'Train The Trainer'—A Planner Essential?

Meeting planners who organize training meetings often have a dilemma: They’re great at arranging for ideal venues, learning environments and presentation materials, and for such support ingredients as tasty food and beverage and comfy lodging; but at the same time, their hands often are tied, frustratingly, when it comes to managing the content providers and trainers.

The culprit is often themselves. Planners don’t always bother to understand what makes for educational excellence or to make sure it takes place for their companies or clients.

This is where taking Train The Trainer workshops can be of enormous help to planners, say several training experts.

“It can involve learning how to manage the performance of instructors, from determining how much prep time is required for a given course, to monitoring performances and providing opportunities for the trainers to grow and develop,” said Denis Gratton, director of product development with Langevin Training.

Langevin, based in Ottawa, Ontario, with offices throughout the United States and Canada, educates administrators, including meeting planners, on how to better manage the training-meeting process, in addition to offering courses to trainers themselves, to help them get better at what they do.

Train The Trainer sessions are offered by various companies -- a Google search turns up dozens of firms that offer such workshops. The workshops are considered so essential that some certification programs -- such as, for example, the new Insurance Training Professional (ITP) designation, offered through the Society of Insurance Trainers and Educators -- require applicants to take them.

But TTT firms also are finding an increasing number of managers, administrators and planners coming in, to learn how to better manage the training meeting process in their companies.

“Planners need to impose an overall strategy on training meetings,” said Michael Nolan, president of Friesen, Kaye and Associates, training and performance-improvement specialists also based in Ottawa, with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto.

“Often, content providers in companies are not good trainers,” he said. “The planner who’s taken a Train The Trainer program can make sure the instruction is not just a data dump. There are opportunities for the planner to be a coach here.

“But in addition, for the planner to determine return on investment, he must see if learning took place and was transferred back to the job in the form of results. He must go through the ground rules with the facilitator on the purpose of the meeting, and how to gain feedback and consensus from the attendees. All of this, and more, can be learned in Train The Trainer workshops aimed at trainer managers.”

Not everyone is convinced that taking a Train The Trainer workshop is time well-spent for meeting planners.

“It would be better to identify appropriate checklists about what is expected from the training meeting,” said Roger Addison, senior director, performance improvement, in the Sausalito, Calif., office of the International Society for Performance Improvement. “Often, we find in organizations that those expectations are not made clear.”

Also often unclear is what is expected of trainers, however, and that can be where meeting professionals come in.

Train The Trainer workshops deal traditionally in presentation skills, practical exercises and gaining attendee feedback. But, as Nolan notes, many facilitators -- in particular in-house content experts -- fall woefully short in the last two areas. They merely come equipped with dozens of PowerPoint slides, focusing on presentation alone, and must be prepped by somebody.

“There is a brewing trend that all learning is strategic; no one can afford training for training’s sake,” said Bruce Jones, programming director for the Disney Institute, the learning arm for outside companies at the World Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.

“If meeting professionals are to live their vision, and be more strategically aligned within their organizations, they have to know strategic outcomes and how learning contributes to that. Ideally, they’ll align themselves with an experience that doesn’t just support PowerPoint, but enhances it and takes it to the next level.”

An obvious question remains: Would trainers be resistant to what could be perceived as meeting-planner interference?

Perhaps not if they can better realize corporate goals. But ultimately, it might not matter whose feathers are ruffled.

“If as a meeting planner my performance review is based on how successful the meetings are, then I’m sorry, I can’t just not manage my trainers and content providers,” said Nolan.

“Whether I’m a C-level executive or an administrative assistant, I should take pride, responsibility and authority in saying, ‘Here are the expectations of how training meetings should be done in our company.’ ”