"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
—George Bernard Shaw
Communicating clearly and effectively can be one of the biggest challenges for trainers. Often, the only difference between a good trainer and an excellent one comes down to whether the information you present is received by learners in the way that you intended.
Here are three tips for closing the communication gap:
1. Enlist an observer
Consider asking a friend or colleague to attend and observe the class. Look for someone who isn’t either an expert in the material or on the training staff of your organization. Also, this person should be someone you trust enough to give you honest and constructive criticism.
A few days before training, set aside time to explain who your learners are and what the objectives of the class are. Then, try to teach enough about the subject matter so that the observer will be coming into the course with the same level of knowledge as the average learner.
Depending on the class size and how well the learners know one another, you can ask your observer to either sit with the class or audit it from the back of the room. If the observer can pretend to be a regular participant, this may give you a deeper insight into what the participants are learning. And let’s face it, learners are more honest about their understanding and impressions with their peers than they are with their trainer.
Then, within a day of the course—or on the same day, if possible—meet with your observer and hear what they’ve learned. You should ask specific questions to test their understanding of the material. Also ask them to be as honest as possible in helping you improve your curriculum, delivery and techniques. Remember, this exercise is about your improvement, not about someone questioning your abilities.
2. Implement pre-tests and post-tests
Learning is a journey. You guide the class to travel with their knowledge and skills from point A to point B. But how can you find the most efficient route if you don’t clearly know their “point A” (that is, their understanding before the class) and their “point B” (that is, their understanding after the class)?
Evaluating knowledge at the beginning and the ending of the class is an effective way of finding out these points. A pre-test can help you refine your approach to the material, while a post-test can reinforce the key information. Sometimes these two tests will share many, if not all, of the same questions. As you develop questions, keep in mind that they won’t be the final version if you give the same training multiple times.
Use the frequency of correct and incorrect answers, as well as learner evaluations, to fine-tune the questions and answers for next time. Also, keep these tests short. The pre-test questions will prepare the participants for what they’ll learn, without making them anxious about what they don’t know. The post-test questions will remind them of the most important information they should have learned.
3. Record yourself
Listening to their recorded voice or seeing themselves on video is difficult for people, because it often clashes with their perceived self-image. But if you can indeed watch and/or listen to yourself, recording can be one of your most powerful tools to refine your training. Video is preferable because you can see and hear your presentation, but the cost of video is a limiting factor. At the minimum, you should invest in a high-quality digital voice recorder (for about $75-$100).
As you review your recording, put yourself in your learners’ shoes as to how they might view the content. Ask yourself these questions: Am I being clear and concise? Am I speaking at an appropriate volume and speed? Am I going on too many tangents? Am I using jargon that the average learner may not understand? Am I belaboring non-critical points?
It’s good to review the recording of each training twice: once a few days after the training, and once the day before your next training. If you teach a day-long class, listening to your eight-hour presentation twice isn’t an effective use of your time, so choose the most critical content and review those sections.