5 Guidelines for the MasterTrainer


The greatest gift of being a workshop leader is the constant learning journey we share with our participants, crossing thresholds of boundaries, titles and nationalities. As a profession it’s something most of us learn by doing while watching other trainers, often in the form of ‘do what I say, not what I do’.

I dare say, many trainers are good, a few are great. The distinction can be drawn between those who deliver a skill set and those who are modeling the skill set he/she is training, by weaving it into the methodology, turning it into ‘do what I say and more than anything – do what I do’.

Sometimes we have a group of trainers leading teambuilding with obvious chasms among themselves or trainers presenting time management tools while going overtime… It is easy to hide inside the content we are bringing, forgetting that this is real, not theories and subject matter to be poured into passive receivers. The participants are adult learners and to make it engaging we need to walk the talk. Not a single session is another alike and one exercise has endless ways of unfolding. When facilitated well, a session is embodied change in the room.

A useful approach is to look at the layout of the session from the participant’s perspective – how would it be for you to be on the receiving side, how would you like to participate in your own workshop? We cannot ask our participants to take risks while staying safely in the known. We can only invite the participants by going there ourselves first, we need to challenge ourselves as well as them to stay in learning mode.

Looking back at my own learning journey through 18 years as a workshop leader, here are some guidelines that help me stay sharp:

  1. The trainer is there to serve – As a trainer, it’s easy to fall for the temptation of using the situation to show off and boost our ego. In many ways it is understandable. The role we are given grants us a unique opportunity to shine, we are the center of attention, or at least, so it seems. The truth of the situation is quite the opposite though. The greatest trainers are the ones who are humble, who listen more than they talk. The ones who are there for the participants – not for themselves.
  1. Dancing with the agenda – The younger we are as trainers, the more wedded we are to get through our agendas, yes, we even think that this is the measure of success. And then, the more experience we gather, the more flexible we become, as we learn that being present in the moment, being able to dive into the needs of the participants and do whatever is called for here and now, is the real art of any session. Eventually, these are the sessions everyone will remember – when done well!
  1. Audience Awareness – As trainers we are sometimes given tasks that lack relevancy for the participants. And the hardcore truth is, no matter how unrelated the topic might be, your job is to anchor the content in the needs of the participants. It can be tricky, as it takes an extra effort to create the trust where real examples can be shared. It’s always more effective to let go of hypothetical cases and use the ones that are in the room. To get there we need to prepare by learning as much as we can about our participants. Who are they, where are they coming from, what do they value and what do they fear? This and not the content is the core of your session.
  1. Daring the silence – You can recognize a juicy workshop session by the sensation that nobody knows exactly what will happen next, it’s a risky business. Even with a planned agenda that has been shared, if the methodology is truly inclusive, we are working with the unknown. If we want to stretch comfort zones, we need to be able to sit with awkwardness, tears and feelings. Trust the silence for a few more moments than what is comfortable… and the reward will be palpable for everyone in the room.
  1. Naming the elephant in the room – What if you are doing your best and it just doesn’t fly? If so, stop whatever instruction you’re trying to get through and simply ask the group: What is going on, why is this not engaging for you? It’s a little scary, you need to be ready to take it in and adjust accordingly and on the spot. If you dare ask, you might even find out that the problem at hand consists of external factors, having nothing to do with your content, method or approach. Naming the elephant in the room is an effective tool that prevents fear from being in the driving seat throughout your sessions. It is your safety net as you launch yourself into the unknown.

Having a group gathered in a room for mutual learning is one of the most powerful opportunities we can have in our hands. Regardless of circumstance, the participants arrive with their intentional attention and a desire to be moved, a hope for something real to take place. The result can be measured by the look in their eyes, if they are shining, you did your job. At the end of an effective workshop, the sensation of shared aliveness can almost be cut into slices in the air. New skill sets are applied and insights shared, making way for deepened efficiency and collaboration. And nothing will be the same, because together we have shared a journey.

This is the trademark of the MasterTrainer – expanding what is possible.


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