because the daily rate is higher. They are not teachers, because that sounds patronising to their clients. They are not lecturers, because that may either intimidate their clients or give the wrong impression of how they go about their business. And they are not coaches, though many are re-inventing themselves as such.
Trainers are different. They tend to run short, skill-based courses. Training is meant to be practical, to yield results, to be relevant. It can be fun, but does not have to be. It can be both a reward and a punishment. It may be a requirement. It may be relatively easy or totally impossible to escape. It may be reserved for the young and naïve employee or a privilege of the senior, successful executive.
Trainers come in many guises from the evangelical game show host to the belittling assassin. Some seem dependent on dreary manuals, while others think training is somewhere between Blue Peter and the X-factor. People sort of “drift into” training. Their backgrounds are often as varied as their styles, philosophy and practice. Some seem like (failed but aspirant) actors; others disillusioned teachers. Many have a history of being made redundant.
Barriers to entry in the training business is low; qualifications seem to be optional. But training, like PR and advertising, is very sensitive to economic forces. Whilst bull markets mean marvellous weekends at Country Hotels playing foolish games, bear markets can involve mean pickings and empty diaries.
So there is much to worry and fret about. And there may be, as a result, some very trainer-specific illnesses and problems. Consider the following semi-psychiatric conditions:
- Chronic Evaluation Anxiety: This is occurs when the end-of-course “happy sheets” really count. Good scores mean re-employment; bad scores mean “thank you, but don’t call us”. Trainers deal with this anxiety in many ways. Some try to fiddle the books by designing the feedback sheet themselves, delivering it at a particular high-point in the proceedings, or quite simply pleading with the delegates. It’s the only feedback that management receives so it can count for a lot.
- Intermittent Entertainment Confusion: This is caused by not being sure to what extent one is trainer or entertainer. Happy sheet scores go up with funny anecdotes; amusing videos; non-taxing games. They go down with tough assignments; the idea of end of course exams and the trainer evaluating the delegates rather than the other way around. No a brainer then. The pressure is to be funny, light, easy.
- Periodic Gadget Fetish: This is the false belief that delegates will be impressed by all sorts of odd gismos that can be used in training. Quirky electronic goods are the best.. Playing whale music, or using subtly changing lights, or introducing aroma-therapy approved scents is the wacky, less electronic version of this fetish.
- Naïve Luncheon Compensation Belief: All trainers know the value of a good lunch. In fact the rank order of things that determine satisfaction with a one day training course is probably: quality of lunch, party bag, networming card-exchange opportunity; famous people….then the content of the talks, and the nature of the training. Good lunches cost money. Uncontrollable elements come into play: hotels can be slow, vegetarians forgotten.
- Adolescent Manual Disorder: this is the paint-by-numbers, stick to the manual approach. It is the peculiar belief that manuals are like instruction kits that have to be followed logically and rigorously. It means the training is a dreary tramp through a tedious manual that pre and proscribes everything.
- Obsessive Powerpoint Dependency: This is akin to gadget fetish and is the belief that an arty-farty, eye-catching, cartoon-facilitated powerpoint slide show is just the ticket. It is the peculiar belief that passive slide-watching has something to do with education..
- Bipolar Role-Play Exhibitionism: A speciality of ‘am dram’ or television producer types, who encourage reluctant delegates to play outrageous parts while being filmed by a cheap video recorder. Sometimes trainers like to take part, doing the role play themselves.
- Room Lay-Out Fetish: A faddish environmental-determinist notion that the way to place tables and chairs has an important effect on how the course goes. So there is ‘cabaret’ with round tables to encourage interaction and ‘horse –shoe’ for trainer-led discussion.
- Report Back Poster Dependency: The idea that delegates can and should do all the work themselves by sitting around in break-out rooms filling flip-charts with inane drivel which they feed back to the other groups. The idea that a course is only really successful if the whole room’s walls are covered by these amateur posters.
- Psychobabble Test Fixation: This is a cheap time-filler that appeals to the self-absorbed narcissist. Make the delegates do some test, keep them in suspense and feed back the results slowly, with great earnestness and with a ‘pseudo-concerned’, ‘how-fascinating’ air. Lots of daft, time-absorbing exercises can easily be found to accompany the tests.
- Habitual Handout Impulse: This idea is to drip-feed material by a sort of session at a time series of handouts. It creates a rhythm and delegates seem to value it more than getting the whole lot at once. Better still if handouts have to be processed before fitting into a folder.
- Warm up Exercise Mania: This may be a protracted going around the room either disclosing personal trivia or talking up one’s job and company. On the other hand it may involve prep-school social games on the edge of litigation-worthy.
- Adolescent Washup Delirium: This is the final session that may be a massive relief, light-hearted affair mainly dedicated to the trainers trying to increase their evaluation scores