If you ask people if they need, or would like, more training, chances are they’ll say yes. Whether it’s to learn something new; consolidate existing knowledge; reassure that we know what we’re doing; or even just a change of scenery, many of us would jump at the opportunity to attend a training course.
Yet businesses can be reluctant to fork out for training – often courses can be quite expensive, plus there are additional expenses, time out of the office and the overall cost can be tricky to justify. So if you do get the opportunity to attend one, you should make sure that both you and your company get the most value possible from it.
In the course of writing this post, I came up with a new motto for getting the most out of any training experience. Prepare, Participate, Perpetuate. It might not be Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité but I think it works…. let me elaborate.
Prepare – Before you go
So you’ll probably know roughly what the training you’re attending covers, and the main things you want (or your boss wants you) to get out of it. But just turning up knowing the title and nothing more might not be too effective.
Most training courses will have an agenda of the main topics and sessions that will be covered throughout the course. Spend some time studying it so that you know what’s coming up – if there are topics or terms you’re not very familiar with, you can read-up in advance so you aren’t sat that wondering what on earth people are talking about. Thinking about the content in advance also gives you the chance to think about what it is you want to learn from the training and prepare questions specific to your challenges to ask and discuss with the experts. With some courses, attendees will be expected to do some preparation themselves – so ensure that you read all of your course information and conduct all of the required preparation.
Talk to Colleagues
If you’re part of a team, you could be representing colleagues on the course, and be expected to share learnings with them afterwards. Speak to them in advance to see if there are any specific challenges or questions they’d like solutions for.
Where, When, How, Who?
This is fairly elementary but do make sure you know where you need to be, when. Turning up late on the first day because you didn’t know where the venue was or what time it started doesn’t get your training experience off to a very good start. Equally, do you need a laptop or tablet, should have prepared a presentation – you don’t want to be the only person in the room who hasn’t followed the instructions.
It’s also worth finding out who will actually be delivering the training – knowing who and what to expect can make you feel more at ease when you start the course, and also ensure you know their area of expertise and what you might learn from them.
Participate – While You’re There
Training isn’t the same as attending a conference, where you can sit quietly at the back and just listen. It’s about learning, doing, sharing and if course attendees don’t actively participate, its unlikely that anybody will get much out of the experience.
Choose the silent option
For your phone, not yourself. When you’re in the training, you need to focus totally on what is going on in that room, not back in the office. Not only is answering emails on your phone distracting, and disrespectful of the tutor, but it prevents you from fully getting involved in the topic and the discussions and you’ll miss out. Activate the out of office function (it’s there for a reason!) and pass over anything important to a colleague – so that you can give the tutor and content the attention they deserve.
One of the common pieces of feedback we get from training courses is that the discussion between attendees about real-life challenges and sharing experiences is one of the most valuable parts of the course. If everybody just sits there silently, half-heartedly taking part in the exercises and unwilling to share, it’s going to be a long day or week.
Of course it can be daunting to speak in front of a group of strangers, and the fear of sounding stupid or inexperienced prevents many from giving an opinion or answering a question. But nobody is there to judge, and everyone is there to learn with and from each other – and there is nothing more frustrating than getting to the end of a course and wishing you’d asked more questions or took a more active part.
Enhance the Experience
Many training courses won’t be local to you, and if you’re staying some new or away from home, don’t let the experience stop with the teaching itself. Take the opportunity to explore a new area, try some new food – and if possible, hang out with the other attendees and the trainers. The most interesting discussions often happen over a beer at the end of the day, and getting to know people outside of the training room will help build relationships and strengthen any connections made during the teaching.
You’ve no doubt heard the phrase a change is as good as a rest. Well, take the opportunity of being out of the office to recharge a bit and see and do something different. Training can be draining and by the end of the day, it can be tempting to just head back to the hotel, put the TV on and catch up on email – but you’re definitely not maximising the opportunity if you do. Even if you live locally, make the effort to stay for a drink or two after the course too.
Perpetuate – When you get back
Training shouldn’t be seen in isolation – it’s there to bolster and improve what you do in your day-to-day job, so you need to continue the learning process after the course is over.
Read your notes
People return from training with the equivalent of war and peace in notes, but often will never look at them again. It’s worthwhile reading through what you’ve written soon after the course, while the content is still fresh in your head. Not only is it easier to decipher all you’ve scribbled down but it also will allow you to extract the most useful and relevant points and hopefully put them into action.
Ask follow up questions
It’s likely that on reflection, there will be questions you wished you asked or areas that you need a bit more explanation on. Don’t be afraid of contacting the trainers and asking them – they were there to help you learn and will probably be pleased that you’re interested enough in their content to want to know more.
Meeting others working on similar projects and facing similar challenges is a huge benefit of training, so make the effort to develop any connections made during the course once you’re back to reality. You never know when their knowledge or support might be needed, and equally when you can offer yours in return. And if nothing else, it’s nice to see a few friendly faces at the next industry event.
Put it into Practice
Knowing the theory is fairly useless if you don’t put it into practice. Take the knowledge you’ve gained and put it to use – whether it’s implementing it yourself or sharing it within your organisation. It’s too easy to get fired up with new ideas but then slip back into old habits – do that but don’t be surprised when you don’t get the funding for the next course!