A Consumer’s Guide to Good Training*

by Connirae and Steve Andreas

Seminars and training are a way to gain many skills, abilities, and attitudes well worth learning. Since training is a significant investment of your time and money, it’s important to know how to identify excellent training as soon as possible, and to spot mediocre training in advance. We suggest being an “active consumer,” and investigate seminar possibilities just as you might carefully investigate the purchase of a home or a car. Some “trainings” merely present ideas, rather than actually train you in new skills and abilities. Since most ideas can be presented as well in a book or article, a training of this kind can be a more expensive and time-consuming way to get the same information. Other seminars provide participants with confidence and motivation, but without the behavioral competence to support it. Some seminars are enjoyable, but participants don’t leave the training with new skills they can use. Like a concert or a party, they can be worthwhile experiences, as long as they aren’t confused with training. How can you be sure you get the most for your training dollars? Here are some of the things we check for when we think about attending a particular training. We hope these guidelines are useful in finding the best training for you. A. Before Committing to a Training:1. Sensory-based evidence: Find a way to get a first-hand experience of the training before you commit to spending a lot of money. Rely on your own experience of the training. A live experience, such as a free preview, is best. A videotape is next best. If that’s not available, an audiotape will give you at least an auditory experience of the trainer. If you can’t get any of these, at the very least ask for the names and phone numbers of several people who have completed the training you are considering. If they liked the training, ask “What specifically did you like?” and “What specifically can you do now as a result of the training that you couldn’t do before?” Some trainers act like an expert or make you feel good in the seminar, but do not teach you skills or abilities that you can apply immediately and automatically in your life. 2. Trainers: When you consider a program, check, who the trainers are, and for how many days. Some trainings are advertised without any names, or with the name of a well-known trainer. It may turn out that the “big name” will only teach a small portion of the training, and less-skilled trainers or apprentices will teach the rest. 3. Recommendations: Trust your own impressions of a trainer first, and recommendations from people you know who have experience with the trainer next. Be cautious about brochure quotes, even from famous people. Some sponsors and trainers make up quotes from other people and/or use quotes without permission or quotes that are outdated. Occasionally “big names” give endorsements based on a monetary relationship, rather than on the trainer’s skill. 4. Degrees and Certificates: Trust your own experience of the trainer over a certificate or degree. The meaning of a certification or degree varies as widely as the grantor. A degree may be a good measure of academic record (the ability to take tests and do homework), but usually has little to do with training ability.

B. What to check for when you’re in a training: We’ve emphasized the importance of getting an experience of the trainer. When you attend a free preview or short seminar, how can you determine whether this seminar trainer is delivering maximum value for you?

5. Demonstrations versus Information: Do you get live demonstrations of the methods being taught, or do you only get a long string of words, a “core-dump” of information that would be much cheaper to read in a book? Research repeatedly demonstrates that over 80% of the impact of communication is nonverbal. This means you’ll get a much more complete understanding of any method if you observe a demonstration than if the trainer only tells you what to do. We once went to an expensive training taught by a well-known author who essentially read his book aloud to the audience (for a fee of $6,000 per day!). There are many ways in which the trainer can demonstrate methods to you. The trainer can ask for a volunteer from the audience with whom to demonstrate or role-play. The trainer can bring in a “naive client” or can invite the entire group to participate in an experiential process that provides a demonstration of what she is teaching.

6. Exercises: After demonstrating, does the trainer provide ways for you to make the new skills a part of your behavior? It’s usually easiest to learn skills when the trainer sets up a series of carefully-designed supervised exercises or tasks that allow you to practice new skills in a comfortable and safe manner. A good training begins by training you in smaller component skills, and then assists you in easily putting these skills together to work for maximum impact in a real context. Understanding alone won’t get you results in your life. You should leave a good seminar able to do more than when you walked in.

7. Evidence: After attending the seminar and learning new communication (or other) skills, do you know what specific evidence you can use to verify whether what you have learned is working? Is it getting you better results than you would have gotten anyway? In a good training, you’ll know what kind of evidence to check for. Make sure you experience the kinds of results you want. Some trainers are flashy and charismatic, but don’t train you in a way that gives you results.

8. Nonverbal presuppositions: What beliefs or attitudes are presupposed in the trainer’s nonverbal behavior; and are they the ones you want? Does the trainer talk about the importance of flexibility, but respond rigidly? Does he communicate that he wants you to learn, or that he just wants to razzle-dazzle you? Does the trainer treat you as a peer who can learn the same skills the trainer has, or does the trainer act like a superior “guru” whom you can admire but can’t hope to emulate? A good trainer will presuppose that anyone can learn–it’s a matter of finding a way for each person to learn most easily.

9. Questions: A good trainer will welcome questions, and will respond to questions and challenges by demonstrating a greater depth of understanding of the material. Does the trainer respond respectfully, or nonverbally discourage or eliminate questions, provide weak answers or a “smokescreen,” or promise to “get to it later” and then fail to do so?

10. Response to nonverbal cues: Since nonverbal communication is so important, a good trainer will notice nonverbal cues from the audience or the demonstration subject, and vary her behavior accordingly. Does the trainer notice what this group needs, and vary the training plan in response? Is he aware when the audience is getting restless and needs a break?

11. Self-accolades: Does the trainer spend lots of time (which you are paying for) telling you about the miraculous things he has done? When a trainer is effective, he doesn’t need to tell you how wonderful he is, he can demonstrate it. If he gives you examples of his previous successes, does he tell you how he got the results, so that you can learn to get the same results, or does he just say, “I achieved X, Y and Z” in order to impress you?

12. Quality Control: Does the trainer provide ways to verify that participants are actually learning the skills he is teaching? Capable assistants, closely-supervised exercises, and individual task assignments can all serve this function.

13. Promises: A good trainer will follow through on what he promises to deliver.

14. Excuses: Since every training can be improved, a good trainer can easily admit a mistake, and will welcome suggestions to improve the training. Does the trainer try to cover up his lack of ability or a poorly-organized training, or does he blame participants when things don’t go well?

15. Humor: The best single aid to learning is humor–the kind that is infectious, laughing with others, or at the human condition, but not at anyone’s expense. If you find a trainer who has this, along with the other qualities we’ve listed, you’ve found someone you’re likely to be pleased with.

You may have additional criteria for trainings that meet your professional needs and personal desires. With so much to be gained from a good training or seminar, we think you’ll find it worthwhile to sift carefully through the available trainers to find the ones who provide what you need and want. You can learn skills that help you to be more successful in your professional life; you can also learn how to get more of what you want in your personal relationships while making those around you happy. By attending high quality trainings, you can also expose yourself to wonderful models, an important next step to getting where you want to go in your life.