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Is it really a train the “trainer” session? Or is it a train the “SME” session?

Just getting in front of a room and sharing slides doesn't make you a trainer. How you present your information matters more than your title, experience or credentials.


Last week I was talking with a colleague who made a distinction between what she perceives her team as doing compared to what some other teams do. She said: “We really view our team as educators, while there are other teams that get out into the field and don’t even care about who the audience is, they simply have a slide deck and they’re going to walk the audience through the slide deck. We call them presenters, as opposed to educators.”

I normally don’t get too caught up in language and vocabulary and semantics, but this was an important point. Perhaps more importantly, this was coming from an operational manager, not someone in the L&D department. This wasn’t just “inside baseball” talk among training geeks.

I’m working with this particular manager’s team in the next few weeks on presentation skills. Though everyone on her team is an experienced presenter, I still plan to bring them back to the basics.

I used to consider Malcolm Knowles’ classic The Adult Learner as the place to begin. As I’ve reflected on it over the past few years I’ve come to the conclusion that even though Malcolm Knowles is the father of adult education, his groundbreaking book is awfully academic and doesn’t quite break down the basics in an easily digestible way.

My go-to resource during any train the trainer or presentation skills training is Jane Vella’s Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach. Throughout this book she describes 12 principles of dialogue education that are easy to digest and, as Ms. Vella writes in her book, these are principles that transcend education levels, cultures and professional (or not-so-professional) settings. Her 12 principles are written below, but not every one of these is self-explanatory. Some of these words and phrases don’t mean what you think they mean. If you’d like a more complete description, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book (and after you read through it, I highly recommend incorporating these principles into your own train the trainer and presentation skills workshops).

  1. Needs Assessment
  2. Safety
  3. Sound Relationships
  4. Sequence and Reinforcement
  5. Praxis
  6. Respect
  7. Ideas, Feelings and Actions
  8. Immediacy
  9. Clear Roles
  10. Teamwork
  11. Engagement of the Learners
  12. Accountability

If you’re designing a train the trainer workshop focused on helping SMEs or others pick up a training program you have created in order to help them facilitate workshops, it’s essential that the SMEs understand basic strategies of engagement. I’ve found no better way to introduce any audience to engagement strategies than through exploring these basic principles and discussing them.

Only after we’ve explored these principles will I allow SMEs to open up a training program that’s been designed for them. The first time they open the training program I ask them to skim through it and try to identify where these principles are integrated into the curriculum.

At the end of the day, anyone can get in front of a room and be a presenter – sharing slides, maybe even telling stories about the content at hand. It takes a committed, bought-in SME who truly cares for his learners to transform himself from a presenter into an educator, capable of engaging his audience with a focus on improved performance and sustainable change. Jane Vella’s 12 principles of dialogue education are powerful tools that can equip such an SME to be successful.

How about you? What strategies and principles have you found to be essential in transforming an SME from a presenter into an educator?


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