Training Tips for establishing Credibility
No credibility = no engagement.
How can we expect a student to learn from us if they do not believe we have anything worth teaching?
What makes us credible and how can we assure our students?
Probably the most common complaint from students is that they could not relate to the trainer or that the trainer could not relate to them.
This is usually down to the trainer not having established their credibility and their relevance to the student’s situation.
If, as a student, I feel that the whole of the training has been lifted out of a book, my first thought is:
‘Why don’t you just give me the book and I can work it out for myself?’
For a training session to be really successful there has to be something extra coming from the trainer that offers value above and beyond the mere content of the course.
I often point out to trainers and presenters, that if they were feeling ill and contacted me to ask me to deliver their training and said that everything I needed to know would be on the slides they were sending me, then clearly neither of us was necessary for the training in the first place because all the information is on the slides.
If instead they told me what their desired outcomes were for the training and asked me to use my own experience, knowledge and examples to meet those same outcomes, then I become essential to how I deliver my training, because ‘no one else could do it exactly like I do’.
And that uniqueness and relevant experience is what gives me credibility in the students’ eyes.
Therefore, I would still recommend, that even if you are required to deliver a set training on a set subject and you have been given the slides that you should talk to, you should still look for even the smallest opportunities to offer examples and perspectives derived from your own genuine experience.
It might be as simple as letting the students know that you faced similar challenges or giving an example of how you or some other colleague handled a similar situation.
However just having experience in a subject does not qualify you to lead on a subject – because that experience needs to be a good experience or at least an experience that at least points to a positive result.
(You could, for instance, still, use what you learned from a negative experience:
‘Let me tell you what I did, which was a disaster, so don’t do what I did’)
I remember once hearing a speaker say that if you ever wanted to lose weight, you should not ask for advice from an overweight doctor, because either they cannot put into practice what they are recommending to you, or else they don’t see enough importance in it for them to see it through for themselves.
Hence if you are proposing to teach me how to build a wall, I would like to know that you have built some walls yourself (and that they are still standing).
If you are proposing to counsel me on how to bring up my children, I would like to know that you have first-hand experience with children yourself (and that they still like to come to visit you).
And if you are proposing to teach me Public Speaking, I would like to know, not just that you have done some Public Speaking yourself, but that you have also felt very nervous and learned how to handle those nerves, that you have also gone blank on stage and found a way to recover, or that you have had to speak to groups who were very resistant to your message, but you still found a way of winning them over.
In short: before taking advice from another human being, ‘check the fruit on their tree!’
Does their life bear some relevant experience that could help you in your situation?
Therefore, as trainers, the first and most obvious place for each of us to look to build our credibility is:
‘Do I have experience and the proof of a successful track record that makes my advice worth listening to?’
If not – don’t give up yet -
‘Do I have some parallel or relative experience that I can lean on?’
If not – still hang on -
‘Can I at the very least demonstrate that I can empathise and have an understanding of the student’s position?’
Each of the options above becomes progressively weaker as examples of trainer credibility, but there are always situations when a fully qualified expert is not at hand, where a person with less credibility but showing basic empathy and willingness to try to understand might be enough reassurance for those students, on that subject, on that particular day.
In the end, each of us needs to be clear:
‘What can I bring to this training and how can I reassure my students that they are in safe hands?’
10 Tips on Establishing Credibility
If the student’s most common complaint is:
‘You don’t understand my situation.’
as soon as the trainer can say:
‘I have been where you have been. I have done what you have done.’
then the student knows that what they are hearing is training from first-hand experience
One definition of a metaphor is:
‘finding a comparison between two things that are otherwise dissimilar’
The point here is that you will gain more credibility with students by showing you understand their experience and that you have handled similar experiences in a different field than you will by just telling them you have been in a similar situation.
For instance, if you are having trouble communicating with you manager, because he is dictatorial and won’t listen, I will relate better to your situation by sharing how I handled my relationship with a similarly dominating father, than by telling you how I got on with my own manager who had a very different personality. By sharing my experience with my father, I am showing you that I understand the real challenge of dealing with a powerful personality, rather than the superficial situation of ‘communicating with a manager’.
A simple question to a student at the beginning of the day like:
‘What do you want to get out of today’s training?’
shows that you are interested in them, are willing to listen to them and therefore hopefully will aim to deliver the training session to meet their needs.
Exceptional communicators, exceptional leaders and exceptional trainers are all good listeners.
There is no point in asking the question if you are not going to respond to the answer.
Listening skills are a seminar in themselves, but the key is not just to listen to the answer, but also to listen to what might be behind the answer.
Frequently I will ask Public Speaking students what they want to get out of the day and an occasional response is that they want to lose their accent. Listening to what might be behind the answer often reveals that it has less to do with having a foreign or regional accent and more to do with a basic lack of confidence in who they are and I know that simply helping them annunciate their vowels or consonants will not address the real issue.
Part of this is the confidence that you derive from the depth of your knowledge or experience in your subject, but part of this is also about projecting that confidence. All the elements of good presentation skills will add to the speaker’s credibility: speaking clearly, making good eye contact, standing well.
And the Public Speaking maxim of:
How you deliver the message is the message
applies here. Looking and sounding confident will inspire confidence in your students.
If you want your students to listen, then maybe you should also be willing to listen.
If you want your students to answer questions, then maybe you should also be willing to answer questions.
Answering a question from a student is an opportunity to show that you understand their situation, that you care and it is an opportunity for you to demonstrate how your knowledge and relevant experience can be of help to the student.
This is seen on many levels.
(i) Don’t have favourites in the class. Some students may appeal to you more than others, but don’t let that show. I remember a school teacher who had clear favourites (not me) and that made the rest of us question whether everything else in his lessons, research and perspectives was also biased!
(ii) Try to avoid taking obvious sides in discussions – especially if you want your students to feel confident in sharing their opinions. If there is an obvious learning point that comes out of the discussion, then you can quietly indicate that without making the losing side of the argument feel ‘wrong’ or ‘stupid’
(iii) Pretend that you don’t take criticism personally!
I love that phrase.
The point being – we all do take it personally, but we must not let it seem that way to our students.
Being able to handle criticism without appearing to be personally under fire will greatly enhance your credibility too.
This is so basic and totally in your control.
Turn up early. Be on time. It means that you won’t seem rushed.
I quite like my students to think:
‘Have you been here all night?’
It is my training. I am the host. It is my room and so I should be there when they arrive.
Now is not the time for an analysis of personalities and learning styles, as long as we can understand that for some students the simple fact of the trainer being late or seeming rushed will lead to a total loss of credibility in everything!
Purpose and Learning Outcome
If I am a passenger I am not going to get onto a bus unless I know where it is going.
So a very simple way of establishing credibility at the beginning of the day is to clearly state the purpose of the training and to outline what we aim to achieve by the end.
A training story should never be about you, so please no long rambling reminiscences about your youthful experiences, but if you have examples of situations that illustrate a training message – and these can be about yourself, or at least where your experience is used to underline a learning point, - it is a very simple way to engage your students, embed a learning point and establish your credibility all at once.