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Communication Skills for Trainers

Trainers need to be good communicators. They are required to explain concepts, draw out existing knowledge, persuade reluctant participants to join in, provide supportive feedback, and so on. Trainers don’t have to be entertainers, but they do need to sincere and assertive.
When you talk to a group of learners, you find you’re a little like someone on a first date; everything’s turned up a bit; you speak more clearly; you look a little fresher; your eyes open a bit wider and you smile a little more than normal. Even if you feel nervous, your learners are unlikely to notice. Nonetheless, it can sometimes be a little daunting talking to a group. But if you have a well-designed session with plenty of learning activities, the whole process becomes smoother because there aren’t long periods with learners just staring at you, and you are effectively facilitating a series of learning experiences. A good start is to give the overall learning outcome for the session using everyday language.
“Good morning all, thanks for coming. We’re going to go through this morning, just making sure that you are all comfortable and confident with dealing with a cardiac arrest within the department. The objective from my perspective is that you will know what you are doing here in practice in a safe environment. So when things happen in real life it will be far less stressful and difficult for you to deal with. Okay?” Then everyone knows from the start what they’re going to be doing. When you’re introducing a learning activity, do it in such a way that it’s clear it’s for everyone to join in, and not voluntary.
For example, in a study session about assertive techniques, don’t ask, ‘Would you like to have a go at this?’ Instead, say confidently, “OK, what we’re going to do now is practise this technique in pairs”. Then everyone knows that’s what happens next in the session. “Now, I am going to be reading out some statements, and you need to decide which role goes to that statement. You may at some point have more than one role, so it doesn’t matter. You just need to run to one of them. Okay? And you get a point for each correct answer”. Coming across as approachable and helpful is an essential part of being a trainer.
But it is important to be able to get everyone to join in with activities, and sometimes this requires some gentle persuasion on your part.

Trainers need to be good communicators. They are required to explain concepts, draw out existing knowledge, persuade reluctant participants to join in, provide supportive feedback, and so on. Trainers don’t have to be entertainers, but they do need to sincere and assertive.

A Trainer is a Colleague and a Leader

In a lesson, a trainer speaks differently from the way they would in everyday conversation. For the duration of the training, they are both a colleague and a leader. When a trainer reaches the point in a lesson where a group activity takes place, they explain what is going to happen next. Trainers don’t ask learners whether they would ‘like’ to participate in the activity, they’re not offering coffee at a dinner party! It will have been planned specifically to achieve the outcome, so they explain what is going to happen next.

Text 'Not this' above image of Trainer asking, 'Would you like to have a go?'

As long as the session or day was introduced fully, the learners will be anticipating eh activity. If you already know someone in the group, they will often be the first one to move.

Text 'Instead this' above image of trainer saying, 'What we're going to do now is...'

Sometimes there is a hesitation of a few seconds while participants digest what has been asked. If the delay is any longer, consider nominating someone to start the activity.

Communication Skills for Trainers


Humour provides a welcome element of light relief, but it’s not guaranteed to work. A humorous story that makes one group laugh out loud may barely raise a smile on the next course. For this reason, trainers don’t often tell jokes which contain a punchline, if no-one laughs it can be a little embarrassing.

If a trainer wants to add humour to a lesson, they will usually tell an anecdote instead of a joke. An anecdote is a short, amusing story about a real incident or person. In training, these are valuable because they convey a message which is strengthened by humour. Because the primary function is the message, if no-one laughs, the story still has a value.

Avoid ‘written’ language in visual aids where possible

If you wish to use text on screen, or you write out notes of what you intend to say, try to use spoken language. ‘Written’ language tends to be more formal and can sound unnatural.

For example, we are happy reading a sentence like this from a book:

That the human brain has different forms of memory is not widely understood
Whereas in speech we prefer:
Not many people realise we have different types of memory

If you want to show slides which contain text, don’t start by typing in PowerPoint or Keynote. Say it out loud first. When it sounds right to you, then type the words onto a slide.

Praise and thanks

In conversation with a friend over coffee, we wouldn’t normally thank them for asking a question or praise them for a suggestion. In a training situation the dynamics are different. For some people, offering a suggestion or answering a question in front of a whole group requires a degree of effort. Considerate trainers recognise this by thanking people for their contributions.

Thanking people in an ordinary conversation might be perceived as patronising, but in a large group it makes participants feel valued. Inevitably, some contributions may not be what you hope for. For example, they might represent a viewpoint which counters the one you are trying to share. It is at moments like these that a trainer needs to ‘think on their feet’. Although it can be overused, the response, ‘That’s interesting’ provides a recognition without having to agree or disagree.

Believe in your subject and the lesson

If a trainer is uncomfortable with any aspect of course design or content, it is likely to be apparent to the learners. For this reason, it is always best to adjust teaching materials to suit your own approach.

Talking point

  • Have you ever experienced a group member who did not want to join in with activities? What happened?
  • What are your experiences of praise and thanks given during training (either as a trainee or a trainer)? What was their impact?
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