Being a training professional can be a bit like running a weedeater some days. Teaching the same subjects on the the same schedule; with your training counterparts predicting exactly what you’re going to say and which analogy you’ll use for a specific audience. Even for those working on instructional design, the job can seem repetitive and monotonous at times. The problem is that as performance or enthusiasm dip, those changes can be easily translated to the students.
An veteran trainer once used the following short test to show people how easy it is to fall into a mental “rut”:
What do you call a funny story?
— A joke.
What do you call the framework an ox uses to pull a plow?
— A yoke.
What do you call the white of an egg?
— A yolk…. Oh, wait… No…
Falling into a training “rut” happens to trainers more frequently than they are willing to admit. The good news is that with a little effort, keeping your passion for training alive and kicking is easy. Here are five tips to help keep your training spark alive.
Take a Totally Irrelevant Class
Taking a totally irrelevant class is perhaps the easiest way to recharge your batteries. Go outside your training organization and find something of interest but generally unrelated to your professional work. A local community college is a great place to start, but so are your local parks and recreation departments and community centers. You’ll be surprised how much fun it can be to NOT be the person in front of the class. If you work primarily in an office setting, consider taking a class that involves hands-on learning.
Teach Something Outside Your Comfort Zone
Training professionals often get very good at teaching a few subjects very well; so well, over time they may find that’s ALL they are being asked to teach. Take the case of the First Aid & CPR Instructor for a large organization. Two to three times a week, teaching a class of eight or nine people, even the best instructor would be challenged to keep up the enthusiasm over months. To re-energize, the instructor picks one topic a month and substitutes for another trainer within the organization. Having to prepare for a different topic and audience breaks up the daily grind.
If you’re primarily an administrator or manager within the training organization, be sure you still go out and teach occasionally.
Shadow a Job, Department or Site
Sometimes it helps to get out of the “training” role and focus on the daily business activity of the organization. Training centers can sometimes become like silos, insulated from the primary business activity. If you’re in manufacturing or sales – go out on the floor. Take the time to visit a department and see what’s actually happening in the workplace. How is training being applied in the work area? What’s the culture of the department or site?
Take the time to build relationships and understand what’s going on. The majority or people you encounter will be students passing through the training department at some point.
Turn off the Technology
When was the last time you taught a class without a computer and LCD projector? Without checking your mobile phone or e-mail during those ten-minute breaks between topic areas? Don’t be afraid to turn off the technology and actually teach a class “the old-fashioned way” occasionally. Before there was video, instructors actually demonstrated skills to a class. There were training aids to pass around and take apart. Take the time to come up with ways of presenting a class that doesn’t depend on technology.
Getting rid of the technology can help you focus more on the information and the audience. In many classrooms, the first person to pull out a mobile device is the instructor. Once an instructor starts texting during a video clip, you can bet that a large number of students are going to do the same. Forcing yourself to “cut the power cords” can energize the creative spark.
Take Care of Yourself
Finally, be sure to keep your work and personal lives separate but in balance. Because training organizations are, pardon the stereotype, understaffed and underfunded, training professionals often work long hours just to ensure all the work gets done. There will always be some weeks that truly do require 60+ hours, but those should be the exception. Spend time with family and friends away from the workplace. Don’t be afraid to leave home without your mobile phone or go a day without e-mail; it’s even okay to tell others in your department you’ll be out of touch on your days off. If you are constantly checking e-mail and answering calls, is the day off REALLY a day off?
Get plenty of physical activity – get out from behind the podium and walk around. Don’t always rely on the same training food you provide attendees; the sandwich shop’s box lunch might be good but may not be good for you five days a week. Don’t rely on coffee and energy drinks at the back of the classroom to provide your energy for the front of the classroom!
Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. It’s the right thing to do. Coming into a classroom well-rested and healthy helps you retain the energy you need to stay in the training profession over time.