Tips on giving an effective training session

Tips on giving an effective training session


By Samantha White

Whether you are in charge of an induction session for new hires, or training colleagues on a new process or system, both you and your audience want to be assured that time invested in training will be well spent. Here’s how to get your message across and ensure the learning is acted upon and embedded.

Pitch your training at the right level for your audience. Ensure it addresses their needs and concerns. Before delivering a training session, seek to understand participants’ needs and current knowledge base.

Talk to the participants’ line managers or the finance colleagues who work with them regularly. Those conversations can reveal some of the pressures that individuals are under and the problems they face, all of which can help guide the direction of the training.

“When people come out of a session with a solution to something they didn’t know how to deal with, it’s a really rewarding thing that makes the training memorable for them,” said Ben Roberts, ACMA, CGMA, head of finance transformation at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust.

Solutions Roberts helps participants discover include finding cost improvements and efficiencies. Enabling them to feel they are actually in control of their budget is another key outcome.

Make sure the title of your session and the description in the invitation match the content. This is the most obvious point but is often overlooked by trainers. Setting the right expectations starts you off on the right foot with your audience.

Don’t try to cram too much information into the session. “Most people can only cope with a few pieces of information, so don’t try to tell them everything you know about the subject,” said Jackie Fitzgerald, ACMA, CGMA. “Focus on the one thing you want them to walk away from the session with, and put all your effort into delivering that. If they get other stuff as well, that’s a bonus.”

Strike the right balance between learning and discussion. “A good workshop or training session for me has a good blend of actually learning stuff – being taught theory and ideas around things, but with lots of breakouts so that you can talk about what you’ve heard,” Fitzgerald said.

“Participants need to have the opportunity to share experiences, play with the theory, and work out what it means to them,” added Fitzgerald, a UK-based career coach.

Roberts uses a similar approach when training finance teams from other organisations on how his team has succeeded in providing month-end reporting on the first working day of the month.

“What we tend to do is a bit of knowledge share, then a few breakout sessions to drill down into different areas and try and get some discussion going, then we leave participants to do some action planning at their tables,” he said. “… During the day, they will all have taken on different bits of roles and tasks and bounced ideas off each other – that’s what you need to do to fundamentally change the way you run your processes.”

A lot of time went into planning the structure of the sessions, but it has been well worth it as the team has been delivering the sessions for three years, and received good feedback. The winning formula is about “variety really, trying to keep people active and not just give them information overload,” Roberts explained.

Use stories and examples to bring your points to life. “When people are able to relate your message to their own experiences, it makes it relevant and memorable to them,” said Mark Fritz, a speaker and author who specialises in leadership development.

Try to keep your audience entertained, and use humour if it comes naturally to you. If you need some inspiration, watch some TED Talks and observe the presenters, Fitzgerald suggested. “They can deliver an extremely complicated idea with great humour and clarity in 18 minutes.”

Ask yourself what you can use from the TED Talk approach. For example, you’ll find that the presenters distill their message into the essential components and pause frequently, to allow time for ideas to sink in, noted Fitzgerald.

Get your audience involved. If you start off a session with an open question, participants are likely to sit silently because they don’t want to volunteer an opinion, Roberts said.

“Start off with a closed question, such as ‘Can the trust get itself out of financial difficulty?’, and people will stand on one side of the fence or the other,” he said. Then you go back with the open question of why, or why not, and they will be able to provide their reasons.

“It makes getting the conversation started so much easier. And getting everyone in the room talking is what gets the energy up,” Roberts added.

Ask your audience questions to check understanding, and invite them to ask questions, too.

Get them to break out into smaller groups. Ask participants to stand up and find someone they haven’t spoken to before. Get them to discuss a particular point and how they might apply it. Not only does this help to embed understanding, but also it serves as a networking opportunity.

When providing training sessions to demystify finance for clinicians, Roberts aims to build up participants’ knowledge and take them through exercises so they can feel more comfortable with it. The exercises are tailored to include examples that are real for them. The approach is also tailored to the audience.

“When training consultants, we tap into the fact that they tend to be competitive people,” he explained. Each represents a “service” or specialist clinical area, which is run as a distinct operational unit. To help them understand the financial aspects of their service in terms of profit and loss, these senior physicians or surgeons are invited to say where they think their service would sit on a version of the Boston Matrix portfolio analysis model. The trainer then informs them where the service actually is, and that sparks a dialogue about how to bridge those two positions.

Nurses tend to work best in teams, so when working with nursing groups, Roberts divides them up and gives them time to reflect and talk through a particular problem.

Find creative ways to get the message across. To keep key messages alive, Roberts posts doodles to illustrate them around the workplace. The posters serve as a daily reminder and encourage people to think about the issue when they walk past.

For the month-end reporting sessions, Roberts created a jigsaw for participants to complete once they finish their breakout discussions. The jigsaw shows the reporting timetable with “teamwork” emblazoned across the middle, to emphasise the point that speedy, accurate reporting relies on communication and supporting one another.

Use a roundup to embed learning. Towards the end of the session, ask participants to reflect on their learning and consider which of the actions, tips, or techniques they can implement as soon as they get back to their desk.

If you are training members of your own team or department, follow up on those actions with them, Fitzgerald suggested. For example, “You said you were going to call that person, did you do it? How did it go?”

Roberts asks participants to fill in a “commitment card” describing what they are going to do differently. “A lot of delivering change is making a commitment to do it,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be massive, but taking the first step is usually the most difficult.”

Ask for feedback. To ensure your session met your students’ needs and expectations, Roberts recommended inviting feedback as well as self-reflection. Ask yourself, “What could we have done better?”

Samantha White (Samantha.White@aicpa-cima.com) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.