Overcoming nerves and becoming a great trainer!

Posted in : HR Updates on 17 April 2018
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

Fear of public speaking is a common phobia. Whether we have to present to a large group of strangers or a small group of learners, it is not uncommon to have a feeling of dread leading up to these events. But what can we do to develop our confidence and ensure success?

In order to provide some guidance around this topic, I am going to focus specifically on presenting during learning events by examining the design and delivery of training. Assuming that a learning needs analysis has been thoroughly conducted, it is essential that we now spend time designing the learning event as this preparation will be the vital ingredient for the delivery stage.

The best approach is to try to make the learning event fun and interactive. The worst approach is to stand and talk at people using copious amounts of crowded PowerPoint slides, with no variety or opportunity for discussion. Games, including children’s games like ‘Last Man Standing’ are a very effective way to help people learn as they are enjoyable and ensure learners have to think for themselves. Analogies told through parables, fables and anecdotes are another powerful means of delivering messages linked to the learning activity.

What, Why and How People Learn

It is useful to take a step back before we begin to design the training activity and start to think about what, why and how people learn. In terms of what people learn, when we train we are aiming to develop one or all of the following – knowledge, skills and attitude. It is important to understand people’s motivation (or lack of) for learning if we want to influence their attitude. When people have a genuine interest in a subject they will naturally pay attention. But this is not always the case so it is important to explain to people why the training is important, the reasons for it and how it fits into the overall operation of the team / organisation. The second and third reasons why people learn are down to reward i.e. what they’ll get out of it; and fear i.e. what pain they’ll experience if they don’t. It can therefore be useful at the start of a learning intervention to establish the benefits of the activity where you think the learner is reluctant.

Next we should be aware of how people learn. According to studies, training only impacts 10% of our learning while 20% is down to effective coaching and mentioning with 70% of learning happening on the job. However, many bad habits can be adopted this way so this is where effective coaching and training is crucial. It is also useful for the trainer to be aware of the level of conscious competence so that they can tailor their approach according to learner requirements. Conscious competence explores the stages that learners move through when learning a new skill starting from unconscious incompetence where there is no awareness of lack of knowledge, right through to unconscious competence where the learner isn’t even aware that they have a skill as it just comes naturally to them.

While it is important to be aware of learning styles such as those designed by Kolbs or Honey and Mumford, it is equally important to appreciate that no one person learns in the same way, all of the time. So as a trainer we should be aware that styles change at different times and in different circumstances. That said, a trainer should try to cater for all learning preferences whether it’s visual (such as watching demonstrations); auditory (through verbal instructions) or kinaesthetic (being involved and active). Equally it is useful to be aware of personality types so that we can adapt to maintain a good rapport with the learners. These can range from the quiet, unassertive team player to the chatty socialiser and the self-opinionated general to the formal, unfriendly detective. Again no one person is a particular personality type all of the time but having an awareness of how to respond to certain traits during a learning intervention will improve relationships and increase the effectiveness of the training.

Training Styles

Indeed our own trainer styles is something that we should appreciate will impact on learning. There are four broad categories that we fall into as trainers. The listener prefers learners to be self-directed whereas the director controls participation. The interpreter focuses mainly on theory and case studies whereas the coach wants learners to be self-checking preferring active participation. The most effective trainer style is the coach which uses a blend of the other three categories. It is facilitative and interactive and encourages the learners to think for themselves.

As referenced previously, game-related learning is a powerful tool to enhance learning. Gamification is one of the biggest areas of development within the L&D field and is highly engaging. It can either involve simple class-room based games or higher level software-based activities.

Designing the Learning Activity

Now that we are aware of the factors that influence learning both in terms of the learner and our impact as a facilitator, we can begin to design the learning activity. Methods of training delivery should ideally be varied so that they will tap into as many learning styles as possible. This may include group discussions, games, exercises, role-plays, videos and presentations. As concentration levels inevitably dip during training it is necessary to plan contents around these lulls and allow for adequate rest breaks. Equally, the training should be interesting. Reading from a manual or PowerPoint slides will only ensure that learners switch off. Slides should serve little more than a visual reminder of what is being covered rather than a crutch for the insecure facilitator. Equally the structure of the training activity should play a key part in the design stage. After the welcome and introduction the main topic should be explored in detail in an engaging manner and then wrapped up at the end by summarising and validating the learning points. It is also important to establish and outline the aims, objectives and learning outcomes at the start of the session. We should also remember the need to establish interest and outline the ‘why’ at the start of the learning activity.

Delivering the Event

Now let’s get on to the delivery of the event. If we’ve done our preparation then this should significantly help with our ‘stage-fright’ however there are other things we can do to help ourselves overcome our nerves. Being passionate and having belief will ensure we speak with enthusiasm and conviction. It is best when we can draw on our own experiences but be careful to do any necessary research in advance. Also, be genuine. Avoid reading from slides but share topics with the group and open them up for discussion. It is also helpful to think about the physical changes in our body when we are nervous. Usually our heart rate quickens, our hands become sweaty and perhaps our legs begin to shake. Take a moment to control your breathing by breathing slowly and even try pushing your toes into the floor to release the nervous energy from shaky legs. Think about the reasons why you do your job and your motivating factor. Think about what you get from being the person at the front of the room facilitating. Also think about why you enjoy your job and focus on these positives.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques such as anchoring and mental rehearsal are very useful for conditioning the experiences that we have. Anchoring allows certain stateful emotions to be called upon when needed by thinking back to a positive experience in the past. Mental rehearsal is a way of visualising the way that you want a situation to be. Both techniques require practice and ongoing conditioning but are great for overcoming nerves. Finally, no matter how much effort you put in there may be people who are not engaged for reasons beyond our control. It’s important to appreciate that sometimes this happens and not to take it personally. There may even be challenging participants that we need to deal with but often when we speak to them in advance of the training to understand their concerns this can help pre-empt any issues that may arise during the session. Likewise, asking for their help in the delivery of the intervention in terms of their knowledge and experience can go a long way. Pre-learning questionnaires can be useful here in terms of identifying and addressing issues in advance of training.

The Learning Environment

Finally in terms of delivery we should also be aware of the environment that the learning takes place and ensure that we take account of factors such as temperature, reasonable adjustments, distractions and seating. We should also have the ability to connect with our audience by paying attention to our body language, tone and words. Our non-verbal communication is significantly more important than what we say. Another useful NLP technique is that of matching, pacing and leading. Here we ‘match’ through body language, tone and respectful, non-patronising language to gain rapport. We can ‘pace’ with our audience through communicating with empathy and then ‘lead’ them in the direction we want them to go in through a clear, inspiring message. How we listen and how we question are also paramount to the success of the session. We should be actively listening, paraphrasing and repeating key points back to demonstrate that we are genuinely interested. In the same manner, questioning can be used to garner more information and also show that we are paying attention. The role of the coach, the most important trainer style, is to draw the solution out of the learner. It is also useful to ask a range of different question types such as open, closed, leading or probing when the time is right.


While this article has covered a lot more than overcoming our fear of presenting / public speaking, the main message is that with proper preparation and awareness of ourselves and our audience we can create an environment which is fun, engaging and interactive. With practice and conditioning, the use of NLP can be a powerful tool in helping us recall positive experiences and dispel any negative self-limiting beliefs that we once held. Remember if we adopt the style of coach, particularly in a learning intervention, we are facilitating the learners to think for themselves allowing people to be at the heart of the learning process. A handy tip when we might not always know the answer to all the questions!

This article is correct at 17/04/2018

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Olga Pollock
firmus energy

The main content of this article was provided by Olga Pollock. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)79 7389 3448 or email oppollock@firmusenergy.co.uk

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