3 Trainer Tips When You Don’t Know What Your Class Thinks

by Helen Whelan

I just took a course over the weekend to learn how to code.  I’m not a Geek by any stretch but I’ve worked with some great programmers and I admire their creativity.  I’ve dabble with coding myself (elementary html and CSS) but I wanted to see if I had the aptitude and would want to delve deeper.  At the least, I figured I’d come out the other end better able to communicate or empathize with developers who are faced with the task of executing on, sometimes, unrealistic requests.

training skills

Plus, I’m at the stage of my career where I’ve done a lot of different things in media.  TV reporter, bureau chief, launching a TV network, launching and running two startups. I thought, why not?  What can learning something new hurt? And, it never hurts to grow more dendrites!


I did not plan on writing about this but during the class I saw several training mishaps that you may have experienced or, at best, would like to avoid. So, here’s a student’s perspective while providing some trainer tips. I hope this helps you with your next training.

The SetUp:

There’s about 30 people in the class. Each of us is seated in front of a huge monitor. (Unfortunately, I had made the wrong decision to bring an old netbook because I didn’t want to risk taking my brand new laptop.)

We’re told to login and I immediately start to have problems with my old computer. Now, I’m freaking because I’m going to be behind the other students who are already starting to practice coding.  I ask for help and the trainer shouts that I’ve messed up my login. Not only was this embarrassing, but it immediately put me off my game.

Trainer Tip #1:  You may be totally right. But, take the few seconds to walk over to a student and quietly explain the situation.  Humiliating him/her does no one any good. Plus, what’s the point? You look like an insensitive bully.

Once I got my login,  I was grasping the concepts and getting to immediately practice what I learned by creating my own code. It felt great.  My confidence was growing.

Then, the dreaded EGO happened. Our “Eyes Glazed Over” as the instructor explained a complex concept that he clearly loved but no one understood. When he asked the class, “Why aren’t you asking any questions?”, there was dead silence. Instead of probing what we didn’t understand, his ego took over and he continued with his lesson delving further into concepts we didn’t understand.

Trainer Tip #2: Listen and gauge your audience. If they look like a bunch of deer in the headlights, it’s time to slow down and focus on that particular concept. If they are not asking questions, they may be intimidated.  A more skilled trainer would know this and s/he would ask questions to find what’s not understood.

Think about the end results of the training. Is it more important to have finished a training or do you want the participants to have learned a concept?

Now, it was time to self-test and code based on this more complicated lecture.  Nothing worked. We were very frustrated and believed we just didn’t “get it.”  Then, we found out why.  We didn’t have all the information we needed. When the trainer started to lecture again, he just added the right code so that the formulas worked.

Trainer Tip #3: For heaven’s sake, admit a mistake.  Apologize. Your students are frustrated. They’re questioning their skills.  The least you can do is let them know it’s not their inadequacy. You want to build confidence. Right?

You may need to give them a chance to win. Maybe, it’s another practice session or, maybe you just back up and make sure they understand the concepts.  Ask them questions to see if they get it.

Finally, less is often much more. This trainer was working full peddle to the metal. He wanted to provide as much content as possible.  That left the students with the choice of information overload (a massive headache in my case) and struggling through for the rest of the day, or, in my case, quietly slipping out the back door.

P.S. I still am intrigued by coding and am exploring other training venues.

Helen Whelan is the founder of Success Television, a leadership development media company. She is a passionate advocate of using media to empower people in their journey of personal and professional growth . You can follow her on Twitter @SuccessTV.

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