The Trainer’s Paradox

I attended a full-day training session with a number of colleagues awhile ago.

The entire day was meant to be an interactive session – sharing stories, discussing ideas, answer questions on the material – in general more of a collaborative, engagement session vs powerpoint.

In the first half of the session, everyone was offering answers and suggestions to the discussion, but over the course of the day, the questions started to drop off, the hands were no longer going up as fast as they were before, people were being called upon by name instead of offering up their own ideas.

In short – the audience had checked out and was no longer participating.

It was no surprise – from the start of the session, the moderator, although great at asking questions, was not keen on listening to the answers or hearing different viewpoints but instead more intent on getting through the material, based on their own experiences and stories.

The collaborative discussion was there to get the ball rolling, but there was none to be had.

As presenters and trainers, there is a trap that lurks every time we get on stage where we feel we have to portray ourselves as the Master of our Domain, we have all the answers, we are up here presenting to you.

But we don’t.

We have an idea, a focus, a suggestion for how you can approach the problem.  The best presenters, acknowledge what has worked well for them, what hasn’t and modifies their pitch on the fly.  It isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not a feeling that ever goes away.

But the outcome of such an approach, is an engaged audience, from start to finish that leave the session not only feeling as though they learned something, but that they contributed to future sessions in some way, shape or form.

It’s an engagement you can’t buy, but one you can benefit from beyond the initial session.

The Future of Training is Engagement

Think back to the best training session you ever attended.

It could be one you attended, one that was held internally or maybe even one that you gave.

What made it so special, what made it resonate with you and your team that when you left you all felt committed to take action and make something happen.

What was the secret sauce in play?

Now before you book your next training, hold it accountable to that bar, don’t let it waiver, it must hit or leap over that bar that you’ve set.

Because you know you, you know your team and you know what they need to respond to the content laid out in front of them.

Of everything that we do in our career, training should be the exercise that makes us leave feeling pumped and ready to take on the next challenge.  Whether it’s training in JSON or leadership – it should never be dry, never be boring and we the audience should always be – must always be –  engaged.

We have a habit of focusing too much on the content of the training vs the actual engagement level of the training when in fact we all know that it’s the engagement that drives the success of the training 100% of the time.

I have to learn something new… again?

Yeah what a bummer – that whole growth thing has reared it’s ugly head again.

There’s a new project with a new technology that you need to lead that you know zero about.

There’s a new API that might solve the problem you’ve been having over the last year but you’ve never used it.

Someone just did a demo on a new framework that you should be applying to EVERYTHING you do and you have 2 weeks to learn it.

What a bummer that whole changing software industry.

Good thing you are relentless when it comes to learning new technologies, fearless in your approach and throw caution to the wind when it blows up in your face.

Get’r done and embrace the opportunity you have to learn so many new things.

What every Training Session Needs

The goal in training isn’t to solely learn the material – it’s to learn the material, gain knowledge around potential experiences and scenarios and leave the building with your mind running through countless scenarios on how you can apply your newfound knowledge.

I can take an online course for a fraction of the cost of going in person.

I can download the materials or get them from friends.

What experiences do they (the trainer) bring to the material, what examples, scenarios, and problems have them run into that elevate the material?

What is their real-world experience?

How can they help me sift through the clutter and get to the problem and how to resolve it?

If that person isn’t there, then why am I taking your training.

The Unofficial Learning Curve

When learning a new skill you might find the progression goes something like…

Start Me Up

Everything is going well, you are learning something new, you feel great, you’re leaping further than you ever had before, nothing is going to be able to stop you.  There is an added excitement because perhaps you’ve had to purchase some new “things” to get going on it so you feel even more like a pro at what you are doing.

I Got This

You are now gliding through the basic learning paths and tutorials, make hay of anything that comes your way.  Not only are you doing well but people are starting to compliment your work and you are starting to focus on more complicated problems.  “I Got This” is total euphoria, you feel like you are on top of the world because on a scale of 1 to 10 in Roadblocks, you have encountered 0.

Wait What?

The longest period in learning is “Wait What?” – this is period starts on a sharp decline marred by frustration.  All the euphoria that you had from the previous two stages are now a combination of simple things that you think you should be able to do taking an excruciatingly long amount of time or you are trying to avoid them altogether making excuses for why you haven’t done anything.

This stage feels like you are starting to go backwards, you can’t figure out what you want to do or how do it and nothing is coming out right.

Of all the stages, this is the hardest one because it is here that we’ve hit a small plateau of where our natural abilities can take us and now the required extra effort is required to get us to where we want to be, to where we feel we should be by a certain point in arbitrary time and to where we eventually want to go.  The only way to proceed through “Wait What?” is to accept where you are and keep pushing through.  If you keep pushing through you’ll be able to make it to the final stage, but if you can’t, you’ll be stuck in “Wait What?” forever, wondering how you got here, how you are going to get out and why did you ever do this frustrating thing in the first place.


Next is the last stage of learning, but it’s not the end, it’s a bookend because you’re not done, you’re never done – and the real masters know they need to keep learning to keep getting better because there is always something new to learn.  The ones who make it to Next and complete this stage are willing to go back to “Start Me Up” and go through all those feelings again to keep getting better and better.

Again, not official, but a graph describing the process as illustrated below.


Think about something you just spent a lot of time learning, was it similar to this?  Easier?  Longer?