Train the trainer

We all want to share our skills and knowledge. But how many of us have actually been trained to train others effectively?

For many of us teaching others is a routine part of the job.  These teaching tasks may vary, from leading a formal classroom style session to having a conversation about accessing a resource or sharing hints on how a search query should be formatted. 

If you've never been on a train-the-trainer course - or if you feel you need a refresher - and if you are involved in planning or delivering training, you might find some of the following tips and thoughts helpful.  

Begin at the end

Start with the end in mind. What exactly is it you want your attendees to know?  When a new database or platform is introduced, it is easy to think  'we must train our users on this.'  But on what, exactly? A specific section?  Finding familiar resources via new routes?  Cost-efficient searching?   If you can articulate one or more key outcomes then the rest will follow. This also helps with the publicity for a session because you can make it clear what people can expect. That has
the side effect of reducing the likelihood that your participants arrive expecting something completely different, and are subsequently bored or inattentive.

If it's appropriate, ask people beforehand what they want to get out of a session. If you can't do that in time for your advance planning, ask at the start of the session.

Plan to use your time

Once you've planned your objectives, how long you do you have? Ten minutes? Two hours?  You should then plan to use that time, paying attention to scheduling in time for introductions, practice sessions and Q&As.  With careful planning you should be able to keep an even pace rather than cramming everything in at the last minute.

Be interactive

What opportunities are there for interactivity? The dullest day's training I ever sat through was when the course leader sat us all around a table and proceeded to tell us everything we needed to know about the topic, without room for question or discussion. If it's a database or other IT product, can you arrange hands-on time rather than a
demonstration? Each time we introduce the new trainees to legal resources I try to set the instruction in the context of real, messy questions so there are good opportunities to test their knowledge, rather than formulaic queries that have neat answers.

Consider alternative formats

Is a face-to-face session the best way to impart this new knowledge?  What about a live or recorded webinar? Perhaps there are other e-learning options available that would allow people to work at their own pace individually?

You're in charge!

Remember that you are the person in charge. Have a strategy to deal with show-offs, time-wasters or persistent question-askers. "That's a very interesting question and we will come to it later/ but it is outside the scope of this meeting" is a good phrase to use.

If you're running the training, chances are you're the expert - but be willing, if appropriate, to let others share their experience of the topic in hand. You may need to guide a discussion or ask questions of those that are not contributing, to avoid a free-for-all.

What next?

Hopefully these pointers will prove useful for future session planning but there is nothing like practice to hone your training skills.  The recent popularity of Librarians TeachMeet sessions highlights the desire to improve teaching skills and a desire to share tips with, and learn from, peers.  Feel free to comment on this article to share your top teaching tips!

Sara Batts is senior research librarian in the London office of international law firm Reed Smith LLP and a part-time research student at Loughborough University. Sara is currently president of SLA Europe. She blogs on professional life and related issues at

Picture courtesy of Perfecto Insecto via Flickr.