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Article No.: 08-12

Article Title: Choosing a Trainer or Consultant with Emotional Intelligence

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC and  Sheri Caldwell, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC

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The following article is excerpted from our upcoming book, EQ-Squared, which is scheduled for release by Palgrave-MacMillan in Spring 2009.
Rachel was sitting in the front of the training room, which was a spot she typically enjoyed so that she could see and hear everything that was going on.  Today, however, she was fervently wishing that she had sat towards the back so she could work on other things while the trainer droned on, and on, and on.  She resorted to mentally going through her “to do” list and thinking about her vacation coming up in three months.
Has this ever happened to you?  If not, consider yourself fortunate.  This is all too typical in many training rooms every day in organizations across the country.  It does not have to be the norm.
The good news is that there are many trainers available internally and externally from which to select for training efforts.  The bad news is that there are many trainers available internally and externally from which to select!  Since even the most (initially) enthusiastic workshop participant can have her interest squelched by a poor trainer, it makes sense to take some time when you are responsible for selecting trainers to ensure you have the right person for the job.  In this article, we’ll offer some suggestions for finding that right person.
We know you understand the importance of establishing objectives for each training event.  These objectives can then serve as a discussion tool when you are interviewing potential trainers.  We recommend that you require trainers to provide you with a detailed outline of how they would meet these objectives.  The outline should contain timelines for each segment, learning objectives, and notations about participant activities and interaction.  Of course, trainers should ask you questions about workshop participants and their backgrounds in order to prepare their outline.  We’ve included a sample outline at the end of this article.  Once you have trainer outlines, you’re in a position to discuss their approach in more specific terms.
When you’ve narrowed your choice to one or two potential trainers, we suggest you observe them facilitating a presentation similar to the one you’re planning.  We’ve learned that because a person is an on-air radio personality, for example, doesn’t mean he is adept at presenting in front of a live audience.  When observing potential trainers, here are some features we look for in particular:

  1. How does the trainer respond to participant questions?  Does she listen attentively and then answer each question thoroughly?  Does she acknowledge not knowing an answer and make a commitment to follow up with the participant?
  2. Does the trainer identify the workshop or presentation objectives?  How close does the trainer come to meeting the outlined objectives?
  3. Does the trainer move around and interact with workshop participants rather than stand behind a table or podium?
  4. How well does the trainer respond to obvious shifts in the group’s attention?  Does he call for a break when the participants are clearly in need of one?  Does he interject meaningful activities at appropriate times to keep the pace moving?
  5. Does the trainer include opportunities for participants to share their opinions and knowledge?
  6. How does the trainer respond to challenging situations such as dominant participants or conflict among group members?
  7. What is the trainer’s personal style?  Is she warm and engaging?  Is she approachable?

We also recommend that you check an external trainer’s references for topics similar to the one for which he or she will be presenting.  A trainer can have subject matter expertise and a great approach for time management and not necessarily be able to present on problem solving.  You don’t want a trainer learning with YOUR group, unless it’s an internal person that you’re grooming for different training topics, and participants understand this in advance.
Once you’ve selected a trainer, we recommend that you require a full set of presentation materials prior to the training event.  We like to have the materials at least two weeks in advance so that any necessary changes can be noted and made before the last minute.  There’s nothing that will kill participants’ energy level faster than for the trainer to demonstrate early on that he is NOT covering the topics “as advertised.” 
Look over the trainer’s presentation approach.  Is the room set-up appropriate for the planned activities, in terms of size and layout?  Do you have, or can you easily obtain, the AV equipment the person needs?  We’ve learned from experience that if the trainer requests a lavaliere microphone, you need to supply one!  He may be able to project to five people in a meeting room just fine; however, projecting to a room of 50 people for three hours is a different story.
Lastly, we encourage you to ask questions about the process the trainer employs to gauge success.  Does she seem interested in long-term results as opposed to simply a “feel good,” first-level evaluation?  Does she have suggestions for measuring the success of the training objectives after three months, six months, and longer?

Case Study

Sally has seldom experienced such frustration.  The in-house training session on managerial decision making ended only 15 minutes ago and already three managers have stopped by her office to complain.
As Training Coordinator for a 5,000-employee company, Sally is responsible for selecting trainers for workshops identified by the company’s executives as important.  Although the trainer she chose for today’s workshop came highly recommended by colleagues in her professional association, the results were a disaster.  Sally didn’t actually observe this person do a presentation.  She conducted a phone interview and was impressed by the trainer’s enthusiasm and nice speaking voice.

The complaints she’s heard so far include:

  • The trainer spent half the training time telling irrelevant “war stories,” even when people were clearly restless and bored.
  • The trainer focused on academic theories, not applications specific to their organization.
  • The trainer had an annoying habit of constantly pacing back and forth.

Sally is frustrated because today’s workshop was the first in a scheduled six-part series of management training seminars.  Although today’s trainer isn’t going to facilitate the other five workshops, the three managers who stopped by dropped out of the series.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is the trainer to blame for the poor results from this training event?  Why or why not?
  2. How could Sally have ensured the workshop would be effective?
  3. What can Sally do to salvage the remainder of the scheduled training?

Author Recommendations

  1. The trainer is partially responsible for the workshop’s lack of success.  She did not assess participants’ needs and interests in advance in order to insert relevant scenarios and examples.  Her insensitivity to peoples’ restlessness and inattention led her to continue a training style that didn’t work.  She evidently hadn’t ever watched a videotape of herself conducting training, or she would’ve observed the habit of excessive pacing. 

    Sally is also partially responsible for the disappointing results.  She relied on a colleague’s recommendation without personally observing the trainer in a similar setting.  She only conducted a phone interview, so she couldn’t assess platform skills or professional appearance.
  2. Sally could have increased the likelihood of success by meeting with the trainer in person and observing her in a similar training situation.  She could have asked about the trainer’s approach towards adult education and experiential learning.  Lastly, Sally could have explained how previous successful trainers used on-point case studies and group activities to capture and maintain peoples’ interest.
  3. Sally cannot ignore the fact that the initial workshop might not have been well received.  She should immediately review all the evaluations to assess whether the expressed complaints were representative of all attendees’ views.  We recommend that she meet with the managers (in person or by conference call) to acknowledge that she did not have first-hand experience with the trainer and to discuss what they need and expect from the five remaining sessions.  Following this discussion, Sally can share objectives with the five remaining trainers and request outlines with a training approach from each.  She, or one of her staff, should also observe trainers in advance to be certain their expertise and EI are at a required level.

           Sample Workshop Outline


                             Educational Effectiveness Workshop

                        Cultural Awareness and Diversity Training


Format:  3.5 Hours


Participants:      Teaching Staff (In Groups of 30 Each)


I.          Introduction and Overview--10 minutes

A.    Objectives

(1)    Understand the connection between learning and culture and learning and socio-economic status

(2)    Develop a framework for improving exam pass rate, including a diagnostic instrument for enrolling students

B.    Agenda and Logistics


II.         Kolb Learning Theory – Diversity of Learning Styles--1 hour

            A.  Four Learning Styles and Impact on Student Behaviors--15 minutes

(1)    Abstract Conceptualizer

(2)    Concrete Experiencer

(3)    Active Experimenter

(4)    Reflective Observer

B.  Application of Learning Styles to Distance Learning--15 minutes

(1)    Experience as a source of learning

(2)    The teacher’s role in shaping learning styles

(3)    Tools and techniques for each style

C.  Discussion of Real-World Issue--30 minutes

(1)    Breakout into small groups for discussion

(2)    Report out for each group


III.       The Culture Connection – Diversity of Learning Styles--1 hour

            A.  Group Activity and Discussion:  My World View--30 minutes

            B.  The Impact of Culture on World View--30 minutes

(1)    Commonalities and similarities across cultures in the U.S. today

(2)    The Black learning experience

(3)    Implications for teachers


10 Minute Break


IV.           Socio-Economic Status – Diversity of Income and

Class Structure--30 minutes

A.    Facilitator-led Discussion:  Key Tenets of Payne’s Book--10 minutes

(1)    Application of tenets to distance learning

(2)    Take-home assignment re individual application

B.  Proposed Diagnostic Instrument:  Student Assessment--20 minutes

  (1)   Introduction to instrument developed by Dr. Gravett 

 (2)     Facilitator-led discussion of application


V.         Bringing It All Together:  Development of Action Plan--30 minutes

A.    Division into Seven Groups

(1)    Supplemental support to students to offset the impact of adverse family dynamics

(2)    Supplemental tutoring methods

(3)    Techniques to obtain appropriate background information on students from Advocates and Enrollment Specialists

(4)    Enhancing academic structure through deadlines for assignments and reporting of milestones

(5)    Social skills training for students

(6)    Tracking, reporting, and celebrating academic accomplishments

(7)    Soliciting local church support


VI.        Summary and Closing--10 minutes

A.    Summary of Key Points

B.    Question and Answer Session

C.    Evaluation


If you have any questions or need more information about this article, please complete our Contact Form, or contact Dr. Gravett by telephone at 513-753-8870.

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