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Choosing a training consultant: how to get the results you want.

A TOMCAT in a suburban neighborhood prowled by moonlight, yowling and screeching in pursuit of ever more amorous adventures.

Suddenly the nighttime Yowling stopped. A neighbor asked the owner if old Tom got killed. "No," he said, "we had him fixed."

"Oh," said the neighbor, "so he's not prowling at night any more, huh?" "Well," the owner said, "he's still gone every night, but now he goes out as a consultant."

As a consultant myself, I've heard a lot of "consultant, stories. But this one makes a point. When you hire a training consultant, YOU want someone who knows what he's doing.

How do you decide? Do you send your people to a seminar coming through town? Do You look for certain measures, and if so, what? How much should you expect to pay? How do You know you'll get results? There's a lot to consider, so let's look at some ways you might successfully choose your next training consultant.

(Note: I haven't found a brief word to replace "trainer" so I'll use that term, though I prefer the concept of professional development. We train animals. We develop people.

Also, I'll use the terms "seminar" and workshop." Seminars usually involve listeners, rather than doers. Workshops are often longer. They don't cover as much content, but they involve real work by participants so they learn new skills in depth.) Five Types of Trainers Probably five types of trainers are available.

First is what I call the Wannabe Amateur. The Wannabe has limited training skills and little or no experience in his subject matter. His content comes from books he's read on a subject, and he goes out and delivers primarily a book report.

Second are the Content Reporters. These are the people who have a lot of knowledge, but lack the ability to effectively teach it.

Remember some of your college professors (in my case it was many)? They knew a lot about their subject but they only told us the information. They didn't teach. (That word lecture isn't applied to college classes for nothing.)

Third, there are the Traveling Minstrels. I know a number of people who conduct seminars for companies that travel extensively, offering one-day courses open to the public.

Many are good trainers but may have no real knowledge of the subject, other than what they're given in the manual they teach from. Two Types of Professionals Fourth, there are the content professionals. I consider them in two categories, the Cocoon Professionals and the Masters. Cocoon Professionals are emerging.

They have experience in the content they deliver and they're developing the professional skills to effectively teach that information to others.

They deliver mostly canned information-content and focus is pretty much the same for every organization.

Finally come the Masters. These people get maximum results. They know content and they know how to organize it and teach it in a meaningful way.

Every workshop they conduct is based on extensive knowledge of the client organization. Material is finely tuned and fits precisely the needs of the organization.

One master professional, Joel Weldon of Phoenix, Ariz., figures he spends at least 10 hours of preparation time for the first hour of workshop training, and five hours of preparation for each additional training hour.

Masters agree on clearly stated objectives with their clients and aim all their preparation and delivery at satisfying these objectives. Do They Teach or Tell? if you want real behavior change in your people, you'll probably need someone skilled in teaching, not just telling. Because that's such an important distinction, in terms of the results you'll get, let's define teaching and telling more clearly.

Telling: This is the tool of the Content Reporter. It means simply giving information. For instance, I conduct workshops in sales writing, direct mail and business writing. If I were a Content Reporter, I'd say something like, "Make sure the headline in a brochure or sales letter describes benefits, not features." That would be the extent of my information.

Teaching: Instead, workshops should be built on teaching, not telling. I use several steps to teach people how to clearly define the benefits of their products and services so they can use them in headlines for maximum effect.

For example, I present definitions of features and benefits, and give examples of both. Participants share information in groups and complete exercises defining features and benefits of typical, everyday items, such as a pencil.

Then a short, fun quiz about features and benefits can follow. The purpose of the quiz and the group sharing is to find out if they've mastered the distinction. A Green Light Says Go When I'm sure people can clearly define a benefit, they move on to writing benefits for their own products and services. They share their written benefits with other participants and get valuable peer feedback.

That's followed by coaching from me as some participants share examples with the entire workshop group. This coaching is done in a non-threatening way to help strengthen and enhance what they've learned so far.

The exercises, sharing, feedback and coaching are all specifically designed to teach, and to reinforce learning in several ways.

All this takes place before we ever begin to think about writing a headline. Which Type Do You Need? Now that we've identified five levels of training skill and discussed some terms, how do you know which of the five you need?

Let's look at each one in turn and see if you could match your needs with the right trainer:

Training Amateur: These people are dangerous. They know too little to realize the depth of their ignorance. They ask for little and deliver less. They give all training consultants a bad name.

Content Reporter: If you have a limited budget and participants need to know new facts, such as tax laws, a Content Reporter may be right for you. Traveling Minstrels May Be just Right Traveling Minstrel: If you have only a few people in your office who need specific help in a job skill, such as polishing basic telephone skills, this might be exactly what you want.

Cocoon Professional: If you want an in-house seminar or workshop, but can't afford to hire the pros with wide experience who custom-tailor extensively for optimum results, look to this person. Masters Give You Optimum Results Master: Hire this person when you want your people to walk out and literally be able to make changes the very next day, and for months later.

(Note: Between the two levels of professional trainers I describe here, is a range of talent.)

Participants in workshops conducted by Masters leave with solid know-how they can use as a foundation for continued growth over a long time.

But," you say, "how can I figure out whether the trainer I'm talking to is a rank amateur, a Master or something in between?"

You can check a number of items to gauge the quality of a trainer. To the extent you see quality material and responses from the trainer you're reviewing, you'll also get quality results and more skilled and productive participants when the training is finished. Twelve Things To Look for These 12 items will help you check out a trainer you're considering:

1. Ask the consultant about his workshop methods and get specific examples of how your workshop will be taught. You'll find out whether he teaches or tells.

2. Ask about handouts for participants. Excellent handouts are valuable for three reasons.

They provide an advance organizer for participants. They give learners a sense of what goes where, and a rack to hang information on.

I Participants don't need to take as many notes when they're given clear written material.

They have solid reference material they can use as a guide for further skill development when the workshop is finished. How Is the Training Customized?

3. How much pre-workshop information does the trainer want from you? Many trainers want copies of annual reports, magazine articles about the company and industry, brochures and sales pieces.

Plus they'll have questions about the state of the industry, the state of the company, the way your department fits in, what's going right and what are the problems these participants face.

Others will also ask for samples of work. Since I conduct sales writing and business writing workshops, I want samples of writing from participants beforehand so I can see clearly what's lacking and where I need to focus. Is the Trainer a Real-World Expert?

4. Find out how much actual experience the consultant has in the field. One sales training consultant, Dan McBride, says, "I'm not a speaker talking about sales. I'm a salesperson who knows how to speak. And there's a world of difference."

The question is: Do you want a trainer with extensive first-hand knowledge and experience in his training subject?

5. Ask how long the consultant has been training and how many subjects he covers. If he covers a wide variety of topics, be careful. You may be dealing with a novice.

The more experienced a trainer, the more limited is the number of subjects he focuses on. The real pros know you can only do a high-quality job in a few areas. Win It Be Fun?

6. Find out about the teaching style the consultant uses. Are there a lot of sharing exercises and activities to keep energy high and keep people involved and having fun? Studies show people learn more, faster and better when they also have fun. Also, does the trainer use visuals to reinforce learning in one more way?

7. Will written exercises use canned work sheets or will people work from examples and materials related directly to their jobs?

8. is the trainer a recognized authority on her subject? Has she written a book or articles you can review? Do you agree with the trainer's philosophy and approach to the subject? What about a Guarantee?

9. Does your prospective trainer offer a guarantee? Many pros offer a written guarantee. They deliver or your money back.

10. Can you listen to a demo tape (an audio tape 10- to 15-minutes long) of training sessions the consultant has done for other groups?

11. If you're looking for a really top pro, can you see a videotape? Audio and video tapes should recorded live, not in a studio, so you can get a feel for how the trainer interacts with the group.

12. Look over the trainer's written materials. Do they have real depth-more than just flashy colors and expensive printing? Get the names of people your prospective consultant has done training for. Talk to some of them. Look over testimonial letters. Compare Fee Against Result Finally, what can you expect to pay for training? For a seasoned pro, fees range from $5,000 a day up. Or you can get a moonlighting college professor or beginning trainer for a few hundred. Many good quality consultants have fees in the range of 2,000 to $4,000 a day. Expenses are added to this. Where To Find Good Trainers Now, the final question: Where do you find good speakers and trainers?

One excellent source is the National Speakers Association (NSA), which, contrary to its name, actually operates at the international level. This active association has nearly 4,000 members who range in skill from novice to top pro. One thing most have in common is a desire to grow professionally and to adhere to a strong code of ethics promoted by the association. For a directory of speakers and trainers, write to NSA at 3877 N. 7th St., Suite 350, Phoenix, Ariz. 85014.

Other organizations that should prove helpful include: international Group of Agents and Bureaus (IGAB), P.O. Box 1120, Glendora, Calif., 91740 and international Platform Association, 2564 Berkshire Rd., Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44106. Speakers Bureaus Can Guide You Another good source of trainers is a speakers bureau. Look for them in the yellow pages in larger cities. These bureaus have solid information on a number of speakers and can give you excellent recommendations for trainers and speakers who can answer your needs.

Whatever you do as you consider a training consultant, you'll make a better investment and get better results when you know the difference between a seasoned tomcat and Grandma's Kitty who sleeps every night at the foot of the bed. Chuck Custer heads Chuck Custer Communication, Bellevue, Wash.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on high-technology terminology
Author:Custer, Chuck
Publication:Communication World
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:2065
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