Recently, I was having a conversation with my massage therapist about what I do for a living. She mentioned that she thought we had some skills in common that were important to being successful in both of our jobs. We agreed that there was one that was absolutely vital to both of us, the ability to read people. In her job, she has to pay careful attention to how people respond when she is doing her job. Their body language tells her a lot about whether she is using too much pressure, or touching somewhere they aren’t comfortable being touched, (Some people really don’t like having their face touched for example), whether they are cold, too warm, etc.
Obviously, I don’t do a lot of touching when I’m teaching a training class, but I do spend quite a bit of time looking around the room and trying to read people’s body language. Do they look bored, confused, angry, frustrated, etc? Does someone look like they are ready for a break? Do I maybe need to go over that topic again, because there isn’t a look of really understanding something? As much as I would like to think that we are all professional, and if someone had a question, they would ask it, I know in the real world that there are lots of reasons why someone wouldn’t ask a question. When you’re in a room full of your peers and coworkers, there are all sorts of personal and political dynamics that I have no idea about. I’m not going to come in from the outside and understand the dynamics, but I should absolutely be paying very close attention to the facial and body language I’m seeing. That can tell me whether people are understanding what I’m teaching, whether I need to slow down, speed up, take a break and go over to one individual and offer to explain it to them one on one, etc.
Now, I’m not saying it’s the most important skill to have as a trainer. You certainly need to know your subject, put together good material, and be able to deliver it. Those are essential skills that you can’t be a good trainer without. But, the ability to read people, and adjust to what you are seeing in front of you, can take a decent training experience into a great training experience when it’s done correctly.
And don’t we all want to be remembered as great trainers?