Although I am best known for worker safety (and causing a ruckus in bars with people only I can see), I started my career, and spent the better half of it, developing training. I’ve seen a lot of good training, but mostly I’ve seen a lot of bad training. Here are the things that I see trainers most consistently get wrong.
1. Using PowerPoint as a crutch.
There used to be an old saying in training that a good presenter keeps a spare light bulb in his or her pocket. This was a reference to the days when training was delivered either by a slide carrousel or more likely a transparency projector. Personally, I never followed that advice because A.) the bulbs were, like, $50 bucks each, B.) I didn’t think stuffing a fragile, six-inch glass device in my pants pocket made a lot of sense from a safety perspective, and C.) a good presenter is his or her own best visual aid.
Before PowerPoint creating slides was a real hassle so most good presenters didn’t bother, and surprise! the presentations went just fine. Now however, many presenters use PowerPoint as a crutch to keep focused and on track, and they often end up reading bullets to a room full of people praying to die.
2. Talking when they should be silent.
I talk a lot, probably more than anyone you know, and so I know the temptation to fill a silence. But some people (a lot of people) need quiet time to reflect and process information. Taking the occasional breath will make your training and presentations much more effective.
Related: Why Silence Really Is Golden
3. Telling people to shut up.
I don’t know about you, but I hate being told to shut up. Now, some of you are probably thinking, “Well, I certainly would never tell anyone to shut up,” but there is more than one way to do so. One of the less subtle ways is to start a computer-based conference call by immediately muting the line, “to cut down on background noise.” Another is to ask people to hold their questions to the end -- at which point their biological needs far outweigh any pearls of wisdom you might have for them.
4. Running late.
I seldom give my audience an agenda, I don’t like the Mussolinis of the crowd knowing whether the train is running on time. But there are two things that drive me nuts: If you say we are taking a break at 9:30, then we damned well better take that break, and don’t try to keep me late; I’m already sick of listening to you yammer on. The second is thing is when trainers punish the prompt. I always start on time, even if there is only one person (one other person, I’m not totally insane), because I don’t believe that people who show up on time should have their time wasted, waiting for late comers.
In 30 years of making presentations, I have never once finished late. My thinking is that you have to allow about 15 percent of your time for questions at the end of the presentation. Nobody has ever been disappointed that they got out 15 percent early, but people will beat you to the point where only your dentist will recognize you if you keep them 45 seconds late. Think about that, and carry your dental records with you at all times, just in case.
I don’t care about your kids, your dogs, your spouse, or even trivia about the subject being presented. Give me only the “need to know” and skip the “nice to know" filler crap. If you are extolling the virtues of your products, stick to the things I need to know. Save the story about the cute thing your kid said after soccer practice, for your coworkers. No, strike that, they don’t want to hear it any more than I do; they’re just being polite, while saying a silent prayer that you aren’t going to segue into a sales pitch for overpriced wrapping paper for said kid’s soccer fundraiser.